Sunday, July 26, 2009

it will stay in my life forever.

One of the Chinese volunteers that helped the MU kids in Beijing wrote a blog about Beijing a year after the Olympics and how it has changed. I thought I would grow on that and explain how it has changed my life. I have never been that immersed in another culture — especially another culture so different from my own. And China was just the beginning. Fifty or so of us got to take part in one of the largest worldwide events ever. There were people from all corners of the earth, that spoke numerous languages and that all came for the same reason. I knew that being in Beijing for the games would be amazing, but I didn't quite know as it was happening. As I spend my 2009 summer in Columbia, Mo., working for the Missourian, I can't help but compare the magnitude of the two. It's ridiculous. The summer of 2008 was the summer of my lifetime so far and I am so thankful I got to do the things I did!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

it leaves me speechless.

I was speechless. I stood there and I watched the chaos that was the mixed zone. I was helpless; I was speechless. They had practiced the medal ceremonies a hundred times, but they forgot one thing. You know, that large group of people that let the rest of the world know what is happening. No one knew what was going on or how to fix it. There was a mad rush at the gates and the once-organized journalists flooded into the mixed zone only to be herded behind another fence. It probably didn't help that the competing teams in the gold-medal game were China and the Netherlands...Let me start at the beginning.

There are three things that happen after the gold-medal match: the mixed zone, the medal ceremony and the press conference. At the last minute, 15 seconds before the end of the game, the competition manager decides that the medal ceremony should happen first. The journalists, unaware of this split-second change in plans, think someone is holding them up at the gates that would normally open when the game was over. A few volunteers help to create a human gate, but it doesn't last for long. The journalists break through and are herded into a square corral. They can tell by now that the medal ceremony has taken the place of the mixed zone. A calm starts to settle... until the competition manager changes his mind again. Mixed zone is ON! We remove the gates barring the "press" and "broadcast" sections. Normally the journalists aren't supposed to mix, but there is no way to avoid it this time. People scatter. We, as volunteers, try to organize them and piss many off in the process. Well, I do. The Chinese volunteers don't do much because of their passive attitude. The mixed zone proceeds, but is cut sort because the medal ceremony has to start. Another "oh shit" moment occurs as the host broadcasters realize that the journalists in the mixed zone are in the way of the camera view of the flagpoles where the winning team's flag was going to be risen. The journalists are herded (angrily, on their part) away from the camera's reach. We move the mini fences too. When the ceremony is over, we give the journalists another shot at their desired athletes in the mixed zone, but people are so mixed together now that no one really cares. Uncredentialed volunteers are running around taking pictures, climbing on the podiums and creating all kinds of unprofessional havoc, the journalists are pissed about the disorganization and our supervisors are nowhere to be seen. We have two medal ceremony nights in Olympic Field Hockey. This was one of them, and I hope that the last shot at it is 5 million times better.

Friday, August 22, 2008

the days are all running together.

The Olympic games have run by me in a blur. It is hard to differentiate between days, hours, games, and people I have met. I expected nothing less. Soon I will be going home, and I want to make the best of this situation before I won't be in China anymore. I am taking the hits and the gifts this experience has thrown at me, and I am keeping all of it.

Tonight was the best night of Olympic field hockey yet. The funny part is that both of my most memorable moments have to do with the same hockey team. ¡EspaƱa! In one of their preliminary matches, the score was 0-0 until the last 13 seconds. Spain scored to win the game, obviously. The players on both sides gave it their all until those last 13 seconds, and I could tell. It was a really exciting game. When the player for Spain scored, all of the other players on the field collapsed in exhaustion. I finally realized how important these games were to them. It made me love hockey. Tonight made me love it even more. Not only did I get to watch the semifinal matches from the press tribunes, but they were AMAZING games. The first game ended its regular session in a tie so it went into overtime halves in which no one scored again. Afterwards, both teams execute 5 penalty strokes each (like a penalty shot in ice hockey only without the running/skating start). Those ended in a tie as well. Sudden death penalty strokes gave the win to Germany, and that was a huge upset from the Netherlands. It was INSANE!

Anyway, since the game went on longer than planned, the teams for the next game began practicing on the field when the mixed zone was in operation. There was a spare Australian ball that was shot out of the field and I pocketed it.

The second game was really exciting too. Spain beat the favored Australian team 3-2, and I decided I wanted the Australian team to sign their practice ball I stole. I waited after the game and everything had ended and went over to their buses. Not only did half of the Aussie team sign my ball, but they also signed my friend's shirt and we got to talk to some of the Spanish players! They felt very start struck because hockey is generally not popular in their country so they were excited to talk to us and have fans. It feels weird to know so much about these players and have them know nothing about me. I mean, I have followed their games for almost 2 weeks. We talked to this player that was a college student in Madrid and he was really nice. When we said our goodbyes, he kissed us each twice on the cheeks and got on the bus. It was amazing. Tonight has been a good night.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

you get to hear all about it!

The bus turns the corner and I can see that it is going to be a long day.

On a bus with barely 20 seats and a maximum capacity that cannot be more than 75, there are probably close to 90 people riding this morning. Since I don’t have a choice, I squeeze myself onto the crowded vehicle and it takes off for the next stop, only to pick up ten more people. For 45 minutes I endure the sardine-like experience because, as it turns out, everyone on the bus wants to get off at my stop—Lincui lu, right outside the Olympic Athlete Village. We all stumble out of the sauna that was bus line 7 and go our separate ways.

I walk up the street a couple of blocks to get to my venue security booth. Just like every other day, I take off my fanny pack, scan my card, send the pack through the x-ray machine and get wanded by a nice Chinese girl whose English vocabulary probably only consists of ‘please turn around’ and ‘thank you for your cooperation.’ I exit the security tent and make an immediate right into the building where I am supposed to ‘check in’ for the day. I scan my accreditation and accept a meal and four drink tickets—three for water, one for a soft drink.

Afterwards, I wander over to the fenced-off media area where the number four on my accreditation card allows me access. I say ‘hello’ to all of my fellow volunteers (the ones who aren’t sleeping in the press conference room) and sit down to watch whichever sport the lone press conference room TV is playing. Dinner is delivered to the dining areas at 5:00 pm, and we head over to eat at about 5:30. The two small dining warehouses always smell the same, and it is never a good smell. I hand the woman at the door my meal voucher and proceed to the row of tables stacked with coolers containing our Chinese TV dinners. Moving down the line, a banana, dessert, napkin, wet-wipe and a spork are placed on top of my tray. We sit together at a long table and take the lids off our dinners. We find rice, as usual, accompanying several dishes of pork, chicken or beef, a pickled something, cabbage and a roll. Yum. I pick through my dinner avoiding things that look too slimy or green, and wait for the others to be finished. We take our trays outside to a set of six trash cans: two for ‘other waste,’ two for plastics and two for ‘kitchen waste.’ Avoiding spilling something on my pants again, I put everything in its appropriate cannister.

The first hockey game of the night is about to start! I take my place with some Olympic News Service reporters in the press area and take in all that is Olympic hockey. I know more about this sport than any other now, and I am even keeping stats of the teams in the tournament they are playing. With ten minutes to go until the end of the game, I venture down to my post in the mixed zone. The gates separating me from the field of play open when the game is officially over and I take my position at the corner of the field. In the beginning, I helped journalists get to their positions, but now everyone seems to know the drill, and we all know each other’s faces. I watch over the mixed zone operation as the athletes file by me either overjoyed at their win or disappointed with their performance. Journalists grab who they want from the procession, ask a couple questions and hurry off to finish their stories before deadline. The mixed zone empties out, so I go and sneak into a seat in the back of the press conference room for the post-game press conference. By the time it is over, it is time for another game to start, so I go do it all over again. After the last game’s press conference, I leave the venue with some fellow students and pack onto the crowded bus down the street from the security check. In a days work, I have seen several Olympic hockey games, interacted with journalists and athletes from all over the world and met some rowdy fans as far away from home as I am.

What makes it all worth it doesn’t happen until I get out of the bus and start the trek back to Renmin University campus. Occasionally, we run into others walking on the streets and sometimes they strike up a conversation. One night we were walking back, and a group of teenagers said ‘hello’ to us.

We were going in the same direction, so we start a casual conversation about volunteering in the Olympics.
“I just want to say thank you,” one of the girls says. “Thank you for coming here to help us.”

It was just two little words, but those words have stuck with me through the tougher times of working for the Games. It makes it all seem worth it in the end.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

pins, pins, PINS!

With the start of the Olympics, thus begins the start of the pin trade. Avid fans, athletes wanting to remember the games and volunteers like us whip out our pins to trade with others. Not only have I traded pins for pins, but also pins for things at the markets. In a city with such diversity as it has, these pins seem to provide a memory of the foreigners that were here. The Missouri School of Journalism gave each of its volunteers 150 J-school pins to barter off during the games. While the pin is not that popular with the spectators (because of its lack of Olympic rings), the journalists are thrilled to have a 100 year anniversary pin. I have heard of a pin-trading market and people waiting outside the venues for prospective tradees. So far, I haven't racked up any unbelievably awesome finds, but with time, I am sure the "Great Olympic Pin Exchange" will harvest some good ones. So far, fellow journalism students have given/traded pins to many well-known people including Matt, Meredith, Al and Ann from the Today show and countless athletes. We are getting our name out there , and it can only get better!

the Olympics!

The Olympics started, and I am busy! They have me working 4-midnight every day which isn't that bad if you think about it. I get to see the later hockey games if they let me into the press tribunes. I have had some trouble with that, but I think it is all worked out now. I am a pro at my job. If you didn't know, or I hadn't told you, I am a mixed zone assistant. I help operate the area where the print and broadcast press talk to the athletes after the game. I have gotten up close and personal with not only the athletes, but also the journalists. I met a journalist with the New York Times yesterday. It was nothing special, but he knows my face. I planted the seed, if you will. One of these days I am going to take photos of my day at work. I never remember to whip out my camera while I am doing things. I need to start!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

it is not ABOUT CHINA.

People seem to think that in supporting the Olympics, you are supporting the country where they are hosted. This is not the case.

In applying to have the position of an international volunteer at the Olympics, we not only had to write an essay, take a test and attend countless meetings that prepared us for what we would be facing, but we also had to participate in a mock-debate. One of the debate topics was ‘Is the Olympic Dream dead?’ Now, because it was a debate and you need a positive and negative side, a team had to be on the ‘Olympic Dream is dead’ side. We debated long a hard for our respective sides, but I don’t think anyone that had to make the others believe the Dream was dead actually believed their position. After all, the reason we are here is because we think so highly of the Games. We argued that political drama and/or social drama would put an end to the Games that have brought countries together for ages, but it was all a facade. In reality, most of us here (including myself) think that if the Dream is alive in one person, it will still be carried on. Yes, these Olympics are being held in a somewhat conflictual country, but the reason for the games has nothing to do with the country’s social or political turmoil. The Olympic Games are about sport. Nations come together peacefully to show their strongest, fastest and toughest. The athletes have trained for years to compete, and not letting them show their strength or agility for completely unrelated reasons seems pointless. Being here among the athletes and journalists has really given me strong feelings of pride for the Olympic games. This is truly the largest sporting event in the world and I am so thankful to be here.