It means “goodbye” and it’s fitting now that the Olympics are over, for one last slideshow and diary from MPR’s Melody Ng, who’s been on vacation in China and providing us with a street-level view of the Olympics.
8-22-08 Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park. I have no idea what watching paddling is like on days that aren’t hot and sunny, but it’s wacky today. The less expensive tickets (80 RMB – < $12) give spectators access to bleachers facing the afternoon sun, and there’s absolutely no shade in the stands. So anytime athletes aren’t paddling, pretty much everyone (most people in my section are Chinese) abandons his or her seat for the grass outside the stadium, where the bleachers to their west provide some filtered shade. Almost no one watches the medal ceremonies from our side of the paddling course. (The other side of the water, presumably where the important people sit, faces east, away from the sun. Moreover, their bleachers are covered. Those people stay in their seats throughout the time we’re there.)
We’re late for the start of the competition – finals for men’s and women’s canoe and kayak. We didn’t allot enough time for the half hour subway ride and nearly 50-minute express bus ride up to the venue, 30 km east of the Olympic Green. This means we spend more than 2.5 hours in travel for a total of about 5 minutes of sitting in the bleachers watching some of the best paddlers in the world vie for the gold. I choose to stay in the stands for the medal ceremonies and most of the breaks in between events because I want to make the most of my time there. My family retreats to the other side of the bleachers with everyone else.
My effort is worth it because I end up sitting (at least whenever an event is going on) just in front of several rows of grade school children. The races we watch are 1000 m long, and we’re the first set of bleachers the canoes and kayaks pass. Each time the paddlers approach our section, some adult calls out: “Jia you!” (“Go, go, go!!!”), and the kids scream in response, “Zhong Guo Dui!” (“Team China”). This continues until the paddlers are way out of range to hear. Even at their closest, the boats are far enough away that I can’t really make out which team is which. But if the Chinese paddlers can hear these kids, I’m sure it gives them a boost.
Minutes after the final event finishes, and well before the medal ceremonies begin, the bleachers on our side are empty of everyone but the cleaning people and the Olympic volunteers. But some people congregate in the entrance area, taking photos with a group of men who are decked out in China red and gold and waving huge Chinese flags. College student volunteers in their blue jerseys stand together singing chorus after chorus. Today’s the final day of competitions at this venue, and the final day of their work here, until the Paralympics rowing begins on 9 Sept. They look beat, but happy, enjoying the satisfaction of a job well done.