Tuesday Olympic Notes - cont

(Following items 1 - 3  here.)
4. The mysteries of the Great Firewall
     Immediately before the Olympics, there of course was a flurry about whether or not the Chinese government would allow foreign visitors and reporters un-firewalled access to the internet. (As I reported in the Atlantic early this year, the original idea was to quietly un-block all IP addresses in hotels or Olympic areas where foreigners were likely to be, so that they'd say: What's this we hear about the firewall? Works fine for me!)

The Chinese government ultimately agreed to open unblock access for the Olympic visitors. For a while, it looked as if that meant blanket unblocking through much of Beijing. My own apartment access has always been firewalled, which I've worked around quite easily with my VPN. But for a day or two, I seemed not to need it. Now the blocking is back again -- and I'm reminded of what a nuisance that is, since on one of my computers, for odd reasons, the VPN is now no-go.

The real point, of course (as emphasized in my story), is that the very uncertainty of the Firewall's operation tremendously magnifies its effect. You don't know day by day what you can easily see, what you can't, or whether any problems you're having come from your own computer or always-shaky ISP setup.

5. The mysteries of Olympic food.
After the jump, an account from a reader trying to buy food at Olympic venues, whose experience exactly mirrored my wife's and mine at the rowing site on Sunday.

That site is really distant from downtown Beijing, and is a big open-air meadow, but on the way in we went through a very, very thorough security search. After I passed through the metal detector with no beeps, a young man poked my right rear pocket several times and said shenme?, "What's that?" I pulled it out and said, "We call this a 'wallet'. " My wife had brought some peanuts and other little snack-packs, but she had to surrender all edibles at the gate.

After we went through, we found concession stands where prices were very low -- but there was not much to buy! Ah, keeps us fit. Reader's account, and one more point, after the jump.

From a reader at what was labeled the "Restauration Point" at an Olympic site:

...most Olympic venues seem ill-equipped to feed the masses: at all the events I and my friends have been to, the concession stands have been flat out of all the prepared foods such as pizzas and hot dogs by mid-day, and with no intention of re-stocking. Beverages were plentiful but rather than a keg each beer is opened from a bottle or can and emptied into a plastic cup. Popcorn (the sweet variety) was being prepared from individual microwave bags, with a harried looking volunteer bending over a small microwave attempting to catch up with demand.

I know nothing about Olympic sponsorships but I had assumed major sponsor Mickey D's would have had each of the venues covered with burgers and fries.

All this is like what we saw.

6. Mysteries of the class system in the "harmonious society."
We got our Olympic tickets during the online sales for residents of China -- foreign and domestic -- as reported earlier here. It's been interesting to see how the tickets available to people in China (even privileged foreigners, like us) differ from those on sale in the world market.

Good side: ours were unbelievably cheap. We heard an American woman at the event saying that she'd chosen rowing to "hold down my average ticket price." She'd paid $30 for hers, versus $200 for gymnastics.  My wife and I paid 20RMB apiece -- less than $3. We had bid on the most expensive rowing tickets being offered -- 30 RMB / about $4.50 -- but the 20 RMB ones were what we got.

Other side: in Olympic world, to some degree you get what you pay for. The entrance to our ordinary-folk section was half a mile down the road from where others went in; it was a standing area only; it had (by my view) three port-a-johns for several thousand people; and as expected nearly everyone there was Chinese, including large contingents of cheering students. It was fun! We were glad to be where we were.

After torrential downpours canceled the races before the climactic Men's and Women's Eights, we walked out via the hoity-toity section. Fairly different! And gave a little glimpse into the ways that globalized marketing doesn't always bring everyone to exactly the same plane.

Jia you! Now back to "real" work.

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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.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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