Wednesday, August 20, 2008


at the beijing olympics

well, i've done it. watched the olympics and not just just any ridiculous events like synchronised swimming or beach volleyball and i don't mean the women artistic gymnastics either, but the athletic events in the bird's nest.

the chinese , you gotta give it to them. they did everything right. hell, who but the chinese can shoo away the perpertual smog of beijing . when i was there the whole of this week, the air was pristine clean! just take a look at this picture.

i've never seen anything like it and i know because i've been to beijing for more than ten times in the last ten years. the sky was bluer than in kl. the local news proudly claimed that the air is now the cleanest in ten years. it is amazing but they did it. i'm impressed. and as a contrast to this, i'm in kunming now, a smaller city and considered as one of the better cities in china. known as the spring city or flower city but it seems a little dusty and grimy compared to bejing now. amazing! and not only that . the subway is the cheapest that i've ever experienced anywhere in the world. you just pay 2 yuan (approx 1 ringgit) to travel anywhere in beijing and not only that if you have an olympic ticket, you ride free of charge anytime and how many times you like. and like magic all the taxis are now spanking new hyundai elantras and for the first time i did not see those ubiquitous small beijing red colored taxis anywhere. and the drivers were honest. if you don't speak chinese just show him a small piece of paper with chinese scripts of the place where you want to go and you basically can close you eyes and sleep and you'll be delivered to where you want to be with correct fares.

but the security measures! it would make the israelis proud. your bags were x-rayed everywhere, to enter the subways, the historic sites, and the stadiums. a small inconvenience but unavoidable under the circumstances. there is however one very big inconvenience. the chinese government apparently did not regulate the hotel rates. ALL the hotels abuse this olympic period by hiking up the rates by at least 4 times and in some cases even up to ten times or more. i had to pay USD150 per night for a crummy 3 star hotel and this is more expensive than the usual rates for the grand hyatt on wanfujing where i usually stayed (on business). and if you want to stay in any 5 star hotels be ready to pay USD1000 or more per night. but despite all that i was very lucky to get this hotel because you can hardly find any hotels on the internet with rates lower than USD250 and this hotel is just ten minutes walking distance away from the famous wangfujing st , the oxford street of beijing and only a few steps away from dengshikou subway station (exit A). (I'm writing this detail so that i will remember where to find it and use this hotel again if i were to come next time (on the cheap) - the usual rate is around usd40 per night). one good- or bad - thing about staying in a three star hotel like this (depending on your perspective) is that every night at odd hours you'll get a call from a lady asking if you need a good massa-G ...another interesting point is that , while normally you can't walk ten steps on wangfujing st without being accosted by both men and women fences asking if you "one lady? good massa-g..." this time around they seems to have dissapeared. either being cleared away by the police for this olympic season so as not to tarnish china image or they are sated with the randy aussie and russian visitors i could not ascertain...they certainly don't come and offer me any this time around...

but enough of that. and back to the olympics per se. and it's true what they say. the olympic complex on the olympic green is impressive. the stadium which everybody now calls 'bird nest' takes my breadth away. very magnificent beautiful and impressive. it is already turning into a distinctive and iconic world architecture and you can't turn anywhere in beijing without seeing a picture of this great structure. i remember watching a news item about this chinese man who took thousands of pictures of the bird nest starting from the beginning of the construction till now and still can't stop clicking away. and i can understand him. everyday there were hundreds of people clicking their digital cameras with this superstructure as the background as you can see here. and i can't stop clicking away myself too.

just opposite is the 'water cube' where swimming events were held and the lucky spectators get to see micheal phelps created history by winning so many gold medals and breaking so many world records and became instant superstar here. i am not too impressed with this (water cube) although seems like it's a very popular photo opportunity site also for many spectators especially with it's attractive multi colored and ever changing color for each of the cell displayed at night . but it just looked like a huge dunlopillo to me and i keep on thinking about that anwar and the tilam caper everytime i looked at it.

as to the actual games itself i must confess i only had ONE ticket for the night event on the 18/8. even then i must consider myself very lucky. it is so damned hard to get a ticket even for chinese in beijing. they had to apply through internet and will only get it by lottery many months way back . there were only a few occassions when they open up to buy in public and i got this ticket because of my good chinese friend who several months back queued at six in the morning in front of the bank of china just to get the ticket for me.

and here's another interesting thing. i would never imagine any of my chinese friends here would ever do this kind of thing for me. not that they are any way bad but goes to show how racist politics have poisoned so much of our relationship. i don't expect anything from my chinese friends here and they also don't expect any from me. sad but that's the way things are. but remove this political poison and i find that chinese are some of the most beautiful people in the world.

but despite the diffculty of getting tickets legally, and notice arounds prohibiting scalping nobody seems to care and there seems to be quite a lot of scalpers around offering tickets at astronomical price. a ticket with a third tier seat (where the athletes only look like ants crawling about ) went for 2100 yuan (approx rm1000) on the night i was there...

another surprising thing for me is that the authority successfully clamped down on pirated olympic souvernirs. while you can buy a lot of t-shirts etc with beijing olympic logo the last time i was in beijing around november last year anywhere in beijing, now all these have dissapeared and if you want to bring home key chains, caps, mascot toys, t-shirts and any other olympic related merchandize the only way you can get these are at authorized outlets . and needless to say as these are official licensed products you have to pay around rm50 for a t-shirt that you'll get 3 for rm10 at petaling street...but what the hell, you can't be a cheapskate all the time...

i won't say anything about the games itself as everybody watchs this on tv but i must say that the local tv here is very2 dissapointing. there was hardly any athletics shown on any channels probably because of the broadcasting rights and all that...but anyway , here's a pic of the fastest man on earth usain bolt (in yellow) getting ready for his 200m heat. the atmosphere in the stadium needless to say was electric...

the only world record that night was in women pole vault and i was lucky to watch it right in front of me as the position of this even was right opposite my seat position. i brought a powerful russian made binoculars (bought in petaling street) with me but i won't tell you which part of the women's athletic body i focussed most of the time...hmmm.

the only other live event i managed to watch was free... like many beijing citizens that lined beijing streets i too did the same and watched a bit of the woman marathon...apart from these , most of the rest of the time i just spent revisiting the usual tourist places, you know , the usual suspects - loafing around in tianamen sq, forbidden city , temple of heaven, silk market, pearl market and of course the panjayuan weekend market where you can bargain on everything including books . i ended up with more than 30 kg of art books and especially pleased to get two huge coffee table books on lucien freud. and also visited national art museum of china (NAMOC) beijing where they have this exhibition of ming and qing chinese scrolls from the palace museum collection in conjunction with the olympics and an exhibit of a modern chinese painter who painted nudes with skin tones and style not unlike lucien freud incidentally.

visiting these places this time around was even more fun than usual because you get to see all sorts of people who come for the olympics and if you're lucky and know your athletes you may bump into some as i did and i happened to catch the big fish himself. i was at the temple of heaven when i saw a gaggle of people and reporters tailing this guy who turned out to be micheal phelps. he seemed a very nice young man agreeing to take pictures with some excited chinese girls and showing his medals and i just took the opportunity to snap one here...
it was appropriate that he visited the temple of heaven where the ming and qing emperors in the old days came to offer prayers for good harvest and mr phelps certainly had a good one and probably he came here to offer his thanks too...

See you at the Olympics come 2012? I'll be there to make sure we win a gold!
i'm not sure how you can make malaysia wins a gold rox - unless they include takraw in 2012...even than the chances are the thais will whack us...
Haha. Badminton? I've never been to an Olympics so London it will be since I'll probably be there. Problem is I'm not very much into sports save for one. And it's not an Olympics discipline!
I was in Beijing for 3 nights and the hotel I was booked in originally said 800 Yuan per night, but when I checked in, told me it was revised to 350 Yuan per night. This was with breakfast and broadband internet connection - a luxury after the backpacker motel I stayed in during my volunteer stint at Bifengxia Panda Base.
hey Chet, how did you manage to get that? were you in beijing during the olympic time?

I checked everywhere and on the net and there was none below USD150 at least. A singaporean chinese who stayed at my hotel had to pay 166USD per night and he booked 3 months in advance!

the good thing is we had broadband too and it was free.
I was in Beijing between 12 and 15 August. I had a friend in Shanghai help me book the room. During non-Olympic months, the rooms in the motel where I stayed were apparently between 100 and 200 Yuan. She wrote to say during August and September, the room rate would be increased to 800 Yuan. But as I said in my earlier comment, when I checked in, I was told the rate was reduced to 350 Yuan. The motel's on North Li Si Road, within walking distance of the Zoo, which was my reason for being in Beijing.
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