Sunday, August 24, 2008
The flame will burn in my heart forever
China, I love you and I will miss you.
You were not anything like what I always heard about.
I love your people and your food and your pandas and your Great Wall and your historical Forbidden City and your guys at the park who played me 5on5 hoops and your security guards who cheered for my training laps and the NINE salespeople who helped me buy a pair of Li Ning jet-black running shoes just before the mall closed at 5 before Closing Ceremony and the waitress who cut my meat strips for me at the Korean BBQ and all the people at the Silk Market who wanted to trade pins with me (I only have one now that it's all over).
I love your air to breathe and I trained seven times in it and I love your architecture that is unlike anything I ever have seen before and I love your imagination that showed in a Closing Ceremony that blew my mind when the acrobats swarmed that tower like locusts running upward into the heavens and I love the way the upper rim of the Bird's Nest showed every day of this past fortnight and the way you made me break down in tears standing right there when that happened, because every one of those days I lived it and breathed it, and I loved your CCTV and watching it in my hotel even though I could not possibly understand one word of what you were saying.
Zhongguo, CHAYO! Now I understand what that means. It was shouted by every Chinese fan at every event. China is represented in your beautiful character lettering with two characters side-by-side. The first one, a rectangle with a line down the center, means "IN THE MIDDLE." The second one means "NATIONAL". Literally, it means you are the nation in the middle of the world -- the thinking when that was created epochs ago. Finally, it is correct again.
I love your thousands of volunteers, many of whom walk around just holding hands, just amazing to see 8 or 9 teenage girls all holding hands walking in their blue and khaki uniforms, best buddies always, and how they smile all the time and tried to answer your questions and always asked you questions, especially where you are from and what New York is like, even going so far as to show you how that city is spelled in Chinese character letting. I love your lettering, the motion of the font, and I love when you have small breakthroughs and understand something new in what the characters are expressing. It is nothing like your own alphabet, you realize.
I loved the Men's Marathon. My vantage point was at the tunnel entering the Bird's Nest. I wanted to be right there cheering them into the place before they heard the crowd once inside. Here are two photos below that I took of Brian Sell heading down into the tunnel. (I flew back from Beijing with his sister, who was wearing Brooks courtesy of her brother's Brooks deal, and it was great to spend time with her and hear all the details of what went into Brian's journey, including 180-mile weeks.) You can see how they just followed the blue line for the course.
I love that you have a Monster Cat everywhere in the country. Its name is Hou, the original Monster Cat, seen all over Forbidden City and points beyond. Hou guards hotels, business establishments, restaurants, everything. That's my nickname on the Big Cats national running team, so it was cool to see another Monster Cat.
I love knowing that the world just opened up to you and you to it, and although governments will step in and there will be threatening politics as usual, I love that no matter what everyone will remember these two weeks and for many young people it will be the basis on which they view the world, as nations all connected as one with the ability to reach out through the Internet and touch someone, not some distant feared land of marauders who are always wrong because your way of life is always right.
I love that I had a real, honest-to-God 48-hour birthday while I was here. My friend Maura first emailed me at 12 a.m. Beijing time as the clock struck August 23 in this country, and then I heard a lot of birthday wishes during the course of "my" 24-hour window in China. During that day I worked the medal games in baseball, I got to speak with IOC president Jacques Rogge, the man who just handed off the Games to London tonight, and between games I ran 35 laps for a 10-miler on an Olympic venue and in just 1:21. Then something amazing happened after the usual shutdown of a birthday at the following midnight. I started getting emails and texts from America. From my sons back in Missouri. From friends here and elsewhere. This went on for another full 24 hours, until my friend Jen emailed me about 40 seconds before midnight of my "States" birthday. That was exactly 48 hours from that first email to the last one, and in between I truly celebrated my birthday the entire time, my right to choose, and I chose to have a 48-hour birthday.
On the left in this photo below that I had to find on the Internet is my new friend Paulina Boenisz of Poland. I met her on the way out of the Closing Ceremony. She was sitting on the ground, not wanting to leave. Me either. I went up to her and what kind of shoes those were and she said, "Asics" -- pronouncing it "OSS-ics." I asked her what event she was in here and she said women's 3000 meter running in modern pentathlon. I told her I was training for NYC Marathon. She was having a great time. There are a lot of Paulinas on the Poland team but I found her so I linked here to her bio.
I love that I was around Russian athletes everywhere, from the Great Wall to Customs at the airport. The first picture below is me with the woman from the Russian team who I kept passing for two weeks around the Games. Finally, I decide to introduce myself. This is a picture after Closing Ceremony, outside the Bird's Nest as all the athletes were heading for buses back to the village and then to scatter around the world. Behind us is the Water Cube, where Michael Phelps won 8 golds.
And in this picture, I am surrounded by the Russian athletes at Customs at Beijing Capital International Airport. They were on their way to an Aeroflot voyage home.
Beijing, China, I love you. I am so happy I got to come here. It was heaven for me and all I wanted to do was try to share the experience. I have left a lot of new friends behind like Zhou Yuan, one of the thousands of volunteers at the Summer Olympics, who taught me more about Mandarin language on the bus ride back from the Men's Marathon than I learned in 2 weeks. I taught her a lot about America, and how to pronounce "economy." We laughed the whole ride.
China, you rock -- and Jimmy Page just proved it.