Category Archives: Uncategorized

Trans-Cultural Yuppieism and the Big Gulp

I don’t know if you’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting Ikea in China — on weekends, especially, it’s like a theme park (FurnitureLand?) where people flop around on the demo units, test out lamps by flicking them on and off repeatedly, and blow off steam by waiting in half-hour lines for two-kuai hotdogs.

In China, Ikea also continues its tradition of presenting its furniture with pseudo-Swedish names. You know, the one that’s resulted in much unintentional hilarity for US customers: JERKER? LOL AMIRITE?
In China, though, it presents the incomprehensible names in two scripts — the Roman alphabet (in good clean Scandinavian sans-serif fonts, all capitalized) and Chinese characters. A couple of weekends ago my girlfriend and I went to pick up some sorely needed furniture for our new apartment: two 格尔姆 and three 毕利, or two GORMs and three BILLYs, or (as we say in the English) two storage shelves and three bookcases.


Unrelated to Ikea but also faintly annoying is the Starbucks policy of redefining cup sizes. People in the US have been ranting about the tall/grande/venti system for years, but here in China it was always a reliable 小杯 (“small cup”) /中杯 (“medium cup”) /大杯 (“large cup”) (at least, in my experience) until late last year, when suddenly Starbucks staff began interpreting “大杯” as “medium” (or “Grande,” I guess). To get a large, you have to ask for a 最大杯 (“biggest cup”), as in the attached photo.

Seriously, I am not even joking.

And now that I’ve said that a “Large” (or “Grande,” if we must) is a 最大杯, which is what I’ve heard people saying, I would point out that on the sign it says 超大杯 (“super-big cup”).

This is actually much more interesting: “Venti,” to the monoglot English ear, sounds classy — maybe it means “Danger,” maybe it means “A man who likes his coffee — and the laaaaadies.” Afternoons on the piazza (never mind which piazza); evenings at the casino, dinners at the tavolino. (It doesn’t; it means “twenty.”) But the Chinese “超大杯” — “super-big cup” — is very much the opposite: rather than being classy, or pseudo-Eurotrash-mysterious, it sounds (to my admittedly non-native ear) quite a lot like the 7-11 “Big Gulp.”


A few years ago, I was visiting Macau, where I am able to more-or-less read but not speak the local languages — Portuguese by way of high school Spanish; Cantonese by way of Mandarin. I’d been walking around all morning and was just looping back by way of Largo do Senado, the lovely Portuguese-style square at the center of the old city, when I passed a Starbucks and decided that it was probably time to caffeinate.

My Cantonese was and is basically nonexistent, but I figured I could probably muster up enough to order a coffee by using the Cantonese readings of the Mandarin words. So I asked for “Yat dai bui dong yat kafei m’goi,” and the barista looked at me blankly.

Fine, I thought. Mandarin, then. So I asked for “Yī dà bēi dāngrì kāfēi, xièxie.” Again, a blank look from the barista. I tried again in English: “Can I have a large coffee of the day, please?”

“Oh,” said the barista in more or less unaccented American English. “You mean a venti.”

The Tonsorial Theory of Development

Hu Jintao is in the US, and as usual Jamie is asking the questions nobody else has the courage to ask.

From a comment I left on that post:

I’ve often wondered if there is a hair dye (or possibly shoe polish) factory somewhere on the outskirts of Beijing that produces dye for the sole use of Politburo members, the way Kikkoman supposedly has vats of soy sauce that are reserved for members of the imperial house. Or is it an open bidding system, with hair dye manufacturers competing against one another for the next Five Year Plan-period contract? Do they try to outdo one another on features — glossy vitality, youthful sheen, yang energy reinvigoration through the follicles — or do they compete solely on price? And further down the supply chain, is there one man somewhere in Zhongnanhai who is hair dyer to the masters of the universe? Because if so, I bet he’s got a hell of a tell-all memoir in him.

Also: whatever’s in that hair dye (or whatever was in that hair dye two Five Year Plans ago) must be some mean stuff: in the pictures I’ve seen of Jiang Zemin since they took him off the dye, his hair has looked orange.

For what it’s worth, I think Jamie’s theory about the jet-black hair helmet serving as an affirmation of the anti-charisma required of political leaders here is probably more or less dead on. As physical representations of social caste go I suppose it’s not quite on the level of ritual scarring or facial tattoos, but there definitely is such a thing as Leader Hair, and it’s immediately recognizable.
One of the best logos in Beijing, I think, is that of Mao Livehouse, live music venue and notable firetrap. No points for guessing whose hairline that is.

More Great Firewall weirdness

Caution: geekiness.

So I have found recently that there are certain places where certain blocked sites — Facebook and Twitter yes; Blogspot no — are still inaccessible even when I’m logged in through my VPN. This seems to happen most consistently when I’m connecting from cafes in the Jiaodaokou and Jinbao Jie neighborhoods of Beijing, over what I believe is Netcom ADSL, and it happens regardless of which Witopia gateway I’m connected through.

I’m not the techiest person, but from my understanding of the way VPNs work, this should not be happening. What’s extra-special weird about it is that when I run traceroute to find out where the connections are failing, it seems that the Great Firewall may not even be involved: I’m seeing connection requests time out at IP addresses that are not within China. (One time it was a FastWeb server in Italy; another time it was Korea Telecom; another time it was a UK service provider.)
This is not a problem with my VPN or my setup, as far as I can tell: these sites work just fine through a VPN on my home connection. It seems to be a problem with one specific Netcom office (I could be wrong, but I think it’s the same office serving both Jiaodaokou and Jinbao Jie; then again, I believe my home connection runs through the same office.)

To be honest, the real effect of this is probably a net gain in productivity, but I would still like to know what’s going on, since I can’t figure out how the GFW — if it is that — is messing with me. Does anyone have any theories?

Winter is Icumen In

Cabbages stacked up for selling outside the McDonald's on Gongti Bei Lu. November 7, 2009

Cabbages stacked up for selling outside the McDonald's on Gongti Bei Lu. November 7, 2009


Winter is Icumen in,
Lhude sing Goddamm.
Raineth drop and staineth slop,
And how the wind doth ramm!
Sing: Goddamm.
Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us,
An ague hath my ham.
Freezeth river, turneth liver,
Damm you; Sing: Goddamm.

Ezra Pound, noted Sinologist

Morning, October 1

Last night’s dismal attempt at rain — whether artificial or manmade — doesn’t seem to have done much: the sky is distinctly overcast, though the air at least doesn’t seem to have the velvety quality it did yesterday.
I’m guessing that right now there are a lot of people a couple of blocks south of me on Chang’an Jie who are burning incense, rubbing rabbits’ feet, sighing heavily and looking up towards the sky every thirty seconds or so, and really, really hoping this clears up within the next three hours. The 60th anniversary of Mao Zedong’s speech from the rostrum at Tian’anmen announcing the new People’s Republic of China really ought to be a blue-sky day, after all.

It brings to mind a passage from the start of 王小波 Wang Xiaobo’s novella 2010:

2010年我住在北戴河,住在一片柴油燃烧的烟云之下。冬天的太阳出来以后,我看到的是一片棕色的风景。这种风景你在照片和电视上都看不到,因为现在每一个镜头的前面都加了蓝色的滤光片。这是上级规定的。这种风景只能用肉眼看见。假如将来有一天,上级规定每个人都必须戴蓝色眼镜的话,就再没有人能看到这样的风景。天会像上个世纪一样的蓝。领导上很可能会做这样的规定,因为这样一来,困扰我们的污染问题就不存在了。

In 2010 I lived in the seaside town of Beidaihe under a blanket of diesel smoke. In winter when the sun came out it revealed a sweeping vista of beige. You wouldn’t see this in pictures or on TV, of course, because every lens had a blue filter in front of it. Orders from the top. This scene you could only see with the naked eye. If one day the order came down for everybody to wear blue-tinted glasses, then there’d be nobody at all to see it. The sky would look just as blue as it had during the last century. It seemed likely that they would come out with a rule like that any day now, so that all the air pollution we’d been complaining about would simply cease to exist.

Update 7:10 am: It may not rain on their party, but it looks like it’s about to rain on ours: All foreign acts booked for this week’s Modern Sky festival have been yanked. Oh well; I guess listening to Song Zuying belting out patriotic moldy oldies in her simpering grackle squawk is almost as good as getting to see The Buzzcocks.

Update 8:37 am: The skies are clear! Truly, what wise and powerful leaders we have!

Update 8:44 am: @davesgonechina: CCTV-9 unintentional humor: “Many people gather at Mao’s tomb to reflect on the great leader’s legacy. We’re not going to talk a lot about that.”

Update 10:18 am: Hu Jintao’s custom Red Flag sedan is totally cash. He’s SO getting laid with a car like that.

Update 10:20 am: Looks like there’s a fourth Red Flag in the motorcade as a backup: it’s empty, open-top, and also outfitted with microphones.

Update 10:28 am: What changes thirty years of Reform and Opening-Up have wrought: look at all of the salutes to gay pride. And Comrade Hu even came out as a 同志! Go, New China! Keep reaching for that rainbow!

Update 10:30 am: Clumsy, inappropriate cut to audience applause footage.

Update 10:33 am: Joel notes that we were wise to abandon our National Day drinking game plans. Alcohol poisoning likely fatal within minutes.

Update 10:36 am: “为了国家、和平、民族、和谐…” That’s four shots we just dodged.

Update 10:41 am: Aaaaand time for the goose-stepping. (It’s OK to call it that if Xinhua does.) Don’t care what CCTV says, those hands are NOT perfectly level. Shape up, chumps!

Update 10:41 am: Human pixels on Tian’anmen Square now holding up cards that read 听党指挥 — “Listen to the Party’s Commands.” Wonder if that’s supposed to be addressed to the helicopter cameramen.

Update 10:43 am: @gadyepstein wonders what Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin are saying to each other up on the rostrum. My best guess:
H: “Did this go on this long when YOU were in charge?”
J: “Fuck you for arresting all of my guys.”

Update 10:46 am: Air stewardesses (?) carrying sidearms. Mm-mm-MM.

Update 10:54 am: Tanks rolling down Chang’an Jie while human pixels on Tian’anmen spell out 忠诚于党 “Remain Loyal to the Party.” No snark necessary.

Update 11:14 am: Rainbow planes streaming over the city now. Can hear them, and just saw them out my window, so not CGI. Rainbow!
I think @davesgonechina may have it: “You’ve got to wonder if they just googled for ‘international symbols of pride’ and got these.”

Update 11:43 am: Friend (via SMS): “Purple and orange beach balls represent Mao Zedong Thought HOW?”
Me: “The beach balls are 70% purple and 30% orange.”

Update 11:54 am: I like that the “rule of law” float is the one they clearly gave the least thought to. It’s a featureless block on wheels with a posterboard Constitution.

Update 11:56 am: CCTV-9 gives the weird English title “Asperas” for the space program float. Thought it might be typo for ‘Apsaras’ before realizing it’s probably from “ad astra per aspera.” (Note: upon later viewing of the Chinese broadcast it became clear that it was just a typo for  飞天 ‘Apsaras.’)

Update 12:04 pm: Hey, it’s the foreigner float! Dance, monkeys, dance!

We also discovered during the rebroadcast of the parade that the marching and camera cuts synced up almost perfectly with Rage Against the Machine, “Doomsday Clock” by Smashing Pumpkins, and “Chinese Democracy” by Guns ‘N’ Roses. All hail 4/4 time!

[Help], [Help], [Help] the Police!

In response to the recent New York Times article about Hip-hop in China (and partly inspired by the execrable Jay Chou/Song Zuying performance on last night’s CCTV gala), I present to you a video that perfectly sums up, for me, everything that’s wrong with foreign attitudes to allegedly underground Chinese music.

A minor digression first: that NYT article is written to give the impression that “many students and working-class Chinese” are rhyming about the “bitterness that comes with realizing …[they are] left out of China’s economic boom.”

This is horseshit. The angry Chinese rap I’ve heard is generalized teenage angst with no attempt at social commentary. The most “daring” rap I’ve heard is predicated on schoolboy puns about smoking pot. And while I no longer make much of an attempt to follow the music scene here, I am familiar with the bands discussed in the NYT piece.

Let’s start with 隐藏 Yin Ts’ang, the originators of “在北京 In Beijing” — the song that, according to the article, “took the underground music scene by storm.” Sample lyrics:

出租车有一块二一块六两个价格
交通一般还成但会有点堵车
真不用提饭馆 烤鸭和炸酱面
鬼街吃火锅 太多选择我的天

Cabs come in 1.2 kuai and 1.6 kuai prices.
The traffic’s usually not bad, but sometimes there are traffic jams.
You don’t have to worry about restaurants — roast duck and zhajiang noodles
Or Gui Jie to eat hotpot. There are too many choices, oh my god!

Wow, guys, tell it like it is.

阴三儿 Yin Sanr, the band whose name the article incorrectly and sloppily romanizes as “Yin Tsar,” and completely mistranslates as “The Three Shadows,”  has got more going for it in the anger department. The article mentions the band’s song 老师你好 “Hello Teacher” (skip ahead about a minute and a half to get to the actual rapping) which most certainly is an angry song:

你说你为人师表出门就随地吐痰
就会舔着个屄脸给我爸打电话
你不要脸 无能的表现
你要什么都行你别碰我CD机
你妈了个屄
我就上课听歌我乐意
我就上语文课写数学作业
作业本上画个大鸡吧纯为了发泄

You say you’re a role model but you spit on the ground outside
The only cunting thing you know how to do is phone my father
You’re shameless and useless
Do whatever you want but don’t touch my CD player
You fucking cunt
I’ll listen to music in class if I want to.
I’ll do my math homework in writing class.
I drew a big cock in my copy book, that’s what I think of you.

The NYT article translates the first line of this excerpt and then waggles its eyebrows, encouraging the reader to mentally connect “railing against the authority of unfair teachers” to seething antiauthoritarian rage. It doesn’t translate the rest of the song, which has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the paragraph that precedes it, in which a young man complains about the wealth gap. Unless you equate hating high school with the potential for violent social upheaval, in which case I would have been the Che Guevara of my generation.

The author of the piece would have been much better off going with Yin Sanr’s song 北京晚报 “Beijing Evening News,” which does have political content and is a much, much better song. Sample lyrics (in Danwei’s translation): 

酒吧夜总会的门前领导的车辆成群结队 
厕所里躲着戏果儿 
洋酒就着鸭脖儿 
小明星大模特儿 
陪着老逼坐在雅座儿 
巡逻的警车东北的皮条客 
女大学生很多学生证儿不能打折 
北京还在建设但是人已经变了 
这所有的一切究竟谁应该来负责 

Big officials and leaders park outside night clubs
Girls hiding in the toilet
Whiskey and duck neck
Models and starlets
Sitting in a private room with stupid dicks
Cops patrolling, Dongbei pimps 
Lots of college girls
But student IDs get no discount
Beijing is building
But the people are changing
Who is responsible for all of this?

While I’m ranting, another problem with the NYT article: 说唱 shuochang, the word the piece gives for “hip-hop,” is “rap,” not hip-hop. The word for “hip-hop” is 嘻哈 xiha, a phonetic loan, and my impression (possibly wrong) is that people here who are into hip-hop would look upon the use of shuochang as a sign that someone was not part of the scene. Which the writer of that article clearly is not.

(Another small digression: I was planning to write something about the ultimate feasibility of rap in Mandarin as opposed to languages more phonologically suited for it, but this post has gone on long enough already. However, those of you who are interested in seeing rap perpetrated in languages not really built for it may enjoy Leimigi Thart, which answers the age-old question of how to say “I’ll serve your ass like John McEnroe / If your girl steps up, I’m smackin’ the ho!” in Irish.)
(“Freastloidh me thu ar nos John McEnroe / Ma shiulann do bheal suas, buailfidh me an ho!”)

Anyway, getting back to the start of this post: The effects of censorship on artistic creativity have been discussed before — David Moser had a wonderful piece on Danwei about the effect that the dictum that humor must 歌颂 rather than 讽刺 has had on the comic form of 相声 — but I think the video below really hammers the point home.

Happy New Year, everybody.

John DeFrancis, 1911-2009: You Can't Do That Anymore

The Sinologist John DeFrancis died recently at the age of 97. You can read more about him elsewhere – in the NYTimes obituary or on the memorial site set up for him – but I thought I’d write something, as a student of Chinese, about what he meant to me.

I first heard of John DeFrancis almost ten years ago, through his book Visible Speech: The Diverse Oneness of Writing Systems, which was one of the required texts for a Linguistics course I was taking. This was during my first year studying Chinese, and what Visible Speech had to say about Chinese characters – and other writing systems – was formative in my approach to learning written Chinese.

Later that year, I wrote a paper on script reform efforts in China, and Visible Speech, Nationalism and Language Reform in China, and The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy, all by DeFrancis, were invaluable sources of information. The latter book, again, played a major role in shaping my understanding of the Chinese language at a point in my studies where Chinese might otherwise have seemed impossibly daunting. It was also a cracking good read, exactly the sort of thing you might recommend to someone who had no background in Chinese but was interested in learning more about the language.

None of my Chinese classes ever used the Beginning Chinese textbook series that DeFrancis compiled, but his name was to come up again and again throughout my studies — while I was browsing, mostly uncomprehendingly, through the Sino-Platonic Papers, or while I was trying to read up on the subject of whether or not spoken Chinese really could be written without Chinese characters, or, most of all, when I got the invaluable Wenlin dictionary and found that it was based on the ABC Chinese-English Comprehensive Dictionary project spearheaded by John DeFrancis and Victor Mair.

Perhaps the best indicator of the position John DeFrancis held in his field is the August 1991 Schriftfestschrift: Essays in Honor of John DeFrancis on His Eightieth Birthday issue of the Sino-Platonic Papers, in which DeFrancis’ friends and colleagues – the Tabula Gratulatoria is a veritable Who’s Who of the sinological field – write, with admiration and genuine affection, a collection of essays that anyone would be proud to have dedicated to them.

In his introduction to that collection, Victor Mair writes:

John is a superb scholar with many excellent works to his credit. Yet there is another ingredient, or pair of ingredients, that sets John DeFrancis apart from all the other fine scholars whom I have encountered — that is his passion and his compassion. John cares. Whatever John does is because he wants to help improve things. His classic Nationalism and Language Reform in China was dedicated to ‘Old Wang.’ If we turn to p. 143 of the same book, we can find out who Old Wang was:

Known as Old Wang. Age thirty-five. Totally illiterate. Occupation: peasant. Lives in a tiny village four and a half miles northeast of Peking. Married to the daughter of a peasant from a near-by village. Has three children ranging in age from four to nine. Wife and children likewise illiterate.

People like Old Wang really matter to John. It is to all the Old Wangs of the world that John devoted his whole life, and that is why his achievements have such profound meaning.

It would be easy to think of DeFrancis’ continued focus on script reform efforts in China and Vietnam as nothing more than well-intentioned abstract concern, or an academic hobbyhorse – or, as is sometimes alleged of non-Chinese who advocate script reform, the whinings of a gringo who couldn’t handle the characters – if it weren’t for his memoirs. In the Footsteps of Genghis Khan describes some of DeFrancis’ early experiences of China and the Chinese language, his journey on foot and camel across northern and northwestern China, and his interactions with the desperately poor people he met along the way, whom he believed to be kept poor by the impossibility of their ever learning to read and write. It also provides a yardstick against which no language student or backpacker, no matter how dedicated or extreme, is likely to measure up:

We dodged warring armies by stealing twelve hundred miles down the bandit-infested Yellow River on an inflated sheepskin raft. You can’t do that anymore. You can’t repeat our thousand-mile camel trek across the Gobi Desert in the footsteps of Genghis Khan. You can’t sit at a camel-dung campfire in the very heart of that huge desert and listen to a Mongol narrate how the Great Khan was castrated by a captured Tangut beauty he tried to take to bed. Neither can you visit the oasis, then one of the most remote places in the world, where we met a Mongol princess descended from survivors of the most horrendous mass migration in human history. Nor can you barge into the preserve of a churlish Muslim warlord and become a prisoner in his fortress town.

That’s the beginning, and what follows more than lives up to its promise. I ordered a copy a few years back and read the whole thing in one or two sittings, and felt a little sick with admiration afterwards.

A co-worker of my father’s met DeFrancis years ago in Paris – he has a great story about a dinner there where DeFrancis, speaking neither French nor (at the time) Vietnamese, ordered food via the Chinese characters on the menu at an Indochinese restaurant and blew the waiter’s mind – and had kept in touch with him, on and off, ever since. I gave him my copy of In the Footsteps a while ago in the hopes that he might be able to get Professor DeFrancis to sign it for me the next time they met.

I guess it’ll never happen now. You can’t do that anymore, either.

After the Olympics: What's Next?

Now that the Olympics are over (and how about those closing ceremonies? Those of you who found my comments on the Opening Ceremonies distasteful should count yourselves lucky I didn’t blog the closing ceremonies) everyone is asking what will be next. It’s a good question: I first came here about a week and a half or so after the IOC selected Beijing to host the 2008 games, so I have never actually known the city without the Olympics looming in front of it.

What’s next? Dinner for now. Then calligraphy practice — I’m trying to learn to write 篆书 seal script with a brush. Calligraphy is a bad sign among foreign students of Chinese: it starts out innocently enough, but before you know it you’re all hopped-up on the 古琴 guqin zither and studying 相声 xiangsheng and god-all knows what else, until you wake up six months later to find yourself in a dumpster missing a kidney, wearing a Mao suit and singing 对面的女孩看过来 “Hey Girls Over There – Look Over Here!” on a foreigner talent show.

T+12 – Opening Ceremonies

8:00 – Liveblogging ACTIVATE. Set phasers to MAXIMUM SNARK!

Boy, Jiang Zemin looks old.

Sweet-ass fireworks at the beginning.

Flying apsaras escorting an Olympic logo. Well, that’s tacky, but if that’s the worst of it then –

Hey, time for the singing minority children gathered around the Chinese flag. For fuck’s sake.

And now it’s time for the friendly soldiers to take the flag from them. Boy, is this ever a Zhang Yimou production or what.

8:14 – Paper unrolling to serve as a stage. Yes, you guys invented paper. Very nice. I guess the next time the US hosts the Olympics we’ll decorate our opening ceremonies with everything invented in the last century.

8:16 – OK, the ‘ink dancers’ (as CCTV is calling them) are pretty cool They’re writhing over the paper stage – looks ilke they’re doing breakdance grinds – while painting some kind of composite picture. Whatever it is is not currently visible.

8:19 – It’s a crappy doodle of a mountain range and a squiggly sun.

8:20 – “Chinese characters are one of the most ancient writing systems in the world.” “3000 Confucian disciples” chanting Confucius’ Greatest Hits: 三人行必有我师 (“Of three people walking, there must be one I can learn from”); 知者不言, 言者不知 (“He who knows does not speak; he who speaks does not know”) (which is actually 老子 Lao-Tzu, not Confucius); 学而不思则罔,思而不学则殆 (“Learning without thought is wasted; thought without learning is dangerous”.)

8:22 - They’re pretending to be printing blocks, having just jumped from the Warring States to the Song dynasty.

8:23 – And now a seal script 和 (the first part of 和平 peace and 和谐 harmony).

8:23 – Except that’s not the usual form of 和 in seal script, if I recall correctly.

8:25 – And now the modern form. Showcasing the ancient belief of the Chinese race in harmony, sez CCTV drone.

8:27 – Time for Peking Opera. Because if there’s anything with international appeal, it’s drums, gongs, and caterwauling transvestites.

8:28 – I’d like to take advantage of this long stretch of boringness to note that the CCTV 5 announcers suck. The standard constant autofellatio: “Hey, look! Peking Opera! Foreigners never invented that!” “Did we mention we invented paper?”

8:30 – Silk Road time. Floozies in sequined hoochie gear with long silk streamers. Yes plz.

8:35 – Friend 1: “What is this, a caterpillar?”

8:35 – Li: “I have had more than enough of this now.”

8:37 – The bit with the Kunqu opera is pretty cool. And the painting in this section is way better.

8:37 – IM from my dad in the States:

Dad: NBC screwed us–I hung around to watch it and they have some twit reporters burbling in Kindergarten English about ancient Chinese culture and what you shouldn’t wear etiquette wise
» Green hat
Me: Oh for fuck’s sake.
» Yeah, that’s like you should never ever include the number 13 in anything in America.
» Or buy a black cat.
Dad: And don’t give a clock as a business gift
Me:Do they have the one about how you never split a pear?
Dad: etc
Me: It’s amazing – there’s a whole cottage industry in reporting this stuff as valuable business advice.

8:42 – CCTV Announcer: “The program we just saw described the ancient splendor of China. Now we’ll start to learn more about the splendor of today’s China.” Yeeeees? The next batch of dancers will represent cheap, nonunion labor?

8:43 – Lang Lang and a midget. Or possibly a child.

8:46 – Horrible rainbow dancers gone; now there’s a pretty cool dance that looks like a galaxy from above. This is awesome, except that given that all of them are swirling inwards and converging on a central point, they could just as easily be representing the death of a star system at the hands of a black hole.

8:46 – Oh – they turn into a dove. It’s flapping its wings. This is pretty cool.

8:48 And now it’s turned into a replica of the Bird’s Nest. (“A green Bird’s Nest for the green Olympics!” and “a harmonious vista,” as the CCTV announcer is enthusing. Now there’s a girl with a kite flying over the whole thing on wires. This is blowing my mind.

8:50: Kung fu! Maybe this time, unlike with Hero and House of Flying Daggers, Zhang Yimou won’t fuck it up!

8:51 Actually this is pretty cool. The girl’s doing taiji in the middle of a bunch of screens with organic patterns being broadcast — water, bamboo, fire. Now there’s a massive projected waterfall all around the edges of the stadium. Very cool.

8:54 – A bunch of children wearing backpacks painting on that piece of paper while a bunch of people do athletic kung-fu practice moves around them.

8:56 – Anyone think these performances are going to do anything to assuage ‘yellow hordes’-type fears in the west?

8:57 – Birds “representing our green family” fly up, projected, onto the screen around the rim. Children rejoice. They sure like those birds.

8:59 – Section: ‘Dreams.’ Massive projection of the cosmos on the ground, astronauts in fake zero-g flying over it. Funny, because I have this dream too. Usually involving meeting hot alien chicks and teaching them how to love.

9:01 -  And now the Earth emerges from the ground, with people circling it at all levels and in all orientations, so that it looks like they’re really walking on its surface. This is pretty cool wirework.

9:02 – Liu Huan and Sarah Brightman. Can’t tell if she’s supposed to be singing in Chinese or not. Kill me now plz thx.

9:03 – I heard her sing “you and me,” so she’s either singing English or Mandopop.

9:04 – People open umbrellas with different faces printed on them. CCTV announcer: “No matter your country, no matter your language, a smile is the best form of expression.” More fireworks.

9:06 – More fireworks. Song is over and it’s time to light this bitch up. Putin is in the audience, applauding and looking lifeless. I wonder if that’s what happens when they remove your soul.

9:07 – CCTV announcer: “And now the 56 minorities will sing and dance to welcome the Olympics.” Dancers in traditional dress with streamers.

9:09 – Time for the athletes. Weird ting about all of the stadium announcements: they’re in French, then English, then Chinese. Greece comes first as the inventors of the Olympics (Zhang Yimou couldn’t work in a dance for that one); after that they athletes will come in order of the number of strokes in their names.

9:11 – Jiang Zemin is smiling. MUST WASH EYEBALLS. Is it me or does he look like a slimmed-down Jabba the Hutt?

9:11 – @davesgonechina: Hey look, the Uyghur performers are doing the traditional grenade making dance.

9:12 – @kaiserkuo: Long camera hold on Xi Jinping confirms his anointment as next president? Good! I like that dude.

9:22 – OK, lots of athletes. This is boring as hell and will go on for a couple hours. Expected something when Japan and ‘Chinese Taibei’ came out, but nothing other than a loud cheer for the Taiwanese athletes. I’m done – time to go out and find a place to watch the fireworks that are scheduled for 11;30.

9:45 – Dashan! I told Chinese friends he’d be there and they didn’t believe me. Ha ha ha! Like Chinese people know anything else about Canada besides that it’s cold and easy to emigrate there if your’e a corrupt official.

T-Minus 2 Hours: Holy Shit

People are twittering online (via retweets through @gvoolympics) that:

  • Chaoyang Park and the small parks around Tian’anmen Square are closed for viewing.
  • There’s heavy security in Ditan Park.
  • No food (i.e. beer, as @AdrianeQ notes) or sitting on the grass will be permitted at Ditan.
  • There are SWAT teams in the subway. (Not sure whether or not this is just someone mistaking regular security cops for SWAT)

Police presence here isn’t particularly heavy, but there are flags everywhere and I’ve seen a bunch of cops riding new red moto-trikes with what looks like firefighting gear.

Li is pissed off about the Olympics already.

across the table from me

across the table from me