Thursday, August 21, 2008
Giant Pandas and Silk Suits
Baby let me be,
Your lovin teddy bear
Put a chain around my neck,
And lead me anywhere
Oh let me be
(Oh let me be)
Your teddy bear.
Welcome to the world of the teddy bear. Once again, I walked out of a place in China saying to myself: "I can't believe I just saw that."
Today was our second rest day during the Olympic baseball competition, before the semifinals are played on Friday between Korea-Japan and Cuba-USA and then the medal games on Saturday. Sunday is men's marathon and Closing Ceremony, and Monday I fly home to NYC.
This was a true pleasure. I love these Giant Pandas so much it is goofy. They just make you LAUGH. I probably was giggling 100 times and local couples and their children would look at this American laughing and then they would laugh. All these pandas do is tumble around, roll onto their back with a big bamboo shoot and munch on it laying on their backs, then kind of wobble around, find a comfy position and snooze for a while. They like to lay back and have their bellies rubbed. They like to see what other pandas are up to.
On a constant-rain day, I jumped into a taxi, went to Wukesong to retrieve a laptop power pack I left behind last night, and then taxi'd to Beijing Zoo. Here is how you get to the Palace of the Pandas:
Then these are some of the 200-plus pictures I took. See my Photo Album for the captions on each if you'd like. My Canon A540 did OK, very reliable, but if the pics seem just a little hazy it's because of the thick glass and it's not really all that clean because of all the visitors. UNREAL VIDEOS COMING SHORTLY!
After spending a few hours with the big teddy bears, I hailed a taxi and went to the Silk Market. It lived up to everything I heard about it. It was wall-to-wall Olympians, wearing their warmups, representing dozens and dozens of nations. It was fun to just introduce yourself to any of them and ask what sport they were in. They want to know about you, too. Everyone here wants to know something about the other person's culture. That's the Olympics.
Several guys on the U.S. Baseball Team told me you could get top-shelf suits for a little over $100. That's exactly what I did. They start at a high number and wait for you to come in low, then you barter to basically whatever you want, because no way will they let you go. It is Attack Foreign Shoppers time! You get grabbed and yanked and you hear "Change! Change!" -- which means they want to trade Olympic pins with you. I was wearing a USA Baseball pin. I traded it for a cool India pin with their flag and the 5 Olympic rings.
Anyway, the woman started at 3800 yuan (US550) for a charcoal-gray, pinstriped, double-breasted Armani. I decided my strategy would be to play brokeybroke/airhead. I start at about 600 yuan, under US100. (Exchange rate is 6.8) They make you sit down while you think...they don't want you to wander off. "Oh, I thought I brought more money with me. Sorry." Here is where they latch on like a vise. The woman actually went with me to the ATM, saying to me: "I go with you. Already have time with you. You don't break my heart." OK, we go upstairs, I withdraw some China currency (Mao is on the front of all bills of currency). We settle on 820 yuan, or $120. I have it altered downstairs, and I negotiate from 2 hours down to 1 hour. I wait around, and only 110 yuan to have some massive tailoring done, as the sleeves were too long and buttons needed re-cut/re-sewn. Absolutely perfect. I have a an awesome new suit for low 100s.
Made a lot of friends today, traded cards with the boxing coach for Sri Lanka (nice guy) and Anika of the Sweden women's handball team. She told me what floor they're staying on in the Athlete Village. Unfortunately I'm not in the Village, but will be staying in touch, as she's also a Journalist (when not practicing 20 hours a week to get here). She said this is her swan song at age 30, and they had just lost a 5-8 placement match earlier in the day to China at the National Indoor Gymnasium. Everywhere around me, the same. Belarus, met a woman from their delegation. Met some guys from the Philippines, and was shopping in the same spot as two female athletes from Romania. Who knows -- might have been gold medalists, gymnasts...you never know who you're around. There were basketball players, weightlifters, families of athletes, buses and buses that bring them here from the Village to Silk Market, where there was a story today about the massive revenue they are taking in from all the foreigners...like me.
It's been a great day. Giant RolyPoly Pandas. Armani suit. Now time to work. The New York City Marathon is not far in the distance. I look forward to getting up in the morning and going for a great training run before the 10:30 a.m. first semifinal game here. Everyone, I really appreciate your comments, it is fun to "share" this stuff...can't believe how cool Beijing is. Get here at all costs.