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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

This is one of the final posts on the Beijing Olympics Blog – the experiment is coming to an end, and to be honest, since getting back from China Bob has found it hard to summon up the time and enthusiasm to keep posting. To sign off it’s time to review the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics, identify lessons to be learnt for London 2012, and on a personal level to review the blogging experiment.

So, lessons for London 2012.

Don’t over-price

Despite the attention on empty seats and ticket touts it certainly seemed to Bob that most events were well attended by Chinese fans who were thrilled to be there. Bob watch Christine Ohuruogu win the 400m gold sat high in the stands next to a man from rural Shanxi province who had bought just one ticket and was determined to enjoy the night. The lack of Chinese athletes did not dampen his spirits, but prompted him to join Bob in cheering anyone British. He even had a stab at ‘God Save The Queen’!

Don’t over-price tickets in London, make international sport accessible for all.

Don’t get too obsessed by the medals table

This is something that the Beijing organisers were guilty of. There has been a great recognition of the advancement of Chinese elite sport leading up to the Olympics, and while this will undoubtedly inspire uptake of sport across the country most reports suggest that grass roots sport has not been promoted (see China Review 43 page 18. London 2012 should be able improving sports access in the UK, and the medal success should be a reflection of that, not a priority over it.

Some of the most controversial events in Beijing were related to poor judging and ineligible athletes in sports where it seemed the Chinese team were desperate to contribute to the country’s medal tally. The pressure on the people involved undermined the sporting achievements.

Let people gather

People who have attended both the Sydney and Beijing Olympics tend to agree on one thing; the atmosphere within the host city was better in the 2000 Games. This has a lot to do with the lack of spaces for fans from different countries to gather an celebrate in Beijing. Big screens were few and far between, sponsored events in the city were rare, and people without tickets were not allowed within the vicinity of the stadia. Understandably the Chinese authorities are not keen on large gatherings of people in Beijing, and this inhibited the Olympic spirit in Beijing.

Not everyone who attends the London Olympics will be able to get tickets for their favourite events but there is more to the Olympics than that. The London organisers should put together as many events as possible. Most essential of all: sites with big screens around the city where people can gather. Although London will probably have more security concerns than Beijing, there are alternatives to restricting freedoms.

Free transport for ticket-holders

Another of the success stories from the Beijing Games was the free transport. It’s not so much about saving money, but about making visitors feel welcome and facilitating a great experience. London’s transport is expensive, and this is a must for 2012.

Enable resale of tickets

Another of the many things the Chinese organisers did right was to turn a blind eye to ticket resale. Without this there would have been more empty seats, more disgruntled visitors, and less atmosphere in the stadia. However, Bob has no sympathy for ticket touts, who inflate the price of events, make it harder for real fans to get tickets legitimately and cream off profit without doing anything to earn it. Instead the London 2012 organisers must facilitate ticket resale and exchange at face value. A dedicated website and amnesty zones around the city should be set up to allow unwanted tickets to be passed on fairly.

Refreshments – not just a chance to make a buck

Sporting events have a tendency of serving terrible food for equally unpalatable prices, so it was refreshing in Beijing that the mark up was minimal (even if the food was still awful). London is an expensive place as it is, and there is a chance visitors will feel like money is being wrung out of them if food and drinks aren’t affordable.

In London the refreshments should be a chance to show-case good, healthy, local, and affordable delights. London can break the mould and make eating and drinking part of the experience rather than an unavoidable necessity for visitors. At least more choice than just McDonald’s!

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Paralympics Closing Ceremony

Paralympics Closing Ceremony

The Beijing Paralympics wrapped up yesterday with yet another spectacular ceremony at the wonderful Bird’s Nest stadium giving delirious athletes a chance to say goodbye after an extremely successful Games. Sounds like a similar story to four weeks ago when the Olympics ended on a high – we were even treated to another show of gormless flag waving from an open-suited Mayor of London.

Unfortunately Bob has been awol for the last three weeks and has not been able to continue regular blogging throughout the Paralympics, and this is not an attempt to brush it under the carpet as ‘similar to the Olympics’; reviews of the Paralympics will follow. Bob has been keeping up with the news from Beijing, but upon returning to work in London has suffered from excess of work and shortage of post-Beijing motivation, both of which have stifled blogging.

As the Paralympic athletes return to their respective homes there do seem to be a number of parallels with the Olympics:

  • The organisers will be breathing a sigh of relief after another almost trouble-free event. They have been widely congratulated by athletes, officials and observers alike (and are not afraid of exhibiting this in the Chinese media)
  • The ceremonies have been grand and spectacular
  • The volunteers have been lauded and celebrated for their enthusiasm and sheer number

    Volunteers at the 2008 Olympics at Shanghai Stadium

    Volunteers at the 2008 Olympics at Shanghai Stadium

  • China have topped the medal table
  • The British team are celebrating an extraordinary performance (although the athletics has been a disappointment)
  • Questions are being asked about how London will measure up to Beijing
  • Despite fantastic organisation, comments have been made about Beijing’s lack of atmosphere and ‘fun’

Over the next two weeks Bob will discuss the Paralympics, the aftermath of both events in Beijing 2008, the implications for China, and the lessons for London in 2012. Then the Beijing Olympics Blog will be wrapped up for good, and some new chapters will be opened.

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The Olympics are over, and most of the athletes have returned home to be paraded in front of adoring crowds. Now it is Bob’s turn to do the same (minus the crowds), back in Shanghai again now and the UK tomorrow.

However this is not the end of the events in Beijing, or the Beijing Olympics Blog – the 2008 Paralympics will kick off in a matter of days (unfortunately Bob’s 30 day visa does not allow for this to be covered as well), and there is still plenty to digest from the summer, so watch this space.

It’s been another wonderful trip to China – many thanks to everyone who has helped to make it so; friends and colleagues, former students and volunteers, landlords, shop keepers and taxi drivers.

It has certainly been a successful Olympics (as CCTV constantly reminds us), for which the organisers must be commended. The stadia and facilities have been immense, the volunteers have shone and the organisers have mixed security with convenience to ensure everything has worked smoothly and they have largely escaped criticism.

Well organised does not always mean fun, however. And this is one thing that Beijing could have delivered more of. Within the stadiums the atmosphere has mostly been superb, but outside the enthusiasm has been dispersed and diluted in the vastness of Beijing.

The wide roads and large buildings in Beijing can be disorienting, and can give you the impression of an echo, bouncing around in a void. It lacks the local environments which can stimulate spontaneity and excitement. London has these spaces in abundance, as does Shanghai these days, so for this Bob is less sad about leaving Beijing. The ability to create a great atmosphere and spaces for fans, athletes and locals to unite will be key for London if they hope to host a successful Olympics (much as Sydney managed).

Anyway, more on the pro’s and con’s of the Beijing Games, and what London will need to do later…

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The general concensus appears to be that it was a truely spectacular opening ceremony (and no need to any fears of upset).

Bob watched the whole ceremony with friends, and here are out selection of the top 10 moments:

China's Human Print Press - People Power

China's Human Print Press - People Power

10 – The sea of printing blocks – representing the creation of printing in China – that moved in smooth waves as if computerised, but in fact powered by hundreds of men. A particularly nice touch at the end of the sequence when the men burst out and waved to the elated crowds.

9 – The moment when a group representing China’s different ethnic minorities entered the stadium with the national flag. Or to be more accurate, the moment that they handed over the flag to PLA soldiers – there has to be a metaphore in that!?

Symetry and Harmony - Olympic Drummers Recite Confucius

Symetry and Harmony - Olympic Drummers Recite Confucius

8 – The perfect execution of the mass drumming and recital of Confucius’s words. The synchronicity was astounding; if this is anything to go by expect China to take a clean sweep on synchronised swimming golds.

7 – When, during the procession of athletes, the camera panned to three top tennis players and summarised perfectly their contrasting personalities. Rafael Nada, looking sweaty and pumped; Roger Feder, immaculate; and Andy Murray, scruffy.

6 – Firewords with smiling faces. The country that invented fireworks combines it’s pyrotechnic heritage with the modern popularity of cute emoticons. (Apologies, can’t find a photo of this.)

5 – Team Japan waving both Japanese and Chinese flags. A small act but a big statement. This could potentially have been unpopular back home, but is a bold step in international relations. Who says the Olympics aren’t about politics!?

Olympic Rings - The Light Appeared to Peal From the Floor

Olympic Rings - The Light Appeared to Peal From the Floor

4 – Early on in the ceremony the Olympic rings appeared to be projected onto the stadium floor by spot lights. It was breath-taking then when the five rings rose up from the ground to hover vertically in midair. Goose-pimples!

3 – The moment when Team China entered the stadium and the cowboy boot-wearing cheerleaders stepped up the tempo again, after having been dancing and cheering for over two hours by this stage. Olympic stamina!

2 – Li Ning executes the trademark Zhang Yimou slow-running-in-the-sky torch lighting. The image was straight out of films like Hero and Li Ning executed it perfectly.

1 – The electronic drum countdown. The coordination of the drummers was spectacular enough, and then they took it to another level with the countdown of scrolling numbers from 10 to 0 in both numerical values and Chinese. The biggest the many breath-taking moments of the night.

Beijing Olympic Drummers Count Down Perfectly

Beijing Olympic Drummers Count Down Perfectly

The organisers for London 2012 will have a tough act to follow…

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Yao Ming has returned from injury to compete for the first time in 5 months just weeks ahead of the Olympic Games in his home country. However in the same week the groups for the Olympic basketball competition have been announced and Yao’s China team will face an extremely strong line up to qualify for the quarter finals.

Yao made his come back at a tournament in Hangzhou where China narrowly lost to one of their rivals in Group B, Angola. The other teams to make up Group B will be the USA, Germany, Greece and Spain – four of the six will make it through to the next round.

The Olympic basketball event will be kicked off by the huge clash between China and USA on 10th August. Bob would hate to speculate on how much those tickets could fetch…

Teaching in a middle school in China there was one sport that clearly dominated above all others, and it was not ping pong! The baggy shorts, the rows of hoops in the playground, the English names like Kobe and LeBron; basketball may as well be China’s national sport. And Yao is their greatest star – huge in physique, fame and respect Yao’s popularity is rivalled only by that of Liu Xiang within China and his return will have doubled the price of the China v USA game alone.

The update on Yao’s injury from China’s head coach Jonas Kazlausk is:

“Yao still cannot play a full game because of his foot injury. I exchange information about his injury with his doctor as much as I can. I hope he’ll take the full recovery at the Olympics.”

Of the Olympic Group B challenge Yao also talks a good game (via China Daily):

“I am very sure we can beat Angola. We lost to them in Hangzhou, but we were not in our best shape last week,” he said. “Their players are not very competitive, and I don’t think they are able to pose us any real threat at the Games.

“We are not afraid of Germany either. Yi Jianlian has improved tremendously after playing one season in the NBA and he can limit Nowitzki. And I can take care of Chris Kaman.”

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The Lost Ring is a brand new ARG (which apparently stands for Alternative Reality Game) centred around the Beijing Olympics and jointly sponsored by the IOC and one of the 2008 Games’ official partners.

Bob is no expert in ARG’s and was informed about The Lost Ring by a colleague (thanks Liz), so decided to do some research. According to Liz:

“The internet is aflutter with rumours about a new alternate reality game…The Lost Ring began last week [Bob has a feeling this may be a little out of date], when certain gamers received a package in the post with a web address hidden in a ball of string.”

Intriguing…

Upon visiting the site – www.TheLostRing.com – you are shown a fantastic fantasy video (think Lord of the Rings meets ancient Greece) that sets a dramatic scene but gives few answers…

…so on a mission to find out more Bob found a post on Global voices which lead to the Virtual China blog, which happens to have an excellent introduction to the Game courtesy of Lyn Jeffery.

The Game is centred around eight main characters from China, Japan, Germany, Spain, US, UK, Brazil and France and the big idea is collaboration. These characters have super powers and mysterious pasts and are ‘played’ in real time online so that other players can interact with them – see their profile pages here.

So far there are apparently 15,000 people playing in China alone. According to Lyn:

“The game is designed to be impossible to make serious progress in unless you can figure out how to be part of a collective… It is fascinating to watch how this kind of highly emergent, non-rules-based, collaborative game is diffusing into China. In China, where this kind of gaming doesn’t exist, it’s hasn’t been so easy to engage a distributed community and link it up to a global community of players who mostly don’t speak Chinese.”

A number of issues face Chinese players, including language (much of the content is user generated, and so not necessarily provided in Chinese) cultural (Chinese gamers aren’t used to this kind of collaboration) and political (the Great Firewall prevents access to some resources that the players use, including The Lost Ring’s very own wiki). However Lyn observes:

“What seems to be happening, however, is that the translation problem is becoming a feature of the game, not a bug, which is perfect.  The community is self-organizing to deal with the communication problems, which appear to be most acute with the Chinese language materials.”

So it looks as if this by-product of the Olympics is building bridges of communication between the people of all countries, and particularly between them and Chinese people. That can only be a good thing.

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Beijing National Stadium

Beijing National Stadium

Beijing is a city reshaped, and the 2008 Olympic Games will leave a lasting impact on the landscape of one of the most historic cities in the world. Coming at a time of huge economic growth and large-scale

rural-urban migration (legitimate and unofficial) the Olympics has come as a spur for adventurous architecture on an ambitious scale.

For an introduction into the new landmarks reinventing Beijing’s identity check out a new interactive guide from NYT (thanks Rusk for pointing this out). Click ‘play audio’ for a succinct analysis of each project.

The Water Cube - Beijing Olympic National Aquatic Centre At Night

The Water Cube - Beijing Olympic National Aquatic Centre At Night

The slide show of the National Aquatic Centre (Water Cube) shows how the beautiful bubbles/cells were generated. One other thing that Bob didn’t know was that there is a water park within the Water Cube that will remain in use after the Olympics – a definite must on the Beijing to do list!

Apart from the Water Cube and the National Stadium – aka the Bird’s Nest – the guide also covers the new Airport terminal, the National Theatre and the CCTV tower.

For more information on the Water Cube and comments from one of the architects of the Bird’s Nest take a look at these past posts.

The Bird's Nest - Beijing's National Stadium

The Bird's Nest - Beijing's National Stadium

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