The Electrified Olympic Spirit

A couple of days ago I took a walk around the Shanghai Stadium and environs with the intention of getting a look at the security presence in light of recent news that the Shanghai police had broken up a terror ring that was planning an attack on the venue during the Games. I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised to find the atmosphere surrounding the facility to be relatively low-key, ie, no camouflaged soldiers with machine guns, or anti-aircraft batteries (like those surrounding the Bird’s Nest in Beijing). But then, as I was passing by the Huating Hotel, the official hotel for the events to be held at the Shanghai Stadium, I noticed that the relatively thin fencing used to surround it, is electrified.

[Sign reads: Electrified Fencing, Climbing Prohibited"]

For those who don’t know the area, the Huating Hotel and the Shanghai Stadium are located in one of the busiest sections of Shanghai. Densely populated, densely traveled (comparable to surrounding New York City’s Plaza Hotel with electrified fencing, say).

Now, I can’t say that I have any idea as to how much current is running through this fencing (I’ll leave the touch test to the reporters from Outside). And I can’t say that I was even planning to post this photo before yesterday, and the announcement that members of the International Olympic Committee had personally negotiated (that is, accepted) blocks on the internet access provided to foreign journalists at the official Media Centre in Beijing. A happy coincidence, then, that it so perfectly captures the Spirit of the IOC’s complicity in censorship.

IOC, jiayou!

[UPDATE: China Law Blog has a brief, excellent commentary on the IOC's dirty deal. Recommended.]

Shanghai Can’t Sell Out.

Last week, the Phase Four Olympic ticket sales in Beijing produced long lines, short tempers, scuffles, and at least one detained camera crew (some additional photos can be found here). Beijing’s Olympic authorities were muted in their condemnation of the incident, preferring instead to point out that – with the sale of the last 250,000 tickets – Beijing’s Olympic events are totally sold out. Several officials, in less muted tones, are now suggesting that Beijing 2008 might be the first Olympics to sell out its tickets, entirely (Athens 2004 only sold 2/3 of its seats).

With this goal in mind, I wandered down to the Shanghai Stadium box office this morning in hope of getting a sense for how tickets are selling for the 12 Olympic soccer matches to be held there. Like Beijing, the Shanghai tickets went on-sale as part of the Phase Four sale that commenced on July 25. But, unlike Beijing, many are still for sale. Below, a photo of the scene around 11 AM.

No riots, or even lines. In fact, if I had to choose one adjective to describe the scene at the ticket office (four days after sales opened!) it would be … ambivalence. There are two somewhat related explanations.

First, no self-respecting Shanghainese is going to be caught lying on a bamboo mat in the hot sun – not like those ticket-hungry Beijing bumpkins. After all, there are businesses to run, things to do, payrolls to meet. In this most status-conscious of cities, there is simply no status to be gained by an expression of hunger or want. Aloofness, and not enthusiasm, is the mark of the true Shanghainese. Make no mistake. Continue reading

Olympic Air Quality? Don’t Forget Hong Kong.

Before I get to the meat of this post, let me state one thing clearly: I don’t relish the idea of an Olympics held in a Beijing choked by smog/fog. Like any other sports fan (and I’m a big one), I’d like to see the Olympics take place under skies so blue that the excess oxygen guarantees world records. That is to say, I may be covering these games, but I also intend to enjoy them (I have my own tickets), and thus I wish China nothing but success over the next month.

Now, back to business.

With all of the talk about Beijing’s air quality, I feel some obligation to point out that the success of the Olympic pollution abatement efforts will be measured outside of Beijing, too. And nowhere will those secondary efforts be more closely scrutinized than in Hong Kong, which is hosting the Olympic equestrian events (that I will be attending for a couple of days in mid-August). Thus, it is with some dismay that I report that yesteday, July 28, Hong Kong recorded its worst air quality – EVER (SCMP has a subscriber-only feature on this inauspicious mark)! For those who like their news unfiltered, the Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department maintains an online, live, Air Pollution index that can be found here. Below, an image of the latest air pollution readings – for HK – on the site:

So far as I know, the Chinese government has not required the factories upwind from Hong Kong to shut down for the Games. And, I expect, they won’t: Guangdong’s manufacturing sector is too vast and important to be shuttered in favor of a glorified horse show. Beijing’s readings might get better (the government is promising that they will), but Hong Kong’s almost certainly won’t. Continue reading

Shanghai Pudong: Same as it ever was!

I was out of China when, two weeks ago, the Shanghai Airport Authority announced that it was immediately implementing new, Olympics-related security procedures at the city’s two airports. Nothing in the reported accounts of these procedures indicated that they were directed at incoming passengers. But, keeping in mind that these regulations come in the wake of recent bombings in Kunming and Shanghai, the reported arrest of a Shanghai terror cell, and having experienced, first-hand, airport security in the aftermath of actual and (reportedly) imminent terror strikes in India (2006 train bombings) and the United States (9/11), I fully expected to witness/experience some kind of immigration hassle or customs kerfuffle last night.

So. Arrived at Shanghai Pudong (PVG) on Northwest #25 from Tokyo at 9:30 PM (30 minutes late). On our way to the gate, a flight attendant reminded us that China was following tightened security restrictions during the Olympic games. Per that, passengers were to keep in mind that their luggage was subject to search upon arrival. Passengers were also reminded that they should arrive extra early for their return flights out of China due to new, extra layers of security implemented at the entrances of China’s airports. Finally, and most notably (in my mind), the Northwest attendant reminded all incoming passengers to carry travel documents at all times in China, and be mindful of the fact that the Chinese authorities will be carrying out random passport checks. The last point was a new one. Continue reading

Scrap on the Road … Again!

Jumping on another long flight in about an hour, so stay tuned for a detailed report on the gauntlet that awaits fans of the Spanish Argentine national soccer team when they arrive at Shanghai Pudong Airport, en route to watch their men compete in the preliminary rounds of Olympic soccer on August 7 at Shanghai Stadium. I’ll be joining them in solidarity – at the airport, and in the stadium, of course.

In the meantime, you might fulfill the China blogging urge by looking at China Law Blog on what happens when the Chinese government wants more tents for Sichuan, and now; the Wall Street Journal’s China blog on patriotic rice pudding; Granite Studio’s musings on a very interesting – and familiar –  point-of-view from China’s past; and a brief but provocative report on Israeli dissatisfaction with China’s anti-terror security measures in the run-up to the Olympics. Finally, a non-China suggestion: Michael Tortorello’s profile of Minnesota Governor, and increasingly likely McCain VP pick, Tim Pawlenty, in Minnesota Monthly (oh, and longtime friend to the Minnesota Club of Shanghai).

In the air, I’ll be listening to Don’t Do Anything, the jaw-dropping new release from long-time Shanghai Scrap favorite, Sam Phillips.

Posting resumes Monday night. See you then.

The Return of Olympic Hostess Voodoo

Back in February Shanghai’s Xinmin Evening News ran a short item in regard to the selection criteria being used to find forty college-aged Shanghai “beauties” to serve as Olympic medal hostesses in Beijing that was quickly picked up – in English – by China Daily:

According to the requirement, candidates should be between 18 and 24 and 1.68 and 1.78 meters in height. They should have a “ruddy and shiny complexion”, “elastic skin” and “a plump but not fat body” … It also set strict standards on facial features, including the ratio between the “width of the nose and the length of the face”, “width of the mouth and width between the pupils” …

Readers flooded the Xinmin Evening News with letters deriding the sexist public officials who had drawn them up. In return, the sexist public officials – stationed in Putuo District – held a press conference at which they denied that they would do anything so offensive as select hostesses with such inane, offensive criteria. In response, the editor of the Xinmin Evening News printed an unprecedented front-page defense of the story which that included memos from relevant government officials describing – in detail – the American Kennel Society-like criteria being used to choose Shanghai’s delegation. Putuo District never got around to responding, and that was that.

Until yesterday, and a very much-appreciated Xinhua story posted to the official Beijing 2008 site. The author, referencing Wang Ning, deputy division chief of the Sport Representation and Victory Ceremony Division of the Culture and Ceremonies Department, BOCOG, writes:

A hostess needs to be a college student with good education background. She needs to be between 168 to 175 cm and good looking, which was specified in statistics of the sizes of bust, waist, hip and even mouth, nose, and eye, Wang said, but she refused to reveal the numbers. Continue reading

Fuwa Designer Has His Cake … and, well, you know the rest.

Well, well. Today, Han Meilin, the famously grumpy designer of the 2008 Olympic mascots, the Fuwa, provides an interview to the Wall Street Journal in which he claims that the universally reviled mascots weren’t his fault:

After China’s Olympics organizers gave him the assignment, folk artist Han Meilin initially sketched out five children representing the traditional Chinese elements of fire, wood, water, gold and earth. Then the bureaucrats got involved. “There had to be a panda, even though you’d think the public would have had enough of them,” says the 72-year-old artist … Games officials faxed one request after another to his studio for other national images, such as a kite, a sturgeon and ancient cave drawings. So Mr. Han gave them Carmen Miranda-style oversized hats to help hold all the symbolism.

Mr. Han … says the Fuwa “could have been much better” had they not been so saddled with stuff. Their creation, he says, got off on the wrong foot when officials opened a national competition for designs. Although he was on the judging committee, Mr. Han didn’t like any of the winners.

“Can you believe it? Those are the drafts that they sent through and asked me to modify,” he says, pointing to monkey, dragon and tiger designs that he keeps stacked away on a shelf in his workshop. “I’m an artist. It is humiliating,” he says.

Er, wrong Fuwa. I mean …

All believable, I suppose, but it’s worth pointing out that – back in 2005, before the Fuwa became an international joke, Han Meilin was singing a different tune – particularly in an extended interview that he provided to the Beijing Times: Continue reading