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Kristi Heim: The World in China

Seattle Times reporter Kristi Heim explores a changing China on the world stage.

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August 12, 2008 9:39 AM

Hey, where did you park the tank?

Posted by Kristi Heim

This is indeed an Olympics with Chinese characteristics. Journalists covering the Games had a surprise waiting for them this morning at the gate of the Main Press Center. It was an armored vehicle (not a real tank, as I thought, which would have treads and a very long gun).

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Perplexed and a little bit anxious, several reporters asked the Beijing Olympic Committee spokesman if there was some kind of new threat to warrant ever more fortress-like security measures.

His answer: Oh, that? I didn't even notice it.

It could be that the Public Security Bureau deployed the vehicle without informing the Olympic Committee. The spokesman mumbled something about increased security after American visitor Todd Bachman was stabbed to death in a popular tourist spot Saturday. Yes, an armored car would offer good protection against a knife wielding madman in a tower on the other side of town.

As to its real purpose, we still don't know. I guess the other parking lot was full.

Meanwhile, China Central Television's broadcast of the Opening Ceremony is getting uniformly panned by viewers in China. CCTV was the only channel they could watch for the broadcast. But when viewers in China got a look at NBC's coverage via the Web and realized what they had missed, their dissatisfaction grew even deeper.

Turns out some of the fireworks shown on CCTV were fake, because visibility was poor and filming them live from a helicopter would be too dangerous. But the lifeless delivery and poor camera work was what really angered viewers. They also learned that the 9-year-old girl they thought was singing the national anthem was actually performing a lip-sync version because she was deemed more attractive than the child with the real voice but crooked teeth.

Some people writing comments online tweaked "CCTV" in Chinese to translate to "a body without a head." The film crews and announcers were not chosen for their ability to hold a camera or host a performance, say critics. They were people with government connections and untarnished political records who passed the Party's good behavior test.

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August 10, 2008 9:28 PM

The power of sports to uplift and inspire

Posted by Kristi Heim

If you want to see what's beautiful about the Olympics, these faces say it all.

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Like the image of Russian and Georgian athletes embracing on the podium yesterday, this is the Olympics at its best.

I met some amazing fans at last night's basketball game between the U.S. and China. The event embodied the kind of friendly competition and mutual admiration that left everyone walking away happy.

The two young Americans are Stephen and George Pond of Winston-Salem, N.C. They could barely contain their excitement.

"This is the best thing ever," Stephen Pond said before turning around to high-five a Chinese fan holding a large red Chinese flag behind him.

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Actress Glenn Close was sitting nearby, but I didn't recognize her immediately. She was in Beijing with her husband to watch the games, and apparently enjoying a rare bit of anonymity because she even got up to buy her own beer. I was interviewing another fan, Ron Meyer, when she came up to chat with him. She was completely down to earth and friendly. After the game, she took a picture of some Chinese fans. I bet this beats courtside seats at a Laker game.

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Below are the Chinese fans that attracted Close's attention (and mine). They are Beijing residents Jia Dongzhuo (right) and Zhan Yi. Even though China lost the match, Jia said that just being there was "brilliant."

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August 9, 2008 9:18 PM

Update on mood and security in Beijing

Posted by Kristi Heim

The mood of these Olympics today has suffered, at least to me, because violence here and elsewhere in the world has set nations apart and marred what everyone hoped would be peaceful time.

The International Olympic Committee said Georgian and Russian athletes would continue competing in the games despite war breaking out between the two countries in a contested Georgian province and hundreds dead after Russian bombing.

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Australia is advising its athletes to wear clothes that make them clearly identifiable as Australians as a security measure following an attack on American relatives of a US volleyball coach (see previous blog entry for details). An Australian journalist asked Beijing authorities whether other athletes should wear something to identify themselves by their nation to be safer, implying that it's dangerous to be mistaken for an American.

"Of course not," said Wang Wei, Beijing Olympic Committee Secretary General. "This was an isolated criminal act. We have no reason to believe the action was targeted on any specific nation."

Wang said Beijing plans to increase security of scenic spots in response, while not limiting access by tourists.

Meanwhile new explosions rocked China's far western Xinjiang province today. Seven bombers and a security guard were killed and four people injured, according to Xinhua.The attackers targeted the local government, public security bureau and the economic and trade committee. Separatists are using the Olympics "as a platform for magnifying their impact," Wang said.

Besides the gloomy news, it's pouring down rain.

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Not enough to extinguish the flame, though.

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August 9, 2008 6:50 AM

U.S. visitor killed in Beijing

Posted by Kristi Heim

Only know the basic details that tragedy has marred these Games after a Chinese man attacked two American tourists, killing one and injuring the other before committing suicide. The man who was killed was identified as a relative of a coach of the U.S. Olympic men's volleyball team. The woman with him was seriously injured and is in a nearby hospital. The attacker then killed himself by jumping out of the Drum Tower. He was identified as Tang Yongming, 47, from Hangzhou.

The incident happened around noon today (Saturday) at the Drum Tower, a place I visited twice in the last week. It's a popular destination for tourists in the center of Beijing. It's now early Saturday evening.

One question on people's minds is whether the victim was targeted as an American and what the killer's motive might have been. Clearly the victim was a foreign tourist and the act a very public one. Any violence toward visitors is extremely rare and we've been treated well by everyone here. I lived in China off and on for almost 20 years, traveled alone throughout the country. Never once had an encounter of violence or even so much as a verbal attack. Obviously this casts a huge pall on the Games. One lesson is that with all the massive security the authorities have put in place, it's impossible to prevent random and unpredictable acts of violence. That's true anywhere in the world.

I'm very interested to know how the hosts will react to this. I'll update when I have more information, but the story is all over the Internet.

UPDATE: The victim is Todd Bachman, the father-in-law of US Head Coach Hugh McCutcheon and the father of Elizabeth Bachman McCutcheon, a former player, according to US Olympic Committee. The woman injured was Barbara Bachman, Todd Bachman's wife. Her injuries are serious and life threatening, the US Olympic Committee said. A Chinese tour guide with them was also injured and hospitalized. Elizabeth Bachman McCutcheon, the Bachmans' daughter, was with them at the time but was not injured. The Bachmans were not wearing anything that identified them as related to the U.S. Olympic delegation.

UPDATE: Barbara Bachman was in critical but stable condition at a Beijing hospital after undergoing eight hours of surgery.

Today (Sunday) Chinese President Hu Jintao expressed sympathy to President Bush during a meeting between the leaders in Beijing. "I would like to express my heartfelt sympathy to you and the family of the victims over this unfortunate incident," Hu said. An investigation into the incident has begun.

The Chinese magazine Caijing reported that Tang quit his job with a local factory several years ago, sold his apartment in 2006 and was divorced in 2003. Jobless, he came to Beijing in August 1. His motivations are still under investigation.

Sample of reactions from Chinese blogs:

"A tragedy for the American team (but) the more difficult the road, the stronger you will be."
He will always be a national criminal... tell the whole country to spurn him."
"Falun Gong did it to shame China"
"The motive was to destroy the Olympics... China has lost face."

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August 8, 2008 5:44 AM

Opening ceremony spectacular

Posted by Kristi Heim

Opening ceremony began with an intensity that was actually startling, the stadium surrounded by a red ring of fire that exploded into the night and the beating of 200 drummers. The performances then alternately ranged from soft and beautiful to thunderous and dramatic. A Chinese traditional culture motif ran throughout, with folk dancing, martial arts, calligraphy, music and even quotations from Confucius. At one point a giant scroll lighted from inside unfurled across the stadium and writhing dancers painted characters on it with their bodies.

Another highlight was an image of the Silk Road carrying a performer like a silk carpet, and the top band around the stadium turned into a blue sea of waves. This was supposed to show the exchanges between ancient China and the rest of the world. Dancers then surrounded the stadium holding long oars stretching out to the sea. The meaning was so traditional but also expressed in a way accessible to everyone.

Now the athletes are making their way into the stadium. Rousing applause from the crowd for Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Cuba, Canada, Iraq... so far it's a very joyous atmosphere, setting a good tone. I've been juggling a hand held video camera, camera and tape recorder, trying to catch snippets of everything. It literally feels like a sauna in here, and everyone around me is drenched in sweat. I pity the athletes wearing suits tonight.

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August 8, 2008 2:24 AM

Your first peek at opening ceremony

Posted by Kristi Heim

Nothing has started yet, but I'm in National Stadium (the Birds Nest) and thought I'd share some impressions and pictures. Lots of security: two tanks on the intersection leading toward the stadium, helicopters overhead. Absolutely sweltering in the stands, which are still almost empty, but the stadium itself is impressive. I did get to meet an interesting Olympics fan: Tan Huaiyu, a 40-year-old Beijing resident who wore a bright yellow afro and proudly displayed the two dozen tickets he has acquired to nearly every event in the Games. "This is called passion," he said.

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August 7, 2008 4:15 PM

Opening day skies: white

Posted by Kristi Heim

For what it's worth, here's what the weather looks like on the morning of opening ceremony. It's about as hazy as it has been all week. I can barely see across the street. Below is a photo I took of the stadium yesterday.

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August 7, 2008 2:41 PM

Is the number 8 always lucky?

Posted by Kristi Heim

Chinese people are starting to wonder. I called a friend of mine in Beijing the other day to find a couple getting married on 8-8-08, the supremely auspicious date chosen for the opening ceremony.

Well, apparently not everyone is willing to put so much faith in a number.

"Ba," or eight in Chinese, sounds like "fa," the word for wealth. That's the reason for the local obsession with 8s on license plates, phone numbers and dates for important activities like weddings and the Olympics.

But some people have begun questioning just how lucky the number can be in light of recent events.

The Sichuan earthquake occurred on 5-12, they point out (5+1+2=8). Piling on evidence, they go back to the disastrous snow storms that hit around Chinese New Year on 1-25.

Internet sites have been rife with debate and speculation.

I suspect neither good luck nor bad, just resigned to calculating my own fate: 8+8+8 = 24. The number of hours until any of us can get to sleep again. It's going to be a long, interesting and memorable day.

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More from this blog

Recent entries

Aug 24, 08 - 07:30 AM
Closing ceremony: Chinese youth culture and a double-decker bus to London

Aug 22, 08 - 11:06 PM
An Olympics beyond gold medals: one alternative view

Aug 22, 08 - 08:46 PM
Three countries borne by one athlete

Aug 22, 08 - 06:23 AM
A patch of green in a sea of gray

Aug 21, 08 - 11:50 AM
A personal quest for Hope







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