No blue skies and US makes a statement

Trip Start Jan 30, 2007
Trip End Dec 31, 2011

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Flag of China  ,
Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Everyone has been watching with interest the skies over Beijing. Will they clear up? Would it rain on the parade?
Well, it didn't rain on the opening ceremony, and spectators have endured high temperatures and humidity (without much sun). And the USA made a strong statement (perhaps not clear to most Chinese) with the carrying of the flag into the stadium by a guy from Sudan who now lives in the USA.
This from Bob Kravitz:

At these Olympics, it's a hazy shade of summer
August 9, 2008

BEIJING -- For one day, at least, there was only harmony, a concept that's a really big deal here in China. The Chinese organizers put on an interesting, if subdued, opening ceremony. And the evening was happily lacking in posturing and pedagogy, concentrating on the reasons we are here for this three-week-long steam bath: the athletes.

So far, so good, even if the show was a little bit hard to see through the oppressive heat and haze. (And in these days of terror, it's a victory whenever an event of this magnitude goes off without a security hitch.)

This is China's coming-out party, its long-awaited opportunity to reintroduce itself to a wary world. The stakes here are enormous -- not just financially but emotionally. This is a country that once was viewed as the "sick man of Asia." Today, it is a growing global colossus.

"These Olympics will give the rest of the world a chance to discover who China is, to discover a country that, to most people, is mysterious," said International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge one day before the opening ceremony. "China is seen as being different by the outside world. But hopefully the Olympic spotlight will help the world understand China better, and maybe help China understand the world better."

There have been reasonable arguments that the IOC sold its soul to bring these games to a country with such a revolting human-rights record. And there have been reasonable suspicions that a lot of this was driven by big business, that the IOC's commercial partners saw a chance to peddle their wares to a country that holds one-fifth of the world's population.

There is truth in both. But global inclusion is always better than isolation. China will be the biggest economic player of the 21st century, and it was time for both sides in the ideological wars to reintroduce themselves on an athletic playing field.

Will the games make the kind of difference it made in Seoul, South Korea, back in 1988? Probably not. But this shouldn't be viewed by the West as some kind of evangelical mission.

The Olympics offers a chance for countries to show off the best of themselves. For the Chinese, it was Friday night's flawless show and the continued graciousness of its people. For the Americans, it was the presence of Lopez Lomong as the U.S. flag-bearer.

His story has been told before, but it can never be told often enough. He was one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, chased from his home by violence at age 6, forced to live a life of bare subsistence in a Kenyan refugee camp, saved and brought to America by a humanitarian organization.

The inspired selection of Lomong, a 1,500-meter runner who finished third at the U.S. trials, suggests the Americans were trying to send the Chinese a not-so-diplomatic message for their guns-for-oil support of the murderous regime in Khartoum, Sudan. And there's probably some truth there; the Americans were dismayed when former Olympian Joey Cheek, the leader of Team Darfur, had his visa revoked by the Chinese government when he attempted to come to these games.

When United States Olympic Committee chairman Peter Ueberroth was asked Friday morning if the Americans were sending the Chinese a message through Lomong, he played coy.

"Folks can take it any way they want," he said.

The bigger story, though is that Lomong's story is a wonderful and uniquely American story, and his presence in front of his delegation should make more of a political statement about us than it does the Chinese.

At every opening ceremony, it's always interesting to see who gets cheered and who gets booed -- or receives muted cheers. And of course, Americans wonder how the American athletes will be received, especially here in a country that's long been at odds with the United States.

No international incidents, not Friday. The Americans were greeted warmly.

Still, there remain serious questions that hover over these proceedings like the persistent, oppressive haze.

Specifically, there's the issue of, well, the persistent, oppressive haze. In my two days here, the sun has been an unsubstantiated rumor. There have been no blue skies. There has been no wind. It's been like living in a giant vat of yogurt.

Rogge continues to insist that visitors should make the distinction between fog and pollution, that this is fog and not the stuff that makes you feel like your lungs are going to explode. Except it's been this way almost constantly in recent weeks, despite desperate measures the Chinese took to shut down factories and take cars off the road. It hasn't worked so far, and if the Americans bust out those breathing masks, nobody will give them grief.

There are also the questions about terrorism and dissent, and how the Chinese will deal with those issues. On the latter, they've already revoked Cheek's visa.

Now, then, the games begin this morning, and the hope is that the "fog" lifts and reveals the essence of the Olympics. This is about athletes, the ones you know and the ones you will know soon enough.
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