China Journal #3

By Nick Rotunno

What’s up Slamonline? A month to go until the Olympics kick off, and in case you haven’t seen my previous entry, check for it right here

For now, let me offer you a Happy belated Fourth of July from the other side of the world! If only I could have been back in the States on the 4th, watching my hometown parade, eating ice cream, hanging out with my friends on the ballpark outfield while fireworks shatter the skies overhead…ah, the 4th of July.

Forgive me for waxing rhapsodic for a moment; I feel a touch of homesickness today. I’m sitting in my dorm room on a sweltering Beijing afternoon, temperatures in the high 80’s, humidity tortuous once again. Luckily I’m tapping this out in a dreamy swirl of central air-conditioning while the rest of the city bakes around me. I’ve dealt with some nasty Midwest heat before, but in Beijing I can barely walk three steps without breaking a sweat. It feels like a jungle, pure moisture dripping from the sky, an awful malarial heat. But I’ll just have to get used to it. I am a strapping Italian lad, after all, and we Mediterranean boys know how to perspire.

Once again I want to thank everyone who commented on my last post; your words mean a lot to me. And, in answer to a question I received, let me explain a little more about what I’m doing here in China. The official name of my group is the Iowa Olympic Ambassadors Project. It’s comprised of 24 University of Iowa students, mostly journalism majors, who will be volunteering at the Olympic Games this August. Even though I graduated from the UI in May, I am still technically a student as a result of my participation in this project. As a volunteer, my primary duty will be flash quote reporting for the Olympic News Service (like the AP; except the ONS is the Olympics’ own wire service). I will be working at the tennis venue, and when a player finishes his/her match I will ask a few questions, jot down the answers, then transfer those “flash” quotes into a database that all media can access. The quotes will then appear in newspapers and websites all over the world.

Since the Olympics don’t start until August 8, we’ve been having some down time. This is a pseudo-study abroad program for us as well, so we have been sightseeing and attending lectures this past week. Now we have a few days to relax before our ONS orientations and tours begin. There is a lot of prep work that needs to get done before they let us anywhere near the tennis venue. However, since most of us are journalism majors, we’re all chomping at the bit to get going. I can’t wait to start covering Olympic tennis (and, pending some credential approval, USA Basketball as well).

In the meantime, though, I’ve been keeping busy. I played some basketball this morning while it was still cool enough to function. We played three-on-three, a couple of competitive, fun games amongst friends. We had our usual visitor stop by—an aged Chinese woman on a bicycle, trying to sell us bottles of water. She parked along the sideline in the middle of our game and hollered in Chinese (we couldn’t understand her, but I imagine she was saying something like, “You want water?”). We waved her off; we had brought our own water. She hollered again, louder this time; we grew annoyed and emphatically yelled “Bu!” (meaning “No!”). That did the trick. She pedaled off dejectedly, searching for another group of sweaty players. When it comes to vendors around here, sometimes you just have to be firm.

After a very short amount of time we were all gasping for air and dripping wet. The sun was shining brightly on our dusty court, and the Saharan heat was getting to us. I played horribly, as has become my custom—the jumper wasn’t falling and I couldn’t get a handle on the slippery ball. So I was pissed as I walked back to the dorms, a sorry sight, my t-shirt a damp mess and my stride a dehydrated stagger. A cold bottle of water from that woman on the bicycle seemed a lot more appealing now, but she had disappeared and I didn’t have my wallet anyway. After a cold shower and some A/C, I feel a lot better now.

I was thinking of SLAM the other day when a small group of us went shopping. The market we explored is a huge five-story building, crammed with vendors peddling merchandise of all kinds. Jewelry, coats, shirts and dresses, shoes and CD’s, sundry trinkets, all of it glowed, glittered and sparkled right there in front of us as we walked those narrow aisles. Everywhere we turned we ran into another seller, all insisting in choppy English that he or she had exactly what we were looking for. I, for one, was looking for a pair of nice knockoffs. So I descended a skinny escalator and entered a bottom-floor realm bursting with shoes—every style, color and size imaginable, every tiny cubicle filled to the brim with kicks. Of course, they were all fake, maybe stolen, and most definitely not assembled at a proper factory…but I wasn’t concerned with details.

I found a pair I liked, said my size, and this darling little Chinese woman presented me with a perfect-fitting pair. We bartered. She offered me an exorbitant price I was wholly unwilling to pay. I started to walk away, but she grabbed my arm and wouldn’t let go, dead-set on selling me those shoes. She had pretty black eyes that stared up at me in a sad, hopeless sort of way. I felt sorry for the poor thing. I told her 120 yuan was what I wanted to pay, and no higher (about 20 bucks American). She said, “Ok, your price,” and dropped the shoes into a plastic bag. I had my new shoes.

Alright, time to get my day moving. Happy Independence Day once again everybody—hope your hot dogs were warm and your fireworks were bright.