I'm tired. It's the morning of Day 5 of competition and I wouldn't mind having a day off, but I have tickets to women's handball this afternoon and then will see women's volleyball tonight. So the show will go on...it's not like I'm not having fun, but the rush-rush of getting from one place to another has been a bit draining.
Day 4 was great. My cousin Bing's daughter, Bonnie, and I went to men's volleyball at the Capital Gymnasium, which is on the west side of town. To get there, we took the 10:55am shuttle bus from the River Garden Villas (where we're staying) into the city. The Villas are located in the 'burbs where a lot of expatriates live - there is a high-class strip mall down the road with a Starbucks and a Subway. It's a nice, green, leafy area that's a nice change to the hustle and bustle of Beijing, but the downside is that it's a hike to get downtown. From the Guomao subway station we rode to the Fu Xing Men station, switched to Line 2 to get to the Xi Zhi Men station, and caught a taxi to the venue.
Unlike most of the other venues, the Capital Gymnasium was not built for these Olympics. It actually has a lot of history: it was the site of the much-vaunted ping-pong matches between the U.S. and China in the early 1970s before the two countries formalized diplomatic relations. You may remember the scene from "Forrest Gump." The Gymnasium has been renovated for the Games, of course, but it still has a proletariat-ish facade with long, vertical granite lines. The seats inside are squeezed together (maybe because most Chinese people are shorter), but the environment was electric.
The first match we watched featured the U.S. against Italy. By now I'm sure you heard about that bizarre, tragic murder of the father-in-law of the U.S. men's volleyball coach at the Drum Tower of the Great Wall. So, so sad. The coach has not been with the team for obvious reasons, and I wondered how the players would adjust. They lost the first game 26-24, and it initially looked like Italy would win. The U.S. came back in the second 25-22, however, and won that as well as the third and fourth, 25-15 and 25-21. In the third and fourth games they looked very much in sync with their sets and spikes...Reid Priddy and Clayton Stanley were especially awesome spikers.
There were two American boys who couldn't have been older than 12 who sat next to us. They both were wearing USA Volleyball warm-up jackets and turned out to be from Poulsbo, WA, which is on the Olympic Peninsula. Small world. We happened to sit in the middle of a big crowd of Brazilians, since Brazil played Serbia in the second match. If you've ever seen Brazilians at a sports event on TV, you know that they really get into it. Most of the people in this crowd were middle-aged, but they knew all of the cheers and songs. One of them was particularly catchy and went like this:
Heyyyyy, sou brasileiro (I'm Brazilian)
Com muito orgulho (with much pride)
Com muito amor (with much love)
I arrived at the event wearing my USA Olympic t-shirt but brought my yellow "Torcida do Brasil" (Fan of Brazil) t-shirt that I got from the back of a Brazilian at a men's volleyball match at the Sydney Games in 2000. I changed into it in between the two matches, much to the delight of the people sitting around us. Something funny I have to mention has to do with the cheer that the Chinese spectators use, which is "Zhong Guo, jia you!" that translates literally as "China, get gas!" You've probably heard this being screamed if you've been watching NBC's broadcast. Many non-Chinese fans have appropriated this cheer and inserted the Chinese or English name of their respective countries, so instead of "Zhong Guo" the Brazilians yelled "Ba Xi" (xi" being pronounced "shee"). Really funny. During the U.S.-Italy match I screamed "Mei Guo (literally as "beautiful country"), jia you"...that elicited turned heads and stares from some of the Chinese attendees in our area. I'm sure they're confused as to why a Chinese person is cheering for the U.S. and waving a large American flag.
We left the Brazil-Serbia match during the second game because Bonnie had to meet up with her mom and some friends of theirs from Santa Cruz, CA, who are also here. I got her into a taxi and then made my way over to Worker's Stadium in the Chaoyang District just northeast of the city center for women's soccer. Yet another urban adventure combining bus, subway, and foot. I'm feeling like I can get around this city pretty easily now, but that doesn't make the travel time any shorter. I got to the stadium a bit late and was soon joined by my cousin Andy. We had great seats just six rows up from the field, but our view of the far side of the field was partially obstructed by the team benches.
Nigeria was leading Brazil 1-0 when I arrived, but Brazil scored once, twice, and thrice. The second goal was a spectacular bicycle kick - I've never seen one before, so witnessing it live was pretty incredible. The Brazilians were fast and just too good for the Nigerians, who did have a small cheering section including a brass band that played during the ENTIRE match (except for halftime). Repeating the same tune over and over and over. I felt bad for the spectators who were seated in their section.
The second match was between Sweden and Canada, two teams I saw in Tianjin last Saturday. They were fairly evenly matched in terms of size and style of play (from what I could tell), but Sweden was better at passing the ball and won 2-1 (if I remember correctly). Good game, though - originally we were planning to leave at halftime but decided to stay. At halftime we walked outside to food & beverage venues to get some sodas. Wow, what a mess. First of all, Chinese people don't know how to form a line. Even if there is one, people will try to push or squeeze their way to the front. If you ever come to China and need to stand in line for something, you'll need to learn the term "pai dui" (pie dway) so you can tell the skippers off.
We stood in line for what seemed like forever. I ended up helping this other woman play line cop. She looked kind of Euro with her green-framed glasses, and I wonder if she had lived in the West because she had no qualms about telling the line-jumpers to go to the back. She even pulled the metal posts in between the red ribbon barriers out so that they were more obvious. The killer was the electricity apparently went out just as we were getting close to the order counter, so the volunteers staffing the refreshment stand had to stop. The Euro woman barreled to the front and went off - I couldn't hear what she was saying, but boy was she pissed. Andy and I surrendered and pulled out of line, only to notice several Coca-Cola carts behind us with fast-moving lines. Ha...if only we had known.
Afterwards we walked around the area next to the stadium and checked out the bar area in Sanlitun, which was the original gringo/expat hangout neighborhood in Beijing. It had been a long time since I had seen anything so cheesy. One bar after the other, each with a neon sign and inside a tacky band on stage whose members crowed like screech owls. A sad sight. Andy guided me into a maze of alleyways off the main drag and into a cool bar that had been built in an old Chinese house. They had Grolsch in bottles, but I stuck to Qingdao - made in the port city of the same name at a brewery started by Germans over a hundred years ago.
We didn't get home until after midnight...I did a load of laundry and collapsed. Now I need to get motivated to head into town for handball!
Postscript: I forgot to mention in my previous post that I saw a bunch of celebrities at the tennis session on Monday. Carl Lewis, the star of the 1984 LA and 1988 Seoul Olympics, walked down the stairs right next to where we were sitting. In the VIP section 1/3 of the way around Center Court, Prince Felipe of Spain was there to watch Rafael Nadal. The last time I saw him was in 1995 at my graduation from Georgetown - he got a MSFS from the School of Foreign Service the same year I got my BSFS, so King Juan Carlos II was the speaker.
LeBron James later showed up to watch Roger Federer - he was with three other guys, one of whom also looked like a member of the U.S. men's team. With basketball now the most popular sport in China, millions of people now know the NBA stars like they were homegrown heroes. You should have seen how all these Chinese spectators mobbed him for autographs when he was leaving the tennis stadium. He actually had to push people away. It makes you wonder if being famous is really all that...