A farewell to 加油

It's the first day of the rest of Beijing's life. I have no further thoughts to offer about the Games and their aftermath, so I bid them adieu with these few notebook items.

I also take leave of blog-land for the next week, because of (happy) family gatherings and other duties. The Democrats in Denver and the tennis players in New York will keep everyone occupied:

- The most riveting detail in today's NYT story about Olympic TV ratings success is fingering the person responsible for scheduling the games in the hottest time of the summer. It turns out to have been NBC's Dick Ebersol, and not, as everyone I've talked with had assumed, some astrology-conscious faction within the Beijing Olympic Committee that was obsessed with having the opening ceremony on August 8. Of course that's 08/08/08, heavy on the most traditionally "auspicious" number in Chinese culture.  Details in the very interesting NYT story. Years' worth of pop-culture analysis of modern China, right down the drain!

But maybe it was local people who added the flourish that the ceremonies start at 8:08 pm.

- The last big-deal event I saw was a big deal indeed: gold-medal football/soccer match, Argentina 1-0 over Nigeria. (Tickets offered by a foreign friend at the last minute.*) As a viewer,  I was reminded that soccer is the sport that suffers most in the transition from in-person to TV. TV can capture a whole court's worth of action in basketball, and tennis, and usually baseball and football, though each is different when seen for real. But the soccer field is so big that what you see on TV is little isolated chunks of action rather than any larger flow -- or else, in the wide shots, a whole field with tiny dots moving around and kicking.  

Despite the appeal of on-scene viewing, despite the Argentinian team's long-standing popularity among Chinese fans, despite the gold-medal stakes, and despite everything else, once again the arena was not full. As at most venues, the cheap upper tier seats, where tickets had been opened for sale to the public, were all occupied. A lot of the fancy seats were flat empty. (Click for larger.)


Note in the shot below the Chinese participants who I think edge out the opening-ceremony cheerleaders for the gold medal in stoicism. During the entire match, they had to look constantly into the crowd. This was presumably to be on guard if  anyone tried to charge the field or -- much worse! -- take out some kind of banner. How you could sneak a banner in through the security screenings is mystery on its own. Not once did I see a one of them turn around, even when the crowd roared and the stadium seemed to pulse with excitement. They didn't move or flinch at all. Assuming that they were actual people and not mannequins, I say: Well done! Jia you!

(Note also the optical illusion in the shot: with the curved lines, it looks as if the picture is a trapezoid, with the bottom edge sloping up toward the right, rather than a rectangle. Or maybe the Games have destroyed my eyes and mind.)


- Speaking of empty venues, the photographer Zach Honig went to the Olympic Green some 12 hours after the closing ceremony, and: ghost town!  You can see more of his pictures here.


Enjoy the convention and the US Open. Signing off from Olympic coverage and all things  Internet for a while.

* I benefited from the strange ticket distribution system, in this way. Before the games, my wife and I felt lucky to have come up with any ticket whatsoever: a first-day, standing-area only ticket to preliminary heats out at the rowing center. Over subsequent days, we ended up seeing quite  a lot of the action, in every case because people who had gotten tickets overseas or through companies ended up with spares. Thanks to our benefactors Tom B, Ken S, Andy R, Howard S, Eliot C, and Melanie C.

** For those joining us late, the headline refers to the Chinese phrase 加油, jia you!, which means roughly "let's go!" and was the de facto motto of the Games.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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