journalism, personal, videos

China beat: Handball, war, sanitation, etc.

In covering Iceland’s handball team today, I got this quote:

What we thought before this game is just to do what our forefathers did. They at most endured, like, two or three days at home in peace, and then they had to destroy something. They had to go and fight war somewhere. They went with their boats and stuff like that, and we were just on our boats, destroying something. That’s how we went to the game, just to enjoy those 60 minutes like our (unintelligible) in life. That’s what you do. That’s what you live for.

I didn’t use it because I had no idea what he was talking about. Maybe Monty Python’s Njorl’s Saga sketch?

Someone else suggested Bjork’s Earth Intruders video:

No, that didn’t help. And the goalkeeper isn’t a Bjork fan, anyway.

BBC readers are obsessed with the way the U.S. media order their medals table, insisting countries should be listed according to gold medals rather than totals.

Naturally, the assumption is not that this is simply a discrepancy in long-standing conventions, such as the differences between “cookie” and “biscuit” or the American stubbornness in resisting the metric system. The assumption is that we all used to list the medals sorted by golds, then changed when China surged to a commanding lead in that category.

Imagine my shock when someone dug up the USA TODAY medal count from Athens, from the stat feed whose specs I helped write, and we had it listed by gold medals. My guess is that we once gave readers the chance to sort it as they saw fit, and that functionality disappeared over one of the multitude of server migrations over the years.

Whatever the explanation, I’m sure it has no chance of being accepted by the folks who were hyping the 200 meters as a showdown between Usain Bolt and Christian Malcolm.

I love the BBC, but anyone from the UK who thinks Americans are the most provincial jerks in the world should take a look at the Beeb’s Olympics coverage. Yikes.

I also love Olympic News Service, which sends hordes of fresh-faced young folks to the venues to collect “flash quotes” from athletes.

You’re generally not going to get controversial material from these quotes, though. They have notepads and not tape recorders, and a 21-year-old generally isn’t going to trust his or her scribbled notes if anyone questions the quote’s accuracy. Also, the quote-taker might not be a native speaker of whatever language the athlete’s speaking.

So if you see someone in a mixed zone ranting as follows:

I was robbed. That ref was clearly watching beach volleyball instead of us. Yeah, my opponent played well, but he also took out a small knife and slashed my knee open right in front of the ref! I can’t believe this crap. I’m going back to the Olympic Village to count my blessings that he didn’t end my career, and you’d better believe I’m going to trash some rooms.

You’ll get this quote.

My opponent played well. I’m going back to the Olympic Village to count my blessings.

So I was surprised to see this from fourth-place high jumper Stefan Holm of Sweden:

I had a bit of luck four years ago in Athens, but shit happens.

ONS might be getting a little punchy near the end of the Games, as are many of us.

Speaking of sanitation, here’s a little sign to remind the media that plumbing in Beijing ain’t what they might be used to back home:

Off to catch the bus back to get a good night’s sleep, believe it or not.

journalism, personal

Chinese transit and toilets

By now you’ve probably read my account of kidnapping and hitchhiking in Qinhuangdao. OK, that’s a little too dramatic, but it was a harrowing experience. Nothing like staying up all night after you’ve arrived 12 time zones from home.

The only other problem with the efficient transit system: The buses run painfully slow. Supposedly, that’s for our own safety. As we all know, slower doesn’t equal safer, particularly when you’re changing lanes on a freeway. Today, on the way to the badminton venue, our bus driver attempted to merge through several lanes to the “Olympic” lane, drawing frantic honks from the short-fused drivers here. Then, about a mile later, she had to work her way back through all the lanes to exit. Flooring it in the right lane would’ve been much less frightening.

Just a random photo of a Wal-Mart (look for the blue sign)
Just a random photo of a Wal-Mart (look for the blue sign)

At the badminton venue, I encountered my first “squat” toilet. I remember reading about these, but I figured I wouldn’t see one unless I wandered off somewhere to an old building. Nope — there it was, right there in the spanking-new Beijing University of Technology gymnasium (not to be confused with the Beijing Science and Technology University gymnasium, as an Irish reporter did today before realizing badminton had no weight classes, or the Beijing Institute of Technology gymnasium). It looks like a toilet except that the seat is level with the floor. Fortunately, I didn’t have to use it, nor did I remember my camera.

Back in Qinhuangdao, the closest restroom to the media tribune (“press row,” in U.S. terms, though it’s several rows) was unisex. Stalls and urinals, thankfully with large dividers. The staff put up a sign asking people to close the doors behind them. The sign was ignored.

The media center is no better. The restrooms nearest us are on a corridor. The doors are never closed. Then people stop to chat in the corridor, though it’s narrow, smelly and offers a view of people zipping up.

We could put up a sign, but the media center offers more proof that journalists can’t read. The waste bins are all in pairs — one recyclable, one “other waste.” You certainly couldn’t tell a difference from looking at the bins.

The Aussies have found a better use for the corridor, at least. Here’s an impromptu cricket match:

Aussie cricket
Aussie cricket

Generally, though, I have few complaints. The people are so friendly that the journalists are reflexively suspicious of them. The food is OK, though I’m starting to shy away from all meat that isn’t at McDonald’s. And today, I interviewed three badminton players — a shy American, a charming Canadian and an excitable Irishman.

Tomorrow, I’m off to Tianjin for more soccer. It’ll be a successful day if I arrive back in Beijing anywhere close to the correct time.

journalism, personal

Beijing: The flight

Somewhere around 4, I closed my eyes to sleep. Whether it was a.m. (Beijing time) or p.m. (Eastern) hardly mattered. Either answer was equally absurd. No one goes to sleep at 4 anything. I had switched my seat from a middle to an inner aisle, and the two seats between me and a Chinese woman were empty, so I had the benefit of extra space.

I managed an hour or so of sleep, waking in time to catch the end of Made of Honor sans headphones, which was probably the better way to experience the loathsome-looking Patrick Dempsey vehicle. Before sleeping, I’d caught the first five minutes and last 15 minutes (with headphones) of Kung Fu Panda, which had jarring animation but seemed amiably amusing. I’ve read the story to MMM Jr. several times, so I was able to follow along.

No one else was making much of an effort to sleep. At a latitude north of Canada in the summer, all it takes is one window open a crack to flood the airplane cabin with bright, bright light. Several people treated the flight as a 13-hour happy hour, congregating near the galleys for impromptu meetings. We were able to peek out the window at times to see the occasional clump of undulating land amid the sheets of ice, which just made the sun that much brighter. Even when I had my eyeshade on, I could see a halo wherever it didn’t touch my face.

Some of my fellow journalists were talking shop, but I figured we’d have three weeks for that. I also managed to avoid the bizarre networking efforts of a guy who first thought we were with Coca-Cola.

But we were thankful to have so many people awake almost halfway through the flight when we heard a commotion three rows ahead of me by the window. Several people jumped up, and a woman yelled for a doctor. “Bong … bong … bong bong bong …” went the attendant-call sounds.

As it turned out, we had two medically capable people just a couple of rows back. One was a nice blonde woman who knew someone else on board who was married to one of our co-workers on board. She grabbed her carry-on and took out a blood-pressure cuff.

The stricken person was in our party, as it turned out, but through an affiliate, so none of knew him. We couldn’t tell what had happened — maybe some sort of seizure? A blackout? One of our co-workers was in his row and told us he asked where he was.

The flight attendants responded with the swift efficiency of an indecisive 400-pound lifeguard. One woman came up after our two neighbors had finished basic triage and started treatment with a cold compress. Another followed a little while later.

Most of us nearby were wondering if it was OK to joke about the proceedings. We started to wonder where we would land if needed. Maybe Vancouver? Anchorage? Vladivostok? Where the hell were we again? The little map had disappeared from the video screens in favor of Be Kind Rewind, which seemed to be a decent film but wasn’t drawing much attention among those of us in economy class wondering what had just happened.

After maybe 10 minutes, a flight attendant had the bright idea of taking up the passenger’s suggestion to ask if a doctor was on board. Two people responded. One was a dude in a tank top who didn’t seem like the kind of guy you’d want poking at you. The other was a jittery guy we’d noticed fussing over carry-on bags as we tried to get to our seats a few hours earlier.

As I monitored channel 9, the “live from the flight deck” radio channel that didn’t offer any hints that we would be landing (better than hearing Jane Says multiple times on one of the XM channels surely stuck in a loop rather than picked up live), the flight crew finally produced an oxygen tank and other equipment. After another 10 minutes or so, they put him a wheelchair and took him up to first class, where they apparently have actual flat beds.

Maybe 20 minutes later, our two neighbors returned. The blonde woman got a glass of wine for her efforts, though we told her she should have insisted on an upgrade to first class. That went to the other woman, who grabbed her stuff and moved up.

A little while later, another crowd of people stood around near the galley, looking up a few rows ahead. The blonde woman, who had made another trip to the front of the plane, came back. We asked what was up.

“The doctor passed out.”

“What? What happened?”

“Too many Ambien!”

That’s a little less scary than an unexplained seizure or fit of dizziness.

With that, I decided to skip the prescription pill I’d packed as a sleep aid and opted instead to pay six bucks for a 187-milliliter bottle of California chardonnay. That and the Chinese noodles (chopsticks? fork? answer: both) agreed with me quite well, and the rest of the flight was uneventful. I made peace with the notion of getting just a couple of short spells of sleep and my cross-aisle neighbor’s habit of talking to himself during a particularly intense game of Mah Jong on the computer.

Epilogue: The guy who needed medical attention on the plane walked through all the airport stops (immigration, credential, baggage, customs) with us and is here in the media center. He seems more alert than I am, frankly. I just need to figure out how to get back here in time to catch my bus to Qinhuangduo. Tune in Wednesday a.m. on one of the NBCs to see the game. I’ll wave if they point a camera at me. I’ll likely be next to SI‘s Grant Wahl, who’s hard to miss.