Last Friday was a holiday in Korea, and I made the most of it by taking a trip to Beijing for the Olympics! I had tickets to the rowing finals on Saturday and Sunday and to preliminary lightweight boxing matches (that is what they had online, and the boxing was a lot of fun to watch even if it was not exactly clear HOW they awarded points). The Chinese fans were amazingly passionate, and you had everyone from 5 year-olds to 70 year-olds cheering. The only downside is that once the Chinese competitor was done, they would leave the stadium. But I did love the nationalism and we definitely thought it affected one of the boxing matches.
I stayed with a friend from high school, Joyce, and her husband. They were excellent hosts, organizing cab rides (very needed given their lack of English and my lack of Chinese), taking us to great places to eat and providing me with a bed! I hadn't seen Joyce in about 6 years, and she is due in a couple of months! She was quite a trooper, and watched both boxing and stayed out late on Friday. We had some amazing Peking duck, ate dinner outside next to a lake (it has been a long time since I have enjoyed that type of experience!) and ate dim sum in a racous restaurant while watching China vs Germany basketball.
Beijing was a fascinating place, about 1 hour outside of the city (on the return from rowing) we saw a herd of sheep. There was hustle and bustle, but nothing that crazy (I think it was less for the Olympics actually). There was a slight over-service problem (read Dave Barry's column to understand more of that, but in general there are about 5 waiters to every table in Beijing).
I made the most of my time in Beijing, also visiting the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. I wanted to see the summer palace, but even I knew when I was over-extending myself. Next time I plan to spend more time eating good food, getting a few massages, and doing a little sightseeing. But it is all a question of when I feel like giving the Chinese too much money for a Visa ($140 to be exact).
Rowing was great to watch, I ended up spending a good chunk of my time with one of my best friends, Bill, who rowed with me from 2000 until 2004. He rowed at Oxford for a year, and knew a bunch of the British team. Their whole group went wild as the British won two golds and two silvers. The US came out with a gold, a silver, and a bronze. I was very happy for Michelle Guerette (silver in the Women's 1x) who was a couple of years behind me and is coached by my college coach. We chilled out with some of the alternates on the lightweight men's four on Saturday night (teammates of mine from 03 and 04), and Bill decided to order a drink called the Flaming Lamborghini (think Sambuca, Kaluha, Baileys, Blue Curacao liqueur, all lit on fire). It was an exciting couple of days though, and really great to catch up with old friends!
The last morning involved dragging ourselves out of bed (Bill stayed out until 5:30, I left the bar early, ie 2:45). The great wall was a lot of fun, I still can't believe that it is so long (6,400 km!) We walked only a small portion of it, but it was well worth it when we were able to read one of the best Engrish signs ever on the way down.
My last experience was watching the medal ceremony for the US Women's 8. When they play the national anthem, the fans sing along. Unfortunately the US section consisted of pretty much me and Bill. And neither of us knew much more than 50% of the Star Spangled Banner, which the Brits with us decided to videotape while heckling us. Maybe I will learn that for the next Olympics ;)