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 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 guqin zither and studying 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 “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

T-Minus 5 Hours: Crowded and Grey

CCTV 5 — sorry, ‘CCTV Olympic’ or whatever they’re calling themselves — is broadcasting a succession of reporters standing in front of the Bird’s Nest stadium and pontificating into the camera about the Olympic Green, which registers behind them as a murky, greenish grey color, sort of like a cowpat that’s been out in the sun for a long time.

This might be because I haven’t yet gotten around to switching to digital cable, but just as much of it has to do with the air, which – in case you have not read any foreign newspaper reports lately – is bad. From the sheer volume of ink spilled and bits transferred on the subject, I can only imagine that newspaper editors around the world are calling their bureau chiefs in Beijing: “Goddammit, the Post scooped us with that amazing air piece. Go out there and pound some pavement, and don’t come back until you’ve got some facile observations for me! And don’t let up on that breaking story about how some websites aren’t viewable in China — that one’s got Pulitzer written all over it!”

The Manchus who ruled the Qing Empire, of which China was a part, made their capital in Beijing despite hating the place and finding it ‘pestilential and malarial.’ A French expatriate newspaper published in the foreign community around the turn of the century christened the city ‘Pékin des Odeurs.’ The first blog post I ever wrote from China, in July 2001, started off:

I like the air here.
In some places, you don’t know what you’re breathing. Here, you can see it right before your eyes: straight-up, no-bullshit carcinogenic smog. It casts a faint halo around lights, blurs objects that are more than 50 yards away, and is undoubtedly lethal.

Some things just never change, I guess. Except they do: the air here is, by any measurable standard, far better than it was a year ago. The grey mist currently choking the city may well actually be somewhat sort-of natural in composition, as the authorities are claiming; at the very least, rainstorms here no longer spatter light t-shirts with dark, gritty stains.

We had a few beautifully clear days last weekend, and everyone was hoping for more of that today, but the general level of excitement doesn’t seem to be much diminished. People are predicting massive crowds around the Bird’s Nest – apparently some people went into nearby restaurants at 8 AM to squat for 12 hours on a table so they could get a view of the games, and overpasses and highrises around the Green are guaranteed to be packed. Fireworks are going to go off all over the city, mainly in short bursts up and down the city’s north-south axis from Yongdingmen to Tian’anmen to Shichahai to the Green, and given the crush on Tian’anmen Square last night just to see the flag-lowering ceremony, I can only imagine what the crowds will be like 5 hours and four minutes from now.

Everybody wants to say they were here. I’m here, too.

1 Day: Crowds at Tian'anmen

Thoughts on the Olympics and the ways in which I’ve collided with it will come in later posts, I’m sure. For now, here’s some footage I shot around Qianmen and [Unnamable?] Square north of there this evening. Sound quality is lousy and transitions are jumpy because I edited in iMovie, which is the worst Apple product since their Chinese input method.

64 Days: 19 Years

Benefit concert for Sichuan earthquake

For Beijing readers: There’ll be a benefit concert at Mao Livehouse tomorrow night from 8:30 on. The Verse, Sand (a fun talking blues-style band), Rando(m), and IC Girlband are playing. Tickets are 50 kuai. Spread the word.

Mao is on the north side of Gulou Dong Dajie, about halfway between Jiaodaokou and the Drum Tower, or about 15 meters south of the corner of Bei Luogu Xiang.

88 Days: Portents (Listen to the Suckhole)

I have no luck at all with earthquakes. Philadelphia is a stubbornly immobile city and has been since the Jurassic or so, my brief time in San Francisco wasn’t spiced up by even the faintest tremor, and when a small earthquake hit Beijing a couple of years ago, I slept straight through it.

I was awake for the magnitude 7.8 earthquake that hit northwest of Chengdu today, and was on the phone at the time with a couple of people who, unlike me, work in tall buildings. Around 2:40 or so, both of them broke off mid-sentence to ask if we felt the ground shaking. I didn’t feel a thing; they both got off the phone and left their buildings in a hurry. According to online contacts, there were evacuations all throughout Beijing’s business district; Imagethief twittered that everyone was “watching [the] CCTV tower nervously” — it certainly looks unstable enough at the best of times.

If we could feel it in Beijing, more than a thousand miles away from where it hit, I can’t imagine what it did at the epicenter. I’m sorry to say, though, that my first reaction was not to worry about the people of Sichuan. My first reaction was, roughly, “awesome!”
And then I thought, hang on a minute: we’ve got disease; we’ve got unrest in the border areas; we’ve now got massive natural disasters — historically, this is about the time that Mongols on horseback or religious fanatics in yellow turbans should be invading and bringing about the end of the dynasty.

And if that isn’t portent enough for you, Joel sent me a link to a news story about a pond in Hubei that knows what’s going down:

Enshi, Hubei: 80 Tons of Water Vanish Suddenly

In a village under Baiguo Township, Enshi City in Hubei province, the Guanyin Pond, several dozen meters deep and approximately 100 meters in diameter, had held water for years until the morning of April 26, when in less than five hours all of the water disappeared after a massive whirlpool appeared in the pond, accompanied by a loud rushing noise.

The pond water is now gone. Only black muck is left.

One villager walked down alone into where the pond had been and scooped up two fish weighing more than 10 kilograms apiece.

Villagers proclaimed it a ‘marvel,’ and waited for experts to explain the occurence.

According to the ‘Annals of Baiguo Township,’ this phenomenon has occurred three times since Liberation — in 1949, 1976, and 1989, respectively.

Note: 1949 is the year the People’s Republic of China was founded. Mao Zedong died in 1976, bringing the Cultural Revolution to an end. The Tian’anmen Square protests took place in the summer of 1989.

Dynastic change, baby. Don’t believe me? Ask the suckhole.

Update: Via Shanghaiist, the Red Cross Society of China is now calling for donations to aid efforts in Wenchuan County.

Account name: Red Cross Society of China

For those who want to donate in RMB: you can send money to the RMB account at the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China branch below:
人民币开户行: 中国工商银行 北京分行东四南支行
人民币账号: 0200001009014413252

For those who want to donate in foreign currency, you can send money and earn bonus points if you use a credit card for it, to send the foreign currency account at the CITIC Bank branch below:
外币账号: 7112111482600000209

Hotline: (8610) 65139999
Online donations: Red Cross Society of China website:

Update 2, 5/13 4:56 PM: Stunning new proof that we are living in the End Times: Seal attempts sex with penguin.

92 Days: We're All Fucked

A while ago I had an idea for a series of bumper stickers about Eastern philosophy — all variations on the theme of “We’re All Fucked.” (Note: not accurate, particularly in the glossing of Mo-Tzu’s 兼爱.) For example:

We’re All Fucked
pray for oblivion

Taoism (Lao-Tzu):
We’re All Fucked
don’t let them know they’re fucked

We’re All Fucked
unless you study really hard

Taoism (Chuang-Tzu):
We’re All Fucked
let’s go fishing

We’re All Fucked
quick, fuck them from behind when they’re not looking

We’re All Fucked
fuck around

Corrections and additions welcome in the comments.

98 Days: Bollocks

As mentioned yesterday, Li and I went to see The Forbidden Kingdom, the new Jet Li/Jackie Chan movie. It did have a couple of saving graces — the fight scene between Jackie Chan and Jet Li is absolutely worth the price of admission; the slapstick scenes in which Jet Li and Jackie Chan fight by manipulating the arms and legs of the hapless gringo in the lead role are pretty funny; Li Bingbing in a leather bustiere, I mean, yow — but basically it sucked pretty hard but the tractor service they are on is awesome.

In particular, massive amounts of suckage came from its reinterpretation of a portion of 西游记 Journey to the West in a way which was not only totally inaccurate but provided massive amounts of unnecessary backstory for Chinese audiences. (I realize that the movie was intended for an American audience; I’ll address that later.) From the Wikipedia writeup:

Later that night, seated in a restaurant, Lu tells Jason a story of how the Monkey King caused havoc at the banquet celebrating the Jade Emperor‘s forthcoming 500 year period of meditation and drank of the elixir of immortality. The Emperor took a liking to the Monkey King and decided to award him a heavenly title, much to the chagrin of the Jade Warlord (Collin Chou), a heavenly general. The Emperor then left the Jade Warlord in charge of heaven before retreating to his period of seclusion. The Jade Warlord later challenged the Monkey King to an un-armed duel, but turned him into stone when Monkey set aside his magic staff, the source of his powers. But before he was fully immobilized, the Monkey King cast his staff away. Lu ends the tale by stating a person known as the “Seeker” will be the person to find the staff and free the Monkey King.

Let’s try to recast that in a more Western analogue:

2000 years ago, Jesus ran into a temple in Jerusalem and interrupted a birthday party being held by Satan, lord of all that is unholy. The two began to fight, and at first it seemed as if Jesus held the upper hand, as the massive candy cane (the source of his powers) that he wielded was clearly superior to Satan’s Mantis Fist; however, Satan, seizing upon the presence of Jesus’ girlfriend, Mary Magdalen, grabbed her and taunted Jesus by mocking Thanksgiving, Jesus’ birthday. Jesus, now angered, lost control and began to pummel Satan about the head and neck with his candy cane, invoking the mystical “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” mantra, whereupon Satan, exploiting Jesus’ weakness of occasionally being an egg-bearing rabbit, imprisoned him for 5000 years inside a block of stone, saying that only an intrepid Chinese explorer from the 21st century would be able to release him.

Actually, that would be an awesome movie.

Anyway: this reminded me of a god-awful TV movie that aired a while back, in which, again, it fell to a random white dude to save a mythologized China with the help of a wisecracking Monkey King and a remarkably easy Bodhisattva Guanyin, played by Bai Ling. (So I guess one could add to the above description that the intrepid Chinese explorer could only save Jesus with the help of the Virgin Mary, who by the way is totally up for whatever.)

Not that textual and historical accuracy are prerequisites for awesomeness. (I think my outline of the “rescue Jesus with the magical candy cane” movie above proves that.) But really — you’ve got Jet Li and Jackie Chan together; this movie is already super-sweet. Why go out of your way to write a plot “relevant” to the gringos in the audience? For the box office? Hero and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon did just fine overseas without needing to graft on plots about callow American teenagers sent back in time to rescue the Qin(g) dynasties. You’ve already got two names – in fact, the only two names – known to foreign audiences for kicking ass and taking names; you could insert them into pretty much any plot you wanted without the need for ridiculous crap like this. Dropping some random white guy into the story, I guess just to fulfill the bildungsroman requirement, only distracts from the ass-kicking.

Another pet peeve, not attributable to the writers: I saw the Chinese-dubbed version of the movie, and the voice used to dub the American lead actor was an egregious example of “foreigner Chinese.” I watched the credits but didn’t catch who they’d got to do it, and so I couldn’t tell whether it was a Chinese person (in which case the guy truly put in a virtuoso performance — wrong tones, clumsy intonation, semi-retarded diction) or an actual foreigner. Either way, it seemed to sum up all of my criticisms of the movie: if you’re going to do something, why not do it right?