The View from Workers Stadium

(I had written this on August 16th, but just got it off my Palm and into an email — sorry for the time lag.)

I am writing this on my Palm Treo outside Workers Stadium, drawn here by the occasional sound of cheering lifted up into the lit sky above an Olympic soccer match — according to the chinese, french and english announcements I just heard, apparently italy beat belgium.  I have heard this sound before and remembered where: 1990, when I was playing SimCity on a computer so slow it took 10 seconds for the screen to refresh when you scrolled across.  If your city was doing well, from time to time you would hear the simulated roar of fans screaming from football stadiums that would pop up across the city. It sounded exactly like Workers Stadium does now.

From time to time, societies get to lay out their visions of themselves so everyone can see.  In 1939, General Motors had a futuristic exhibit at the New York World Expo, at that time between the Depression and World War II, when mainstream America was still on its first awkward dates with the automobile.  In the GM exhibit, visitors could ride a little train around a scale map of the America of the future: wide open plains, covered with highways that didn’t yet exist — but one day would, as the visionaries proved true (or probably more accurately, ensured became true).  When I first saw the clips of excited spectators, I too became thrilled with the concepts of freedom and independence, of exploring the country and experiencing America’s natural beauty, in these awesome and powerful automobile machines.  But then a wave of sorrow passed over me: how this vision has evolved into suburban sprawl and stripmalls, fractured communities and energy crises, environmental devastation and solitary commutes that gobble up 10 pct of people’s working years.

In a few weeks, the flood of journalists that washed up on Beijing’s shores will recede back to Denver to cover the Democratic National Convention. This summer, first China and then the US will get to define their visions, build their futurama expos.  Here at the Olympics, I want to understand what is it that this ‘one world’ (and ‘One China’) cherish as its ‘one dream’? In Denver, what will Obama and the Democratic party themselves say they ‘hope’ for?
As for my dream: I hope that Beijing becomes the city it is today, this lovely August 16th.  The sky is blue with poofy white clouds. The flowers smell like honey and the grass smells freshly cut. People of every banner are here, cheering on themselves, and cheering China too.
The soccer game is over now and the crowds are gone. I am watching a man in a dirty orange jumpsuit with a broom made of straw sweeping up the Coke bottles and Tsingdao beer bottles, while a mosquito is biting at my ankle now.

It itches.  Anyway, it’s time to go.


Olympic Buzz

No time for editing and composing — here’s what it feels like to be
in Beijing now:


I am writing this at 12:45:07 am because it’s the second time in two
weeks I’ve been home before 1 a.m., fueled less by caffeine than by
pure adrenaline, the pace of the Olympics.

Here’s the thing:  for so long, so long, I’ve been thinking about the
Beijing Olympics as the BEIJING Olympics — this platform, this stage
for the world to get to know China.

But now that it’s here, it’s clear that this is just as much about the
OLYMPICS as it is about Beijing.  Now every day is riddled with
spectating Games in person, or listening to friends recount their
tales of Games they’ve seen, or meeting athletes on bars and in the
street and online, and hearing stories of people, these real live
people, and their families, that came here, to experience this week —
not China really — but this MOMENT IN TIME, to watch the flags of the
world collide in potpourri, a galaxy born out of cheering and
jiayou-ing and friendly rivalry, to feel the temperature drop in the
stadium as people go home after the first match of a double header
ends at 10:30 pm, to feel the heat and humidity of the Opening
Ceremony, to breathe in the welcome aroma of fresh cut grass and
blooming flowers under a blue sky, to feel out of step but secretly
glad at the emptiness of car-cleared streets, and welcomed by teams of
super friendly Olympic volunteers, and adorable Fuwa mascots.  These
weeks, the Beijing I write about has taken a back seat, and some sort
of international netherspace has arrived, a ground where people are
happy, and competitive, and excellent, and friendly, and curious, and
driven, and carefree, all in one.  So much fun!!!

And then, if this unparalleled atmosphere weren’t enough, Continue reading