Not quite a blog but not far from it, Debra Nott, Harker’s director of nursing, is emailing from Beijing where she is both providing moral support for daughter, Andrea, a Harker alumna and U.S. synchronized swimming team member, and “discovering” China. Here are her illuminating, periodic missives to friends and family. We’ll add updates, so watch for a changing headline!
We attended our first synchro competition yesterday. It was duet tech and Andrea and Christina (Jones) were terrific! They are sitting in fifth place and hope to move up in free competition, today, but places don’t change often in Synchro. So far, every country is in the same slot they earned at the last World Championships, in Australia. It was a wonderful moment when they walked out on the pool deck. I had to keep telling myself that I was at the Olympics and our daughter was indeed swimming in the biggest competition in the world. After waiting for this for so many years, it’s going to take a little while for it to seem real. I’m taking a cue from Andrea and trying to be in the moment. She said in her blog that she didn’t want to find herself in closing ceremonies wondering how it all went so fast. The Water Cube is just as spectacular as it looks on TV. The bubbles you see on the outside are visible inside. The best part, other than watching Andrea swim there, is that the air conditioning actually works! That’s a first for an indoor pool.
After Andrea swam, we headed over to the McDonalds located in the Olympic Green. The food is the same as McDonalds in the U.S., but that’s where the similarity stopped. There were about 200 people massed outside. They let us inside in groups of about 100. Remember the Chinese campaign to get people used to lining up instead of duking it out to get to the head of the line? There was a program to encourage them to practice queuing on the 11th of every month because 11 looks like two people standing in line. Let me tell you, that didn’t work. I was squished by people a foot shorter than me and received more than a couple of elbows in the McRibs. That will be our last visit to the Olympic McDonalds!
Since we are living in an apartment, we need to purchase supplies, so we went to the most popular store in the neighborhood – Walmart. It is similar to Walmart in the US, with a few Chinese twists. As we entered, a cheerful young woman greeted us in Chinese. They have the usual displays with those happy faces designating low prices. Then you come across the seafood department. It looks just like the aquarium section at Petco, except here when you buy the fish, you don’t take it home and name it Bubbles. People walk up to a tank, point out a fish and the fish guy scoops it out, pops in in a plastic bag and you toss it in the cart still wiggling.
I just saw a commercial on TV suggesting that a vacation in Inner Mongolia would be lovely. I don’t know how that escaped my bucket list. We are definitely not in Kansas anymore!
The adventure and the competition continue!
We are living and moving around like real Beijingers now. Traffic here is regulated partly by traffic signals and party by the size and price of the vehicle. Busses and trucks have first priority, followed by vans, cars, bicycles and pedestrians in that order. Vehicles use their horn to warn cyclists and pedestrians that they will be flattened if they don’t move. Beijingers casually step to the side when honked at and we are starting to do so as well, without getting that “fear of imminent death” expression first. Although the vehicles do stop at stop lights, pedestrians and cyclists generally ignore them. When we cross a street on a green light, cars turning right and left cut through packs of pedestrians like a golden retriever going after pigeons. We scatter in enough directions to let the cars through, then proceed on across the street.
Before we came to Beijing, I saw pieces on TV showing scores of taxi drivers going to English classes every Saturday. There are 67,000 taxis in Beijing and I suspect that the 30 or so I saw in English class are the only ones who regularly attended. When we called a taxi to go the Bird’s Nest for Opening Ceremonies, we confidently hopped in, knowing our driver had been practicing “Welcome to Beijing. Where would you like to go?” We went for short and simple and said to him “Olympics.” He looked at us like we were crazy and said a lot of words in Chinese. I figure he was either saying “Could you be more specific as to your choice of venue?” or “This is going to be the longest 17 days of my life!” After that we always have our destination written down in Chinese.
We went to kayaking and rowing yesterday. Security is really tight at the venues. We always get patted down, run over with a metal detector and have our bags searched. The last time they went through my purse, the security guy pulled out my “Charmin to Go” (tiny portable roll of toilet paper) and asked me what it was. It flashed through my mind that since I don’t speak Chinese, it might come down to being branded a terrorist or, somehow, miming the function of toilet paper. Fortunately, he became distracted by my lipstick and forgot about it.
Next on our list of things to see is a hutong tour by rickshaw. Hutongs are very small houses in long rows, many of which were demolished to make way for the Olympics and new hotels. They are doing tours because hutongs may soon be part of China’s past. Then we’re off to a street famous for it’s night life.
This week our other daughter, Valerie, and her husband, Bentley, joined us in Beijing. We toured the Forbidden City, Tienanmen Square, Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace. Wednesday and Thursday we’ll be attending Olympic events. We’ve seen women’s softball, men’s beach volleyball and, tomorrow, will see rowing and kayak/slalom.
We are staying in an apartment we are renting from a Mr. Gong. It was his apartment when he was part of a “work unit” of people employed by the People’s Daily Newspaper. We’re in one of many 15- or 20-story apartment buildings around the newspaper office. We are clearly the first non-Chinese people ever to set foot in the place. We stop traffic when we walk around. We’re greeted by everything from mild curiosity to slack-jawed amazement. People stop me at tourist sites to have their picture taken with “the giant blonde woman”! The children are charming, as they are everywhere and run up to us to greet us with “Hello”. It may be the only English word they know and they are very proud to use it with us! We are working on speaking Chinese, but it is hard to remember. It seems that it goes into our brains, finds nothing similar to hang out with and goes right back out.
Andrea has Friday off and we hope to take her to one Olympic event, that day. Then, it’s back to the pool. She begins competing on Monday. More news later–the adventure continues!
August 12, briefly:
I think my next email will be about getting around in Beijing. Pedestrians don’t have the right of way. They barely have the right to exist! More later!
We made it to Beijing by way of Shanghai, a Yangtze River cuise and then the Terra Cotta Warriors. The trip has been great and we have been healthy the whole time. We have learned so much about China and its people. Attending the opening ceremonies last night was a once in a lifetime experience. We missed some of the detail by not seeing it on TV, but the spectacle and size of everything was something you have to be there to believe. It was over 100 degrees and very humid in the Bird’s Nest. The people running sideways around the globe and the moving type boxes full of people were incredible. They must have been practicing for years. We were in our hard plastic seats for seven hours, after which I have a permanent crease in my backside from clothing seams. It will be until the next Olympics before that corrects itself! I’ll see if we can send pictures after Andrea swims during the second week. Hope things are going well at Harker!