Denis Kiely of the Irish Paralympic Team writes from Qingdao
'On a Sunday morning sidewalk,
I'm wishing, Lord, that I was home.
'Cause there's something in a Sunday
That makes a body feel alone.
And there's nothing short a' dying
That's half as lonesome as the sound
Of the sleeping city sidewalk
And Sunday morning coming down.'
I had the quote [slightly] wrong in the title of the last email - and it's certainly not that bad - but it was a Sunday mornin after the week before and that sentiment was heavy in the air when I used it, it's been there since the sailing was wrapped up. The job is done, and the no matter how lively it gets at times, our purpose here is finished and we're all looking forward to going home. Catch up.
Took Sue and Viv [plus a friend, Bing] - our two liaison girls, out for dinner on Monday night to a French [style] restaurant as a way of saying thank you for the time and effort they had put in for/with us over the previous 2 weeks. These are young college kids, back to the grindstone next week, and they had been unfailingly attentive and helpful to us during that time. I was trying to place them against my experience of young Irish people of the same age and background - how would Irish kids have done the same job? - and we agreed, Rhino and I, that we couldn't see them doing it - and it is difficult to say precisely why - my view would be that they just wouldn't have the attention span, the diligence - but I could be wrong. They did a great job and we were grateful to them for it. Rhino said it was the best meal ever - he has a slight tendency to exaggerate in certain moments - but it was a great meal/occasion.
Left Qingdao the following morning at 7.40 by bullet train for Beijing. The girls saw us off - there were big hugs all round, a few tears and much waving good bye as we pulled out of the station. We went by train to get a chance to see the countryside and just to get away from the hassle of airports. The journey took 6 hours [650 miles] through flat [monotonous?] intensively cultivated countryside. As there was a king of heat haze/fog all the way the view wasn't great. 1st class for 132 euro for 4 tickets - how bad?
Arrived in Beijing South railway station to be met by cars and support staff from the Olympic village. Someone said it was the biggest railway station in Asia? It probably is.
Check in to the Irish teams quarters in the Olympic village - big culture shock. We had been pampered in Qingdao by comparison, no 5 star standards here, just hostel style, spartan, tight accommodation. We had been just a single sport in Qingdao and we have developed really close relations with all our competitors down through the years and you immediately miss the camaraderie - sitting wherever in the dining hall and resuming a conversation with whoever was sitting there. In the main village there are probably thousands of competitors form every country on earth - and it just isn't the same thing. It seemed to me as well that the relations with the Chinese assistants weren't as close, they are more off-hand, more shop assistant style. It also seemed to me that there was no attempt by the athletes to make an effort to learn even a few words of Chinese. My 'Ni hao', 'xie xie' and 'zao shang hao' are redundant here. Forbidden City
Went with Mac and Richard to visit the Forbidden City in the centre of Beijing - taxi 45 yuan - and arrived at the back [north] gate - stunning stunning! first pass a lake, then at the city itself, very large moat - 50 meters at least, the city on the right and a hill with jewels of palaces peering out from dark green woodland on the left. Free passes and hired a guide for 240 yuan. The city itself seems/is endless - and all symmetrical, everything on the left repeated on the right. At the northern end the buildings are on a very human scale - and appear to have been the living quarters of the various emperors, Mings and Chings - Chings and Mings, in one ear out the other! all the numbers re construction, residents, concubines etc., were so large as to be almost meaningless 1 million construction workers, 40,000 high level craftsmen, 999 rooms, a lot of concubines, 1000's - too many??
It was difficult going for the boys in wheelchairs as it is not really up to the best standards in accessibility. It has not been prepared in my view for the mass tourism market [good/bad? Bad.] so the exhibitions are not as extensive or as informative as they will be when the Chinese realise the potential of this jewel [and I suppose the others scattered about this city]. Single impression? - imperial - a clear sense that this was/is an imperial city and this was/is the centre of an empire. This rivals Rome and London in my opinion - not saying its better or grander, its different - but it is at that level.
One could go on about what the symmetrical layout ['Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing can ever be made] and the forbidden character of the city tells you about the imperial Chinese mindset - and the problems it created for China and the Chinese when the world came knocking on their door [you may not be looking for trouble but trouble will be looking for you] but you know what - it will keep!
See The Last Emperor (1987) Bertolucci, & Peter O'Toole, some of which was filmed in the Forbidden City, and realise, this is there now exactly as it is shown in that film - and Pu-Yi, the last Emperor? Even though he had collaborated with the Japanese in Manchuria, when he was captured after the war his life was spared and he ended his days as a gardener in Beijing - Mao's gesture of respect from one emperor to another! Closing ceremony last night
Another well planned, well executed spectacle. Closing thought
The central concourse of the village has been like a souk for the last few days, everybody - Chinese assistants, athletes, hucksters? all setting out their stall offering every conceivable T-shirt and top under the sun for sale or exchange. Temptation? It never failed me! Swapped an Irish polo shirt for Usain Bolt's T-shirt, medium size, perfect fit! Well it had a Jamaican flag on it - and the guy swore it was the identical shirt worn by Usain just after winning the 200ms - really!
Which reminds me of one of the more profound Confucian aphorisms [Confucius say]
'been there, done that, swapped the T-shirt - I'm outa here'