Today was quite a day. I watched Cuba whup up on the US in the baseball semifinal and then headed to a spa to wash my stankin sweaty body and watch the US whup up on Argentina in basketball.
On the way to the baseball game, i shouted out GO USA! and told jokes in the subway to anyone who would listen. The Chinese loved it and laughed along. They were curious as to who I was and where i am from and extremely gracious about kicking our butts in the gold medal race. In fact, not one Chinese person I have spoken to mentioned the gold medal count. Instead, they ask about the rules to baseball, whether or not i play beach volleyball, what i think of Phelps and Bolt and complain about Chinese men's soccer and Chinese team sports in general.
I discussed the finer points of basketball and the future of the Dream Team, Yao Ming and several other players with a Beijing cabbie for a good 45 minutes. He asked me if I had ever seen Dr. J, then he told me that back in the 1980s, people would tape the games, send them back to China and play them against white walls in his village for free, serving iced water for pennies ...
It is in the media and from the government that we here all of the patriotic speeches and see all of the imagery. I sat and watched some Olympic coverage with my Chinese homies yesterday and we all laughed at the desperate eagerness with which the commentators try to "reassure" the people and tow the Party line. It was embarrassingly biased and over the top.
Kinda reminds me of Fox and CNN. This story here emphasizes the "Rising Dragon" aspect of these Games, but I have seen something else here as well:
Exchange and the thirst for more exchange. If the Chinese government had not been such control freaks leading up to the Games, so many more foreigners would be here to meet with so many more Chinese; if the media weren't as stifled and stilted as it is, there would be so many more stories told about so many more people.
On the street, people exchange greetings, ask each other to take pictures and cheer for each others' respective teams. The robotic volunteers that I laughed about in earlier posts are actually the vanguard for contact across cultures. They are certainly cute and hilarious, but they also help old ladies cross the road and expertly handle annoying sorority girls' demands.
In the baseball game today, i was loud and obnoxious and everybody loved it. I had people cheering for the USA, against Cuba, singing strange songs, laughing at jokes. They filmed, followed my lead, expanded upon the old "Add Oil!" cheer and generally were down to have a good laugh throughout. Everybody here is irrepressibly curious and open and polite.
And that is really what is happening.
There must be a separation between the peeps and the official line, because they never really walk the same path.
A crazy thing happened on the way to the Cuba USA game, i met Greg Hallahan again after 8 years. I never really forgot this kid because he is a tall rangy Irish dude with a good sense of humor. We came in on the same train to China -- teaching English -- and had orientation together. After a month or two, no one on that train every stayed in contact with me and we just all went about living out our lives.
A few weeks ago, one of those teachers, Cameron Wilson, hit me up and said hey, you remember me? and let me know what was going on with all of the people from that group. He mentioned Greg and said he was in Shanghai doing his thing. I said cool and me and Cameron have sent a few messages back and forth ...
well bigger than ish, Greg walks onto the subway to the baseball game, holding tickets just a few rows away from me. We recognize each other for the "China cliches" that we are (English teacher, freelance journalist, yellow fever carrier, import-export pretender etc.) and have a good laugh.
Turns out Danny, my boss at the security firm I am working for during the Games, is his boxing coach. I have been saying here from time to time that this whole China trip feels like a Moebius Continuum and I have reached the "beginning" once again. Well it can't get any clearer than this.
In other news, the China - terrorism story takes an interesting twist, with the Bank of China being sued by Israelis for aiding and abetting terrorism ...