Sunday, August 24. 2008
I wasn’t expecting to be at the Beijing police station 4 hours after my 10K race, so when I ended up there, frantic and confused, it felt like I had just participated in a particularly grueling portion of the “Amazing Race.” Unfortunately, my journey was not for television entertainment, rather it was to prevent my family from getting deported immediately. I want to send a big “Thank You!” to the female students from the University of Columbia that tried to mess with the Beijing authorities and, in so doing, caused an enormous international incident that affected quite a few Americans in Beijing.
So here’s how it got started. A few girls from Columbia University wanted to share their political persuasions with the world at the Bird’s Nest. They had made signs with a political agenda that we typically see on bumper stickers in America (particularly in California and Santa Barbara) supporting a region that has been at odds with the Chinese government. The local authorities didn’t like the political display at all and deported the girls immediately. Unfortunately my family had been renting a short term apartment in the same complex as the girls and, since we’re all Americans, my family started to look rather suspicious. The authorities demanded that everyone in the group report to the local police station immediately for an interrogation. Unfortunately, the demands from the Chinese authorities were made during my 10k race, so immediately after I was done swimming my family had to frantically hurry away from the venue to follow the orders.
The ordeal that my family endured opened my eyes a bit. I suppose I was under the presumption that criticism is essentially a human right. A few weeks ago, when I mused about the seemingly silly blogging laws during the Olympics, I believed that the Chinese warnings were more about posturing than anything else. It seemed to me that the Chinese authorities wanted everyone to have a positive Olympic experience without a bunch of bickering about cultural differences. The reality, however, is quite different. There are real consequences behind the threats of obedience, and both foreigners and natives are subject to punishment for disobedience.
Sadly, I lost a bit of my enthusiasm for China. When I first arrived here 2 weeks ago it seemed like the culture was firm but pleasant. For instances, instead of using the word “No” the Chinese people use the phrase “I’m sorry” constantly, and it seemed like a very polite way of communicating. I now realize that “I’m sorry” actually means “You’ll be sorry.” No one in the group was deported and they all got to experience the rest of the Olympic Games, but it did put a damper on the festivities.
In other news, the Olympics ended yesterday. The Closing Ceremonies were fun, I didn’t feel nearly as hot as I did at the Opening Ceremonies (thanks to a more manageable parade uniform) and there was plenty of room to sat down on the field and enjoy the show from a more relaxed setting.
In the days after the race I got to watch a few sports (beach volleyball and water polo significantly) and got to eat everything that I’ve been preventing myself from enjoying for the past few months. At the USA House, an exclusive location for American athletes and their family members, I had 3 pieces of cheesecake at one sitting. I also became an avid user of the Beijing mass transit system and got to enjoy the swap meet that ensues at the Olympic Village (athletes trade pins, T-shirts, warm-up jackets and whatnot with each other).
I’ve had some nice moments with my family as we reflect on the significance of the moment, and reminisce about the journey that brought us here.
I’m going to end rather abruptly because I need a bit more time to process how I feel about the experience, and I also have to go to the Silk Market – a truly bizarre shopping experience. My family leaves Beijing to go back to America this morning, but Diana and I are going to stay in China for a little longer to see some famous spots. Thanks for reading all the posts. It’s been a pleasure writing them and receiving your responses.
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