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

JULY 9, 2008 TU prepares for XXIV Olympics in Beijing

While Michael Phelps qualifies for a possible eight gold medals and European Union officials consider a boycott of the opening ceremonies to protest China's influence in Tibet, Tiffin University is only weeks away from its second Olympic Academic Experience.

Four summers ago, the late Dr. Janet Hanna shared a series of articles that eloquently captured the excitement, frustrations and candor of an expedition for 17 students and two professors who traveled to Athens, Greece for the Games. These accounts, while far less brilliant than the poetic Hanna, still should provide an interesting view of Beijing and the XXIV Olympics.

For the 2004 Olympic experience, Hanna traveled to Greece months ahead of the Tiffin University contingency to help organize final details for students to work as official volunteers. After seven unprecedented trips to the Olympic accreditation building and countless hours negotiating with dignitaries and layman involved with Parliament and the Athens Olympic Organizing Committee, 15 students eventually received their volunteer work passes, a ton of logo apparel and official assignments as either transportation coordinators or guest service personnel with the glorified task of directing patrons to restrooms at the Main Stadium.

A published statement from organizers of the Beijing Olympics discouraging non-Chinese speaking individuals from applying as Olympic volunteers has meant the current Tiffin University group will only engage in a scholarly investigation of the games from a spectator's view. Nevertheless, different yet equally interesting developments over the past 18 months of preparation for the Aug. 4 trip have helped solidify the perception that coordinating an elaborate global educational excursion to the world's largest sporting event always will be met with challenges.

Consider the manner in which TU secured accommodations at the Asia-Pacific Experimental School of Beijing Normal University. Fortunately, negotiations between the United States and China on our behalf have been made by Professor Zhaolu Lu, a former professor at Beijing Normal who has served for years as the director of Chinese programs at Tiffin University. One of his initial forewarnings was to remain cognizant that, because China has an authoritarian government, there is always the possibility Chinese officials could claim eminent domain over any property, thereby denying our delegation the opportunity to stay at the school. The official Beijing Olympics Web site issues the following statement to spectators regarding privacy and safety:

"All visitors should be aware that they have no reasonable expectation of privacy in public or private locations. All hotel rooms and offices are considered to be subject to on-site or remote technical monitoring at all times. Hotel rooms, residences and offices may be accessed at any time without the occupant's consent or knowledge."

Actually, Lu conducted the negotiations for accommodations through an intermediary identified as the Beijing West District Xiaoyun Training Center. The center charged a finder's fee which was more than the cost of payment for 10 rooms, daily transportation,and an interpreter. Under Lu's encouragement, TU provided an additional $500 to the center as a token of generosity upon discovering the organizing committee for the Beijing Games had an interest in securing the Asia-Pacific Experimental School specifically for official Olympic media volunteers and other games personnel. It also was suggested that further "tokens of generosity" be afforded for continued efforts by the Xiaoyun Training Center to ward off further pressures from outside groups to seize the rooms reserved for our Tiffin University group.

The Asia-Pacific Experimental School is located in the northern part of Beijing on the Wenyu River and is many times the size of Tiffin University's campus (20-plus acres). The Tiffin group has been promised dormitory/apartment-style rooms with private baths, access to computer labs and a daily breakfast. Expectations for comfortable accommodations far exceeds the Athens rooftop villa camping experience during the 2004 Olympics, although it will be hard to beat the hospitality of our Greek host and the spectacular view of the Aegean Ocean and white marble houses that painted the village countryside.

Thus far, my primary communication with China has been through the hired interpreter and host, "Jessica," who routinely corresponds with the headmaster to ensure all our needs will be met. Jessica has been delightful in her e-mail correspondence and recently forwarded a photo of herself with her husband, "Tom," during a recent trip to neighboring Mongolia. Tom is an English teacher at Middle School No. 55.

Through the Xiaoyun Center, our group (and Jessica) will be provided the use of a bus (and driver) for the duration of the stay. In learning of impending transportation restrictions during the Olympic dates, Jessica confirmed the school will provide two 20-passenger buses instead of one. It appears vehicles in the providences in and around Beijing will only be allowed to travel on a strict every-other-day schedule (based on whether the license plate ends in an even or an odd number).

Another small obstacle has been acquiring Class L single entry visitation visas for the Republic of China, which is essentially an official stamp on everyone's passport. The process generally requires two in-person visits (to drop off and pick up passports) to the China Embassy in Washington, D.C., or to one of its consulate offices sparsely located in major U.S. cities such as New York, Chicago or San Francisco. I coordinated the process for 12 group members through one of my student's relatives who is a lobbyist on Capitol Hill. While she was pleased (and generously tipped) to be of service, she spent 12 hours over two days holding her ticket number (like the ones for visiting a butcher's shop) before being summoned to the embassy's tiny visa processing center window. It only took several hours upon the second visit.

It appears that as an Olympic year, there are many, many individuals who are serving as intermediaries to secure visitation visas for athletes, spectators, media and coaches and the process is slow. The immediate concern is that of the seven group members who chose to independently secure their visitation visas, four have just been denied. Supposedly, as a crackdown security measure, the embassy is denying an average of three out or every 10 requests, forcing individuals to make multiple visits to get approved. (Our trip is only weeks away.) One of our students, Derek, is from a Canadian province, and I have yet to hear of the obstacles he has encountered.

So, yes, preparations for Tiffin University's second Olympic Academic Experience are well under way, but trepidation persists just as the case was four years ago when struggling to secure volunteer assignments promised to the student participants. In my next account, I will provide an update of the remaining seven's efforts to secure entry into the Republic of China and will expand on other interesting developments.

No comments:

Post a Comment