Letter from Qingdao- An Irish Perspective- 1 and 2

Denis Kiely (IRL) reports on the build up to the 2008 Paralympics from an Irish perspective:

Sailing Stuff

What we're here for, so 1st things etc. Sonar on the water yesterday - very light wind, maybe 2-3 knots [3.5 to 5.5 Km/h]. Hot, and we baked! Very strong tides - maybe 3 Kts +.

The fear about Qingdao was/is that it would be so light that races would not be started [Min 4 kts are required to start a race]. But most days we have had good wind and today again there was a steady 8Kts on the water - so we keep our fingers crossed for next week when the racing begins. The Sonar was hauled today for measurement, weighing etc. - all the bits of string had to be undone and the mast taken out - and then put back in again - and all the bits of string tied up again.

Maria was out at 8,00am under the boat polishing the hull - and had the whole job done when we arrived down at 10 - 10.30. Someone passed the remark ' a woman's work ...' but being a reformed - well partially reformed - MCP I immediately stopped him and instead explained what had kept us busy and unable to arrive any earlier. That seemed to diffuse the situation??? We also promised to do better in future!

The Skud hit the water for the first time today. Amy and John were out with about 7/8 other boats. Conditions were idyllic and they had a very satisfactory first sail pacing and practising with the others. The usual teething problems - maybe a shorter bit of string here, longer there, etc., but nothing major. A great feeling to be on the water sailing after the initial trauma of discovering the badly damaged boat in the delivery container.

Three days left to competition time and things tightening up a bit - so we went out of the village last evening for a meal - and to restore our blood alcohol levels - moderately - really! Mac regaled us with tales from earlier days which included characters such as 'fightin Kiely' - definitely no relation, 'Luigi', 'mad jack', 'jerry the mouse', the 'Bandon car', and the 'hole in the wall gang', and lots of motorbikes!! - I swear.

Richard was sitting there pop-eyed wondering who the normally fairly serious guy in the back of the boat really was? Was all this possible from in and around a fairly small and obscure parish in south Cork. Rhino, who comes from a more sophisticated [nearer to 'town'] but nearby part of the country, and who may have met 'fightin Kiely' in his own travels, assured him that every word was Gospel!

It is a mark of the tolerance of the Chinese that we were not asked to leave their 5 star establishment as we nearly fell off our chairs and/or nearly choked laughing. I see I've strayed a little from the serious business.

Sonar goes back in the water tomorrow morning, tune the rig and put in a fairly serious amout of time on the water - always weather permitting - as it will be the last practice opportunity. Then the boat will probably be hauled again tomorrow evening or Saturday morning, washed and polished, back in the water for the practice race on Sunday and the action proper begins on Monday.
The plans for the Skud are not so clear, She hasn't had as much time on the water as the other boat so she will be sailing again tomorrow, perhaps Saturday, and how long she will be out of the water before the racing begins will be decided as we go.

Organisation Matters etc.

The event is 'owned' by a body called the International Paralympic Council [IPC]. It's Irish subset is the Paralympic Council of Ireland [PCI] Kind of parallell body and structure to IOC for main olympics. This body enters into some kind of contarct with the host country and - for the most part - their nationals run the event and head up all the operational units. We obviously use the facilities of the Olympics just finished so in the case of sailing we are based in the olympic sailing 'village' in Qingdao.

Medium sized Chinese city of 7-8 million people. I'd never heard of it before hearing that the sailing events would be held there. Not knowing, I assumed something like Crosshaven to Cork i.e. a small sailing village down the road from the capital city. When I saw the first pictures and heard the population figures it came as a real surprise - its high rise all the way here! When it was built I don't know - most of what I've seen is modern - but it is hard to imagine all of it being built since the 'capitalist roaders' under Deng Xiaoping came into the ascendant in 1978. My girls told me there were 6 ish universities by 30,000 students in Qingdao but I've seen a note saying 28 colleges and universities so we might be looking at a 3rd level student population in the greater Qingdao area of - wild guess - 500,000?

Just checked - probably right - Qingdao covers an area of 10,654sq km, is comprised of 7 districts, with a total population of approximately 8.2 million but with an urban population of 2.3 million. That makes it something like the size of Munster?? Mystery solved - its a province and a city - either way its big!

The 'village' is a 5 star Intercontinental hotel or it will be as soon as we have packed our bags and left. Modern palatial in style. Because it was designed/built for the main olympics - around 1000 - it has a slighlty empty feel to it at present - max 150. But you could get used to the luxury!

My Girls, Su and Viv - and Driver

Because of the language?? for reasons of organisational efficiency and for whatever other reason/s I don't know but there seems to be about 5 'volunteer' helpers for each accredited person [athletes and coaches etc]. Each team, Irish, French etc, has two liaison persons. These are all young girls, undergraduate or post grad mostly, with varing levels of English. There job is to see that we - team leaders - do our jobs. Our job is largely a communication role between the organisers [Chinese] and the athletes. Since we do not understand a word of Chinese hence the need for interpreters. We have two because they work in morning and afternoon shifts.

They are bright, neat, diligent, mild mannered, friendly - and relentless - never give up, 'Denees you missed the meeting - this is what you must do.' 'Denees do you have the list of names for me?' and out comes the notebook. Everything is noted down - from their own briefings and conversations - in their little notebooks.

Mostly in Chinese characters or in impeccable written English. When I have to write something for them I am ashamed at my illegible scrawl in comparison. But we get on - well. All the Chinese we meet are invariably polite. The bad natured boorishness and vulgarity that is a staple of the daily discourse at home appears to be totally absent.

I know this can't be the complete picture but I would say that it is a less aggressive, more polite society than Irish people can imagine. There are also lots of young men employed in the village but I'm not sure what they do - if they do anything at all? Generally women seem to have a position of complete equality - certainly in terms of the organisation of the event women seem to have at least as prominent a role as men - at least! No hint here of the middle-east or perhaps Japan - this may be one of the few/only positives from the communist inheritance/era. [maybe more later]

As I'm a team leader - middling boss - I rate a car and driver [Passat and good driver]. I know, this stuff could go to your head. So, I used the facility once - to go looking for wheelchair tyres around the city - couldn't find any - felt a bit embarrassed - big fat foreigner traipsing after small Chinese girl. But perhaps I'll take it out again on Saturday - and who knows I might get used to it!

Getting tired - two fingered stuff is so bloody slow! More later - hopefully.

Responses all positive - thank you - except one peremptory demand for my chinese mobile phone number. It will be something alon
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