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.



Saturday, August 23, 2008

Beijing Birthday Blog





That is what I looked like on my Birthday in Beijing.

Gold, silver and bronze had just been handed out moments earlier to Korea, Cuba and USA baseball teams. I had to see what it felt like. One of the Korean players had left the bouquet behind, so it's one of those you see on NBC all the time. Here is up-close of what a silver medal looks like, as I took a pic of it while talking to Pedro Luis Lazo, who has four medals now.

I wanted to get my picture taken on the podium because I set another PR on an Olympic venue again before the gold medal baseball game today, and because I was was celebrating what proved to be a truly memorable birthday. I ran 35 laps around Field 3, and at 3.5 laps per mile that equates to an Olympic 10-Miler. I started at 4:39 exactly according to the two security guards below and my watch, and I finished at exactly 6 because that was start time of Korea vs. Cuba. I ran it in 1:21, 15 minutes faster than my Colon Cancer 15K (9.3 miles) time, so I am destroying PRs at this point, largely because I am running on the world's fastest/flattest surface -- perfect warning track clay of a Major League-caliber baseball field. I had run 47 laps (Olympic Half Marathon) three days earlier, in 1:56, and Half PR had been 2:12.

I feel incredibly good in my seven training runs here in Beijing. I am going to be so ready for the New York City Marathon on November 2. I have to get back to some reality of hills when I return Tuesday to Upper West Side and Central Park. But I at least did the Great Wall hill repeats so hey, bring it on! I have to again say what B.S. the media show about Beijing air pollution was...it filled time more than smog filled air. If that's because Beijing citizens aren't driving as much, because factories shut down, because of those rockets blasted up into the atmosphere that break up the water crystals above the clouds...whatever the reason...I don't ever remember having better air to breathe for marathon training. I didn't even use my Breathe Right Strip for the 47 laps (Half). I used it for the 35 (10-Miler).

More pictures...and be sure to see new Giant Panda video added in previous post!

One of my 35 laps in the second run. It takes 3.5 laps around the field to make a mile.



Friends always...my two buddies who are security guards for Field 3 at the Wukesong Sports Complex. They would cheer me on, count down the final laps, bring over bottles of water. They were like the best raceday volunteers ever -- always with a huge smile on their faces. Afterwards we all tried to get the pronunciation of each other's names down-pat. I have gradually learned quite a bit about Mandarin and the meaning of characters in Chinese lettering. It would take a long, long time to become fluent.





High light towers...pitching mound dirt from Petco Park in San Diego...soil conditioner brought in from a (literally) slow boat to China from America...and so on. What a field.



One World One Dream...





After putting iceback from dugout onto my right knee, I snapped this shot and then headed over to Field 1 and changed back into my clothes (in "medal" picture above) to work the Korea-Cuba game.


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.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Summer Olympics Half Marathon in 1:56!



BEIJING, China -- Ni Hao! Something amazing just happened for a U.S. athlete at the Summer Olympics in Beijing.

I won an event on an official Olympic venue, with a personal, Olympic and world record to show for it.

Yes, I did it again. I invented my own race and this one is big.

I ran a Half Marathon before tonight's USA vs. Chinese Taipei baseball game. 47 laps around Field 3, the warning track all the way around the field, which is one mile for 3.5 laps. It was arranged for me by my friend Murray who is head of field operations at the Olympics. I also BLEW AWAY my Half Marathon PR with a time of 1:56 (2:12 was best), and it was all witnessed by Murray and by three security guards who counted down every one of my final laps and kept bringing me water and by about 40 Olympic volunteers who had gathered to see what I was doing.

I can't believe this just happened!!!

I can't believe how good I felt! It was just at the end of sunlight. On Field 1, the United States baseball team (almost all future Major Leaguers) were taking batting practice before their 7 p.m. game. On Field 2, the Japan team was preparing for its 6 p.m. start. On Field 3, it was me.

The warning track is beautiful red China clay, the field is flat as a pancake, and that all added up to great conditions. I already have told you that all the air pollution scare was media hype to have something to burp about before the Games finally started. I have now had six training runs and this was my big one, with the New York City Marathon just 9 weeks away.



I started running at exactly 4:23 p.m. local Beijing time (did you know that China has only one time zone despite its massive size?). I finished at exactly 6:19. That gave me time to spare, so that I could change into my khaki shorts, Elvis T-shirt and red Crocs, and get set up in the "press tribunes" behind home plate.

Murray is the person responsible for this miracle of Wukesong, which are MLB-caliber ballfields for the Olympics. We are almost done with the preliminary round now. Friday is the semifinal round, then Saturday are the medal games. I got here at 3:30 before a 7 pm start, saw the USA team get off the bus upon arrival, asked Matt L how he was feeling after his mild concussion the night before, found out he wasn't going to play tonight, called in a few paragraphs, and then looked for a place to run since I brought my gear. Murray said I could use Field 1. It is indescribably beautiful.

I started out planning to run 10 miles. I was able to grab water bottles from the dugout coolers along the way, so I was well hydrated. I had brought one GU with me. I hadn't eaten a bite all day because I finished working at 3:45 a.m. this morning. Everything felt good. At one point I bailed off into the perfect, soft outfield grass and did 50 crunches, and as I looked up at the sky, at exactly 5:00, I got chills. Clouds were swirling above me, and I realized that these were AUSPICIOUS CLOUDS!!! You see them every day if you watch the Olympics! They are the curly designs, representing "auspicious clouds" that bring rain and good fortune to farmers through the centuries. I saw Auspicious Clouds!!!!

I did some stretching, then resumed running. Ten miles would have been 35 laps. No hills, flat as a pancake, great on the knees and Achilles, the dream running condition to me -- even in August heat.



Once I got into the 30s, I decided I wanted to do something special. I started thinking about doing 50 laps, for the 50 United States. But calculating the math in the my mind, I told myself I was going to run the first Half Marathon at the Summer Olympics. Here I am, on an official Olympics venue, inside the security checkpoint that spectators and media have to go through to get here...I was going to seize this moment and push myself.

It hardly took any pushing. I was having a blast. I was in my element. I calculated that it would require 46 laps. Indeed, I am checking my laptop calculator now and it required 45.85 laps. As I got to 7 laps remaining, each time around home plate the two security guards in blue shirts would look at me and we would show each other the number on our hands, speaking the same language in that moment. They would bring me water bottles. I would dump one on my head, wring out my shirt and keep going. I would keep two bottles, and toss one on the grass in right field and one on the grass in left field. Then each time around I could reach down and grab it, take a swig or pour it on me, then toss it back onto the grass.

I heard the roars coming from Field 2 as Japan was starting to score on host China. I was inside of five laps left, and then each one came and each one seemed so easy! This was something really new for me. Oh, for no hills ever. The last lap, I sprinted the whole way, and I acted like I was breaking tape when I got to the area behind home plate, and the security guards were cheering. I had made new friends. Then check this out! I went into one dugout and in the cooler were about 20 perfect icebags, used in the morning for Olympic athletes to ice their arms or whatever. I sat with my legs extended on the infield grass for 10 minutes, with an icepack on my right knee, just what the doctor ordered.

Here is what the dirt looks like, so you can see a perfect running surface. I took this pic of LaPorta last Friday:



Now I am working. I just wanted to tell you about that. There is no real gold medal, but I am acting like I just won one, because I just ran the Olympic Half Marathon on an official venue with witnesses and in record fashion. Most importantly, I know now that I am going to KICK...MONSTER...BUTT...at the ING New York City Marathon on November 2.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Great Wall Run

CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL GREAT WALL PHOTO/VIDEO ALBUM ON FLICKR









BEIJING, China -- Sometimes you look around you and no matter how long you think about it, you cannot believe you are really in that moment of your life.

That happened to me today on a 4,000-mile structure that was built starting around 210 BC to keep invaders out of what today is the People's Republic of China.

I was on the Great Wall. I was there to run it, but for almost one hour I sat on one of the hundreds of thousands of stone steps, looking out over a gorgeous vista with a wall snaking for many miles, and I just gazed in wonder.

Sometimes I would look next to me at the earthen stones rounded by time and the one-inch crumbly mortar and try to get my arms around it. Dynasty after dynasty worked on this. Humans would live and then they would die, knowing they would pass this capability to be right here on to future generations, that one day their work would have lasting meaning and significance.

I love the Great Wall. I had such a hard time leaving it today. I knew that the last time I looked back at it, it would probably be the last time in my lifetime I would see it. This is my story of the Great Wall Run, 8/17/08.

5:15 -- Wakeup call from the front desk at the Jingmin Hotel.

5:45 -- In the back of a taxi (20 yuan) to take me to Desheng Men station, where I catch the 919 bus (12 yuan) to BaDaLing at 6:00 (first bus out) to Great Wall an hour away up in the mountains.

6:30 -- Bus is packed, I have window seat, and I notice that everything has just spilled out of my upside-down sport backpack. Hundreds of yuan, camera, taxi cards, notebook, blackberryi, ipod, hotel room key, driver's license, two bottles of water...let's see, what else. Could I possibly dump anything more on the floor of a bus and wonder if it would roll all the way to the back and I get none of it back. I can barely bend over in the tight seating with three on each side, and I am laughing while I bend down to gather everything. I think I got it all.

7:15 -- Deboard at BaDaLing. This is where Matt Lauer broadcast from on Today Show right before the Olympics. There is a two-hump camel being pulled along near the main gate. The BaDaLing stretch of the wall is supposedly not as crowded as one that is closer. I am glad I am here for when the gates open. Later in the day, the wall will be as crowded as the Verazzano Narrows Bridge at the start of the NYC Marathon. I walked through a little village that includes a Beijing 2008 Olympics archway. It is auspicious to walk under arches; you see them everywhere in Beijing. I stop in to buy extra batteries and water.

7:30 -- I see it all unfold before my eyes for the first time as I walk through the first archway entrance of stone.

video

7:45 -- Hill repeats. "Great Steps!" mutters a woman passing me, having to sit down. Let's be clear about this right away. This is all about steps. It is up and it is down. It is basically traversing mountains, as the wall is not all that tall, basically 20 feet or so the whole way, just following the landscape. There is no way I am going to actually run much here. I am going to try to do stairs as best I can until the crowds get thick. My right knee is not going to allow that for very long, either. Mainly this is going to be sightseeing and contemplation. I had envisioned the climbs and descents, but I also envisioned long and level straightaways where soldiers had stood watch for Mongols. There's no level except for five or 10 yards here and there around the 12 Watchtowers.

7:55 -- Having said that, my heart rate is anerobic and I am always sweating profusely. Glad I wore my running gear. This will count as some kind of crosstraining. Marveling at the panorama, the junipers, the fragrant pines, the oaks, everything that reminds you we are all connected as coinhabitants on earth with the same kind of flora and fauna. Also the graffiti. It is mesmerizing seeing Mandarin characters carved artistically by visitors over decades and maybe centuries. I am told that one person's engraving said "1940".

8:15 - Pause for notes, including some of this. I strip off my long sleeve, as I assumed being up in the mountains it might be chilly. Wasn't really, but it was good for the bus ride. I change batteries. I realize that the woman who sold me batteries for 30 yuan gave me dead batteries, repackaged. Xie-xie.

8:45 - I climb up to the Eighth Watchtower. It is the highest point in the BaDaLink section of the wall. Up at the top, I have my picture taken like everyone else, touching the stone arch design that signals a finishing point. I meet a guy named Patrick from California, a web designer here with his wife. We are sitting down and shooting the breeze about Olympic events. Here's us in a pic:



He had been to the men's 100 meter dash the night before and was telling me about the world record. I filled him in on baseball. Some people wanted their picture taken with me. This happens a lot here. It would happen all day on the wall. I apparently am fun to get your picture taken with. One man asked me to sign his arm.

9:14 -- Judgment call. See my profile pic? It is taken from close to the Eighth Watchtower. Behind me the steps go down a mile or two, and it is mostly steps, sometimes just kind of a slickish 45-degree angle and you have to hold onto the rail. I look out the battlements at what soldiers once saw. I am trying to imagine how they could spot Mongols. Nothing but trees and brush out there. Anyway, I have to decide whether to march down and then follow it as far as you can go, to the 12th Watchtower. After the 12th Watchtower, the wall is largely disintegrated with centuries, weeds growing up through the middle of it. Some parts of 4,000 miles are decayed or simply gone, turned to sand. This section is all beautifully restored where necessary. So I start going down the steps.

9:30 -- Ah, that's about far enough. I go down about 200 or 300 steps, you have to remember that however far you go at this point, you are going to have to come right back and do some serious climbing. I see a U.S. couple coming up my way from the long haul, and the man has a knee brace on, and he and her both tell me to be smart after I mention the right patella tendinitis. I listened to my body. Sat there a long time and thought about life and this creation.

9:42 -- I hear strains of Chinese music, a type of flute, played over a loudspeaker and echoing way out in the distance. It is beautiful. Silence and that music.

10:55 -- View the "Fortress".

11:30 -- "Lounge." That's what the sign says. I follow it, and there is a cold beer and stale corn chips in this skanky, pitted out area with gunk on tables and cashiers to harass you into buying things. Could have done without "Lounge." But my Yan Jing Beer was OK in that moment, because it was bing pee jo. (cold beer...bing is cold/iced)

12:00 -- Judgment call again. Back at the main BaDaLing entrance area on the wall, you can climb down to get back to the village, or you can follow the passage through and then climb another long stretch of wall. I decided to keep working out. The sun was beating down at noon, so the sweat was more profuse. I was hydrating. Now is when some really amazing things started to happen. First, these steps were unbelievable, about a 65-percent incline grade. You are basically lifting your quads straight up and pulling yourself up, one 2-foot-high step at a time. You get way, way, way up there at the top, and then suddenly you are introducing yourself to a man who has a RUSSIA warmup on. (We are pictured here.) We chatted for a while. He was here for "Track and Field" (now called "Athletics"). He said he is a former Olympic competitor, he was my age or older now. I asked him if he ever competed against the USA, and he started rattling off places in the USA he had visited. So our communication wasn't that great, but we were doing the best we could, and we shook hands, and I realized then that we both grew up in a Cold War and he was certainly a key piece of that during their athlete-building machine days. Now here we were, friends -- ONE WORLD ONE DREAM. Then I met a trio from the Estonia contingent. Then Libya. Then a quartet from Central Africa. A big man from there, older, said they were here for Boxing and Athletics. We shook hands and wished each other's countries good luck. I met some people from Brasil, with "Official" on their yellow IDs like mine. Then I met Caitlyn. She is from Dallas. She is here with her "Chinese family". She first came here on a college exchange program. We shot the breeze while we walked, and she said it was great to speak English with someone because her brain hurt from trying to speak Mandarin all the time. We had a pic taken by her Chinese family. I saw a fan with a New York Yankees shirt. He was going crazy over meeting an American, and he is the one who wanted me to sign his arm.

1:00 -- My eyes can't get enough but my knee has had enough of this. I have traversed long stretches, gotten in some crosstraining, met a lot of cool people, posed for countless pictures requested by strangers because I look different, and because I have one of those familiar yellow Olympic IDs around my neck. There is a restaurant/shop, and I stop in and sit down and have another bing pee jo, this time a good one in a bottle. I am looking up at this beautiful hand-drawn wall hanging of tigers. The waitress is trying to sell it to me, we're bartering, and then I realize I had only yuan bills, not U.S., thus not all that much $ with me. Didn't think I'd need it. Would have loved this. I got a T-shirt that a woman there hand-painted, a summer scene of the wall. She signed my name and hers, in Mandarin characters.

1:25 -- Back to the 919 bus stop. On the way, I run into a group from the Philippines. I have a Filipino-bred colleague who told me to be sure to get pics of that country at the Games, and although these are just spectators, it will do. They were a lot of fun. The girl kept flirting with me and I think one of the guys was getting jealous. They were fun. Then I boarded the 919, and it was a long trip back home and I thought about what an incredible day it was on the Great Wall of China.

CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL PHOTO/VIDEO ALBUM ON FLICKR

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Ni Hao from Beijing





NI HAO FROM BEIJING!

CHINA JUST ROCKED! That Opening Ceremony was definitely in my top 10 of all-time highlights in working around sports. The Globe...the paper/scroll...the 2008-strong Qing Dynasty drums at the start...the fireworks...the parade of athletes and Yao at the end leading China with the crowd going wild...the raising of the China and Olympic flags...the USA team taking up almost the entire circumference of the track...the choreography beyond belief...the tears and emotion as usual...but more than anything...the torch lighting. People, you can't believe what it was like to stand there and look straight above you and watch that guy run sideways around the upper ring of the Bird's Nest, all the way around, following the scroll, and then the lighting and the fireworks that filled the Beijing sky. I can't stop thinking about it. THE SUMMER OLYMPICS ARE UNDER WAY!

My story on MLB.com was filed at 3:30 a.m. here, or 3:30 back in NYC. Here are some pics from Beijing. I will start running in the morning. It's usually too late and 100+ heat index by the time I wake up or I was way behind on sleep or whatever. Now it's time tomorow.



Click on the money shot here below, and you can see in the high-rez image the spotlight on the right. The "runner" is in that spotlight, and at that moment he had just lit the torch.



Kobe and the boys...





Here's Roger Federer and the Swiss:



And here comes big Yao with the earthquake survivor. It was like Ali in Atlanta in 1996, except multiply that times one trillion. This guy is China.













FIRST DAY OF THE OLYMPICS

Now it's the day after the Opening Ceremony, and tonight I'm headed over to Wukesong Stadium for the USA baseball team's intrasquad scrimmage. They are champing at the bit waiting for Tuesday's opener against Korea. The next two days they play exhibitions against China. This morning, I woke up at about 11, gradually catching up on sleep, and then I went looking for food. There was this beautiful restaurant across the street from the Jingmin Hotel, where I stay. I went inside and it was time to experiment.

Do you think I have enough soup? The waitress asked if I want "big or small," and I was hungry so I said big, and it is a jumbo vat-o-soup. I ate a few spoonfuls (ugh). Same with the Coke (I asked for "cocalite" which is Diet Coke, and she gave me a humongous regular Coke. I had shezhuan duck with dumplings. I passed on the duck stomach slices and the shark tail and the fish head with seaweed (those were the appealing items).



All done. Yum and shay-shay (thank you). Someone give this soup to the needy.

Here are the Taxi Cards that are a survival weapon for me.





SECOND DAY OF THE OLYMPIAD

I woke up at 5 a.m. local time and looked out my window and saw this:



I know because I took that picture. Then I posted it for my myspace friends. :)

I decided it was time to run. Rainclouds everywhere. Steamy. Just go for it, dude. You have less than three months till the NYC Marathon. Crank it back up. Don't let the travel beat your training. So I stripped down bare naked and I rubbed the hell out of the Body Glide, baby. I threw on the black Adidas shorts, the black Underarmor sleeveless, the recharged Nano, the Breathe-Right Strip, the Balegas and the Brooks and I packed my butt pocket with 2 GUs and 250 yuan (about US$35), grabbed a bottled water, and headed for the front of the hotel and I let er rip with absolutely no idea where I was going.

I turned left. Then when I got to the end of the street, I looked up to make sure I remember what the building looked like, and then I crossed the overpass over the Badaling Expressway, which takes you out to the Great Wall of China. I just started running alongside the Expressway, on the side road with the huge bike lane that so many Chinese bike constantly. I ran. I ran. I ran. I ran. I ran. I kept crossing roads, and I kept checking for landmarks. I remembered what the top of two twin towers looked like, so that they would be my breadcrumbs. I ran, I ran, I ran, I sweated an insane amount. I stopped inside a place that looked like their version of a Dunkin Donuts, hoping to get bottled water to keep hydrating, and no one had a clue what I wanted or was saying, I would just point to my empty bottle, and then finally a woman came out and she got the clue, and she came back out with two bottles filled with water. The food they were all eating was kind of fried pastries, cooked in a wok that I was watching while waiting -- the man would dump tallow fat by the jug in it, that's what they are eating. It was so disgusting. But they live to be very old people. Who is anyone to judge. Maybe dog meat is really good for you and "of the earth", too. Who are you to judge because it's not your morals/fiber of being?

I went back out and resumed running. I ran for a total of two hours. I did not care about mileage today. I am on a tight schedule with the Olympics and I would have to get back and get to the baseball team. First, after 1 1/2 hours of running, I stopped and did something that was a thrill of a lifetime for me.

I watched guys my age playing hoops at a park. They love basketball here thanks to Yao Ming. I was standing there sweating profusely, and one man came over to me and asked if I wanted to play (he didn't really ask, he just gestured). I of course replied that I would love to with all my heart and would consider it one of the coolest things in my life (I didn't really speak, I just gestured). Soon I was playing 5-on-5 with Chinese, none of us speaking the same language, but all of us speaking the universal language of picks and screens, jumpers, crashing the boards, retaining possession after a make, and my team won. I made a few baskets. At first I had a lid on the basket and they were laughing every time it would trickle out, like "When is this American going to score!!!" I taught a couple of them how to align for shooting, how to square up to the basket and point their elbow to the rim when they shoot. After two games, I went around and shook every last person's hand and bowed my head deeply. It was such an honor, and it might be the highlight of my trip after this is all said and done. We will never see each other again, but East met West in that ephemeral moment.

Then after running again almost the entire way lugging full water bottles in both hands (I had to for fear of dehydration), I got back to Jingmin and showered and took a taxi to Wukesong. Saw this from my taxi, and I saw a lot of these while I was running. Wanted to show you.



USA was rained out of its exhibition, so we all sat around in the dugout talking for a long time. It's almost time for their competition. I decided to experiment with the subway system leaving there, and I stopped at Tian 'Anmen Square (how they spell it for English) West and suddenly I was in hallowed grounds. Here are some pics. It's funny because local people would just come up to me and ask if they could take their pic with me (it was the yellow Olympics credential around my neck). Say hi to the Forbidden City, the home of the Imperial Palace, where emperors once ruled forever.





This was a plate of pork balls and some mystery meat or tofu and rice, and it was the most disgusting thing ever. I had trouble finding a place to sit and eat it because it is so crowded. I walked a little bit and then plopped down on the ground with my tray and started forcing this down. Then something happened. A man and woman laughed at me and she took my photo. Then other people walked by and pointed and laughed at me. Suddenly I realized that I was offending Chinese custom by sitting in a walkway of the Forbidden City eating my food there, or else I was just a weird foreigner, but either way I got up and went back over to the food serving stand and kind of hid to recover my head for a minute. I texted my friend Maura to tell her people were laughing at me and she told me to just keep smiling. So I did. I went back out there, and that one woman was still standing there waiting for me to laugh at me, and suddenly I was like this comedy show on wheels for a handful of people. Leave me alone!



Here, they'll never find me if I wear this hat disguise...



Forbidden City is overrun with shilling salespeople in these otherwise historic structures throughout the walled grounds. It was called Forbidden City just to keep out these kind of riffraff.





Found another Monster Cat...made of white marble in the 1400s. His name is Hou. Can you dig it. I knew that you could.



Back on the subway and over to the Olympic Green...


Here is how a lot of people were watching China win gold at the women's synchronized diving:



Coming to a work cafeteria near you soon...I was able to sample the about-to-be-released touch screen Coke machines in the Coca-Cola Media Lounge. Pretty cool.





The MPC (Main Press Center)..."office" for tens of thousands of international media in these games. My main "office" is Wukesong Stadium because I am sport-specific for baseball. Many journalists have all-access passes and go from event to event and write daily columns for their publications. I am all baseball. Hopefully I'll get in an occasional other event. Just to clear up a misconception, don't expect me to be your eyes and ears inside gymnastics, badminton, weightlifting and so on. I'm watching it on CCTV (their version of NBC, only better, because they even have live singing performances)...it's like a continuous Opening Ceremony for 2 weeks.





THIRD DAY OF THE OLYMPIAD

I woke up and ran again! This time I focused on speedwork. I ran the opposite direction of the day before, because I finally got my arms around my geographic surroundings within Beijing. I am waaaaay closer to the Bird's Nest than I thought. I ran there. If you can imagine an American sprinting at 80% through the crowds to get there, past the People's Republic of China police and everyone, weaving through taxis and buses, that was me. Something very cool happened in front of the Bird's Nest. One of the vendors was hawking red China headbands and stickers. I ran past and then circled back and gave him 5 huan (divide by 6.79 for US figure) and he wrapped the headband around my head. It had yellow Mandarin lettering on the front. We each bowed, and people around laughed. People always laugh at me here. I tell you, I could be a superstar on billboards here. Look at the Monster Cat!!!! Hahahahaha...watch him eat tray of food in funny places...watch him run through streets with China headband!



Anyway, I got in a good run, and then off to baseball and guess what...

President Bush visited us. It was the first time I have been just around a casual setting where the USA president was able to relax and everyone was laughing. It was beautiful. He came for the USA vs. China exhibition game at Wukesong Stadium. First he addressed the China team (which we created, teaching them baseball), and then the USA team, and then had his pic taken by me and others behind the batting cage. See MLB.com for my story and my photo gallery. Here was an example:



Then it was a blur and right now I am living in that blur. I was up until 5 a.m. local time in my hotel room writing. Opener is 6 pm local time Wednesday, things are moving fast now, sleep at a premium. I realized late at night that I NEVER ATE THE ENTIRE DAY. Back at Jingmin Hotel, I had some fun. I sat at a table, and you are tended to by about 5 or 6 people. They brought me first a mound of fried rice with fried egg on top (always the fried egg on top). I have to tell you that it was THE BEST RICE IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD. OMG. I savored every bite. It had carrot shavings, it just had this taste and this smoothness that I can't describe. I honestly fell in love with my rice. I wanted to marry it. I wanted to throw rice on rice's head. I am serious! It was that good.

Then they brought me "chicken sandwiches". It was basically a two slices of white bread with the crust cut off, and thinly spread chicken salad of some kind in the middle. And that was like 80 yuan. Ha. Here is the best part. There were 15 or 20 servants all around a TV screen watching China win gold in a weightlifting event, and they were going back and forth between that and USA vs. China women's hoops. They knew I was watching, and they were laughing at me (YES I KNOW WHAT A CONCEPT SOMEONE HERE LAUGHING AT ME) because Mr. American Man was trying to see past them at the TV and they would move out of the way and motion to others to not block my view because we were all watching it together now. I was rooting for USA, and 15 or 20 others were rooting for China. We were all having fun together. Nice. It doesn't matter what language you speak sometimes. It's the Olympics.

FOURTH DAY OF THE OLYMPIAD

http://mlb. mlb. com/mlb/events/olympics/y2008/index. jsp

Click on "Newman from China on eve of the opener" (Watch)

Just started these daily call-in segments for 12 million baseball fans daily at MLB. com and the pic of me in the peasant hat inside Forbidden City isn't going to work because our guys cropped my hat so I might be wearing a lampshade or something. new photo may be coming hahaha

Anyway that page has all my articles as well, just slept three hours and back to work...

On Day 4 of competition I wandered into a restaurant and had the coolest dinner. They have a grill mounted into your table and you choose strips of whatever meat you want, they bring it with vegetables and acoutrements, and they turn it over on the grill or you do it yourself, and you eat it with sesame-ginger soy sauce bowl. Unfortunately this was the first time I encountered the inevitable...two of the menu listings involved dog meat, including one "marinated in dog meat juice". I turned the page as fast as I could, sorry Winthorpe.


Baseball FINALLY gets its chance to open today over here, Wednesday at 6 pm local time. At 6:12 a.m. outside my window, it is a knife-grey hazy sky. Yesterday's blue sky was the last for a while I'm told. We might even have some rainouts, hope not, will see. Man, I love this place so far, it is the cleanest city I have ever known, yesterday shopped for groceries including laundry detergent to wash my running clothes in hotel room sink. I love how i take a shower and the water just splashes all over the floor and they squeejee it over into the drain.


I also love this slogan all around my hotel:

"WE WILL SERVICE YOU WITH ALL OUR HEARTS"