Blysse and Ellie play in front of the smog covered Bird's Nest
Blysse and Ellie play in front of the smog shrouded Bird’s Nest

Things are finally back to “normal” in the Chinese capital, including the return of some things that are not particularly welcomed.  Here are the top 10 signs that the Olympics and Paralympics are truly over:

1. Security checks have stopped.  I was very pleasantly surprised when I went into Terminal 3 the other day and did not have to submit to a security check simply to enter the terminal.  Likewise, security check points throughout the city have been abandoned, and the black-clad Olympic SWAT force has vanished.  Yeah!

2. Road closures have re-opened.  Many sections of the city which were cordoned off have now re-opened, making it much easier to get around in some cases.

3. Restaurants and clubs are back open. Nearly all of the venues that were closed before the Olympics are open again, except those unfortunate enough not to have survived the forced closure.

4. Al Fresco dining on streets has resumed.   I didn’t really understand why they had to suspend outdoor dining on the streets throughout the games, but they did.  Well, now you can enjoy again, except that the weather has just taken a turn and you will likely be enjoying your latte in the cold rain.

5. Street vendors are back! Just in time for sweet hot yams and tasty lamb skewers!  Yummm.

6. The traffic ban has been lifted.  The streets are back to their pre-Olympic congestion levels after the even/odd liscense plate ban has been lifted.  A lot of people are unhappy about this, and apparently the government is looking at re-instating a similar rule, though not likely as strict.

7. Smog is back with a vengeance!  As a result of the the lift in all of the pollution cutting measures leading up to the Olympics, we are all reminded of just how noxious the air in Beijing really is.

8. DVDs are on sale again! DVD stores are all gradually opening, though their inventory of illegal DVDs certainly leaves a lot to be desired.  No doubt the selection will improve in short order.

9.  Lady Bars are back!  Just when I thought I would never have to be annoyed by another Lady Bar purveyor, they are back in force, and if you are a single man walking anywhere near Sanlitun after 5pm you are likely to accosted every ten steps by someone hoping you are stupid or naive enough to fall into their trap, willfully oblivious to the fact that if you just gave a disgusted look at the last invitation, they are likely to receive a similar reaction.

10. Pushers are back! Perhaps most telling of a relaxation in the city are the purveyors of all things  illicit that roam the streets from Gongti to Sanlitun, nearly as numerous as the Lady Bar pushers, though somehow less annoying as they feel the need to be at least somewhat discreet. Reddit Slashdot Digg Facebook Technorati Google StumbleUpon Furl Yahoo Ask Mister Wong China Newsvine Simpy Spurl Wink Rawsugar Squidoo Fark

2008 Paralympic mascot Funiu

Things are finally approaching normalcy again in the capital city after the years of build up to the Olympics.  Many are complaining about post-Olympic depression, which often seems genuine enough.  Still others are jubilant about the cessation of invasive searches, including metal detectors and dog sniffers, just to go into their office buildings.  Well, for those who just can’t get over Olympic withdrawal, there is hope… the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games are only 5 days away!  Running from September 6-17, 2008, the Paralympic games should offer plenty of excitement for spectators worldwide, with fewer of the security hassles and smaller crowds to contend with than the Olympic games.

When I volunteered for the Olympic and Paralympic winter games in 2002, I was trained as a dedicated assistant for the Olympic games, and was really looking forward to cozying up to some influential Japanese hotshots, as my proficiency in the language and knowledge of the culture had landed me perhaps the most enjoyable gig for a volunteer.  Unfortunately, with the 9/11 attacks and subsequent cancellation of attendance by most of the visiting Japanese VIPs, my opportunity literally went up in smoke.  My experience volunteering for the 2002 Paralympic games then proved altogether more satisfying than I could have imagined.  Rather than visiting fancy restaurants and clubs with big-spending hotshots, I was assigned to drive a truck; ironically, transporting the sledge hockey equipment for the Japanese team.  As I drove the equipment from the airport to the coliseum I remember being impressed that they would trust me with such a task, and it occurred to me how other individuals also possessed the ability, if they perversely chose to act upon them, to really mess things up in a big way.  This far less ego-gratifying, indeed quite humbling experience helped me go on to really appreciate the Paralympic games, and I attended far more events than I might otherwise have.  Each of the athletes has had to overcome considerable challenges, no less formidable, and often more so, than the Olympic contenders.  For those who attend the events, I guarantee a moving experience.

Yesterday, after eating at the newly re-opened Kro’s Nest, in the shadow of the Worker’s Stadium, a major Olympic venue, which had thus led to the temporary closure of Kro’s in the first place, my kids were momentarily mesmerized by the playful antics of the Funiu on the stadium big screen.  I mean… literally mesmerized.  I yelled at them from across the parking lot in an attempt to drag their attention away from the gargantuan TV screen at the top of the stadium, but they stood transfixed until the introductory cartoon was over and they visibly regained their senses.  Ellie then ran up and told me she now wants a Funiu… which is how I learned the name.  I had commented to my friend Dan, who was patiently observing the loss of faculties as the children’s minds were momentarily seized by the mammoth marketing device, that the color scheme of the Funiu is far more Chinese, and if the Olympic ring colors hadn’t been pre-ordained, this is probably more what the Fuwa would have looked like.  Very cute, and obviously designed by the same folks… and only one!

So, for all those who have not yet got their fill of the mascot shopping extravaganza… Never fear!! Funiu is here!! Reddit Slashdot Digg Facebook Technorati Google StumbleUpon Furl Yahoo Ask Mister Wong China Newsvine Simpy Spurl Wink Rawsugar Squidoo Fark

Zongzi is popular on Duanwujie
Zongzi is a tasty treat gobbled up on Duanwujie.

My daughter Blysse handed me a note to sign on Friday morning for her school which stated that in celebration of Duanwujie, (Dragon Boat Festival) the students would all get three days off from school: Saturday June 7th; Sunday June 8th; and Monday June 9th. My guard was up immediately. (You can see my thoughts on the unique Chinese method of allocating holidays from a few years back in my article, “What?! School on Sunday?!?!“)

My suspicion aroused, I asked, “OK, if they are specifically stating that you have Saturday and Sunday off, which you already had, does that mean they are going to add extra days next week and make you go to school on Saturday and Sunday?”

“No,” she replied, “But we do get Monday off.”

“Then why are they telling me that you are getting three days off, when in fact, you’re only getting one?” Blysse responded with a shrug that has become typical when I demand an explanation for something about Chinese culture which, from my American perspective, defies description. I brought the subject up with several Chinese acquaintances, and it seems I am not alone in noticing this ironic bequeathing of that which we already had. This year marks the commencement of a new holiday schedule, which saw the shortening of the Golden Week period in early May, and the addition of several shorter holidays throughout the year. The total tally is basically unchanged, but everyone gets more frequent breaks. To accomplish this, they have taken some traditional festivals and elevated them to public holidays. Duanwujie is one such holiday.

The most widely accepted version of the origin of this holiday is that is commemorates the death of poet Qu Yuan, who rose to fame during in the Warring States Period of the Zhou Dynasty. A descendant of Chu royalty, when the king allied with the rival state of Qin, Qu Yuan was banished for his vocal opposition of the alliance. Throughout his exile, Qu Yuan wrote a great deal of poetry, and when the Qin eventually conquered his beloved Chu capital, Qu Yuan committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River on the fifth day of the fifth month of the traditional lunar calendar, which falls on June 8 this year.

The three most widespread activities for the Duanwu Festival are preparing and eating zongzi, drinking realgar wine, and racing dragon boats. Some also adorn their house with images of guardian Zhong Kui, hang up mugwort and calamus, take long walks, and wear perfumed medicine bags, leading some modern researchers to conclude that the holiday was superimposed upon an ancient traditional holiday designed to ward off summer disease and evil. The festival has certainly been popular for a very long time, and is celebrated in various forms throughout many Asian countries. Now that it is an official holiday, it may rise in significance, though not perhaps for the reasons intended. Reddit Slashdot Digg Facebook Technorati Google StumbleUpon Furl Yahoo Ask Mister Wong China Newsvine Simpy Spurl Wink Rawsugar Squidoo Fark

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