About BTiell Sports Reports

Dr. Bonnie Tiell writes a monthly column for the Tiffin Advertiser Tribune Sports Department (http://www.advertiser-tribune.com/). This blog archives each column and dates back to the 2008 Olympic Academic Experience in Beijing, China. Check out the Blog Archives to read more. Check out info about the TU Olympic Academic Experience at http://www.tuolympics.blogspot.com/ and contact Dr. Tiell at btiell@tiffin.edu

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Aug 9, 2008 Chinese ‘restrictions’ common for Olympic spectators

The BBC News called it the biggest, brightest, most spectacular opening ceremonies ever.

There were over 30,000 fireworks that could be seen from the Bird's Nest for miles and miles. Instead of being up close to the action, the TU Olympic Academic group watched from a small western bar in a Beijing suburb that was as far away as Lima is from Tiffin.

Our only request to our guides was to watch the action from a location as close as possible alongside spectators from other nations who traveled to the Olympics. We were told there were too many "restrictions" and it was impossible to get anywhere remotely close to the Olympic National Stadium or anywhere downtown Beijing without a ticket. It was almost as if our guides had gone through a regimen of training to discourage foreigners from what would be perceived as radical in trying to get close to a venue without a ticket.

We have been discouraged from trying to buy event tickets to games that are sold out, discouraged from trying to get close to the Opening Ceremonies, and discouraged from trying to get close to the public road cycling event all because of the restrictions.

The opening ceremonies

The recommendation to watch the Opening Ceremonies was to visit Chaoyang Park which had advertised in the papers for several months about having the largest public television screen and live cultural performances. We respectfully accepted our guide's suggestion and imaged seeing Chinese acrobats and theatrical displays before enjoying the celebration only a host city can give to the official start of the Olympics.

Decked out in USA apparel (except for our one Canadian who wore his national flag as a cape), the TU group arrived at the park six hours prior to the official start of the Opening Ceremonies. We paid admission and spent money riding a pretty decent roller coaster and drinking a ton of bottled water to survive the heat, humidity and of course, smog. For five hours we walked and played, all the while wondering where the live performances were and when the spectators from other countries would arrive.

Heading to the large screens about an hour before the official start time of the Olympic Ceremonies, a group of disgruntled Swedes (our first sighting of international spectators) informed us of the restrictions not to broadcast in an open area because of crowd security issues.

Are you kidding me?

Outside the park by the huge screens we encountered a few pockets of other international spectators from Mexico, Iran and Great Britain. Disappointed, everyone was scrambling to find taxis or walk to hotels. Too far from the live action and too close to the scheduled start of the historic high-tech Ceremonies, the TU group headed to the small western bar a half mile away from the park and watched with a few other Americans and Chinese enthusiasts.

The Torch Run

The morning events were equally as interesting. The TU group spent hours standing among a huge crowd of proud Chinese people gathered to watch the final leg of the Torch Run at School No. 101 on Haidian Street. It was the last scheduled run before the Olympic torch would be whisked away directly to the Bird's Nest. What a moment in history.
Problem was, a half hour prior to the time the torch was scheduled to go past, police announced "restrictions" to have the torch bearer ride in a parade of cars due to the mass crowds that had gathered. The reaction was not a happy one and police presence got a bit intense as scuffles ensued.

I think I have video footage that CNN may be interested in seeing. It was not pretty.

Life in China

It appears on the surface that everyone is putting on a happy face to acknowledge reforms, venue construction, environmental changes and logistical organization to produce the most expensive Olympic Games in history.

The 70-plus dignitaries represented at the Opening Ceremonies shook hands and smiled for the cameras in support of China's accomplishments.

There were no media images of the thousands of disappointed Chinese people who waited for hours and never got a glimpse of the torch or the hundreds who were turned away at Chaoyang Park.

Our guide, Tom, spoke of what that day meant to the people of China. His words swelled in pride as he explained the 7 years of preparation for this one shining moment. He spoke of the 32 years of self-imposed exile from the Games ending the year he was born. He reminded us that China had never before hosted the Olympics, and he took his time describing the phases of preparations in covering the city in banners and teaching citizens how to accept international visitors.

He was enthusiastic that the Water Cube would be transformed into a swimming facility for the public and that the colors of signage, flowers and newly planted trees would keep his city beautiful for many months ahead. He and the other guides were genuinely proud to share the moment with their new American friends and wanted to make certain that we were completely satisfied with their suggestions of where and how our American group would experience the torch run and opening ceremonies in his home country.

Unfortunately, Tom had no control over what the Chinese government does in imposing restrictions.

Unfortunately, the day that meant so much to Tom since learning Beijing would host the Olympics 7 long years ago, wasn't anything like he imagined it would be.

It was easy to see the disappointment in his eyes in not being able to actually see the torch or the fireworks display, even it was only to be viewed on a big screen at a park over an hour away. In a way, he wanted to see all the sights and sounds of the Olympics more than this group of Americans who traveled halfway around the world to share his moment.

Tom lives in a different country and has different cultures and a different government that imposes restrictions at the drop of a dime. He was hesitant to tell us that he was one of the lucky ones who received free tickets to escort four of his pupils from school No. 55 to watch Olympic Boxing at the Workers Stadium. He had free tickets, and for so long, we had none.

Stay Tuned

When we finally were able to locate and purchase tickets to Olympic handball and boxing, it didn't take us a second thought to buy extra tickets for our three Chinese friends. You would have thought we had handed our hosts something more precious than gold. After all, it is THEIR country that is hosting the Olympics.

Here in Beijing, we are witnessing not only the spectacle and awe of the Olympics, but also the awe of the Chinese people who deal with government restrictions on a daily basis. The Olympics symbolize unity and peace, but with the numerous restrictions we have encountered, it is a humble reminder of how great it is to live in America, land of the free.

Stay tuned as we head out to experience more of the Olympics and the Chinese restrictions here in Beijing.

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