Archive for August, 2008

The Olympics

August 26, 2008

So that’s the ‘greatest show on earth’ over for another our years until the Olympic Games open in London in 2012. What a lot of people (particularly anti-Olympic whingers in the UK) fail to realise is that the venues for an Olympic Games can be split over a wide variety of locations, and don’t have to be centred around the main stadium. Beijing 2008 is a prime example of this with the rowing, sailing, and cycling taking place considerable distances away from Beijing. I mention these three sports as it turns out the UK did rather well in these disciplines. There was much fun to be had winding up the Aussies over here that Team GB were ahead (and finished ahead) of Australia in the overall medal table. Getting retaliation in first for the Ashes next year really.

Hong Kong also had the privilege of being a host venue. Hong Kong was hosting the equestrian events at Sha Tin which is where the larger of the two racecourses is in Hong Kong. Essentially the event was being hosted by the Hong Kong Jockey Club who run Sha Tin racecourse. According to the various buses emblazoned with the Beijing 2008 advertising they were ‘sharing the spirit, sharing the dream’ or something like that. The truth is actually that equine disease is apparently rampant in mainland China, and getting the large numbers of international horses in and out of China would have been a nightmare. The obvious solution was to ‘share the Olympic spirit’ with Hong Kong. Despite that, it has been wonderful to be located in a host venue. Plenty of Olympic logos, banners, merchandising has been around, and a lot of teams chose to base themselves out of Hong Kong and Macau to prepare for Beijing. I’m not sure the Australian reason of avoiding the air pollution in Beijing had quite the ring of truth to it though…

Fortunately the GB, New Zealand, and Canadian hockey teams had decided to play some pre-Olympic matches in Macau and Hong Kong so I was able to see some international hockey here. Despite playing in very hot and humid conditions the game pace was significantly higher than usual, and was great fun to watch. GB beat New Zealand 3-2, and Canada beat a Hong Kong league Barbarians team 4-0. Just a shame GB were a bit inconsistent in Beijing and only drew against Canada… However, 5th place overall was probably what they aimed for originally. I could have got tickets for some of the equestrian events in Hong Kong, but horsey things really aren’t my idea of fun, so chose not to go. From reports here it seems dressage definitely wasn’t the local’s cup of tea either with lots of the spectators leaving during the course of the day(s) that it was on.

An idea that had been floated by some guys in the hockey club had been to go up to Beijing and try and get tickets ‘on the street’. Typically this has been fairly easy at previous Olympics, and tickets weren’t registered against names. So, in theory this should have been possible. Except that leading up to the Games Chinese visas became more expensive and harder to get. You could only get a single entry visa (not an issue of itself), and buying tickets on the street is illegal. This is the main reason I chose not to go. Being caught by the Chinese police illegally buying tickets probably wouldn’t be viewed to well, and seeing the inside of a Beijing police cell is way down my list of things to do whilst I’m here. Still, there’s always tv… or so you’d think.

Television coverage here was absolutely rubbish compared to the BBC. Whilst in the UK you can get BBC coverage via terrestrial, digital, and the web, in Hong Kong the rights were held by one terrestrial channel (we don’t have the equivalent of ‘Freeview’ here) and some channels on a cable television provider. Unfortunately, I get television delivered via broadband, not cable, and worse, my flat does not seem to have a terrestrial socket anywhere. Basically, I had no Olympic coverage at home. This wasn’t a disaster, as to be honest, there were only a small number of events I was actually concerned about watching. Notably GB hockey matches and some athletics. Online TV schedules suggested that GB v Holland would be screened on terrestrial live on a Wednesday night. Having arranged to watch this with friends in a pub on the night, it’s somewhat disappointing to be faced with coverage of lots of sports featuring China… Yes, I know, I’m in China and it’s kind of to be expected to follow the ‘home nation’. However, most of these events weren’t live, and what’s the point of a schedule? Clearly a work of fiction. We did get the last 25 minutes of the match, which included the solitary goal, unfortunately for the Dutch… bah.

The overall feeling in Hong Kong was that the local population became a lot more pro-China than usual. Particularly the local media in Hong Kong. There is a free press in Hong Kong which for the main part either looks to Beijing for direction or is blatantly pro-Beijing. During the last few weeks though it’s felt like all the media are taking a more pro-Beijing line than usual. The Chinese goal to ‘beat’ the US at the medal count has also been felt quite obviously. Although, I did get the impression that (to a certain extent anyway) it felt that only gold really mattered. For example, a shopping centre I sometimes get lunch at had a big screen showing sports during the day with seats in front so people could watch and cheer etc. They also had a medal counter below this screen… except it was counting only the golds. (for China in case that’s not obvious) The Americans then used the sneaky tactic of counting total medals won to show USA at the top of the medal table…

It’s been great to be in the right timezone for these Games and in order to get a fix of Olympic action I ended up downloading some of the BBC Olympics Today highlights programs so I got to see the major moments I think. I also managed to catch some of the closing ceremony in a mainly expat bar on Sunday night. Biggest cheer definitely had to be Boris Johnson receiving the Olympic flag.

As per my last post, there was indeed a storm on the way. The T8 signal was hoisted on Friday morning at 7:40am which meant no requirement to go into work that day. I think I received my first invite to the pub by about 11:00am. We did actually get a T9 for about 11 hours, but it never really got violent on Hong Kong island. A few trees blown down or requiring removal afterwards seemed to be about the extent of it. Still, a day ‘off’ work is not to be criticised.



August 21, 2008

Once again, somewhat light on writing stuff up lately. Mainly as a result of not having much to write about I guess. I have managed to find some time to take a long weekend in Australia at the end of July though. Due to not having huge amounts of vacation time (and the hassles of arranging cover for work whilst I’m off) I find it’s easier to book short trips round weekends. It turns out Australia isn’t really within easy hopping distance of Hong Kong. It’s a 9 hour flight time with a +2 hour timezone difference in Sydney. This short trip and long flight time was however worth it as a chance to catch up with a former colleague from the UK, and to watch Australia play the All Blacks in the first round of the Bledisloe Cup. Actually, I suppose to be accurate that should be the Qantas Wallabies play the All Blacks. Naming rights to rugby teams as well as stadiums are available it seems.

Landing in Sydney at about 8:00am in the morning and looking out the plane window I could have been forgiven for thinking I’d landed in Belfast. It was grey and overcast, and it was raining. This was actually quite a relief to be out of the stifling humidity of Hong Kong to be honest. The last time I’d flown into Sydney I’d not needed to clear customs and immigration as I had an onward flight to Cairns and would clear there. I can now see that this was a bonus. Sydney immigration and customs was not quick. Not helped by a Chinese couple at passport control who spoke little, if any, English having one passport between them. How you can get on an international flight without a passport is a mystery to me. Fortunately, another counter was opened allowing me to change queues so I was no longer being held up watching an Aussie immigration official battling to communicate with a non-English speaking Chinese couple. It at least provided me a bit of early morning comedy though. As I passed through without a hitch I saw the Chinese couple being taken to one side, but notably not through immigration. I expect whichever one was missing the passport didn’t get very far, as the Aussies aren’t noted for a lax immigration policy.

Most of Friday was spent to the west of Sydney at Katoomba to walk round (some of) the Blue Mountains, a place I’d not had the chance to visit when I’d previously been here. They get the blue name because the haze given off by the eucalyptus trees is a definite blue colour. The mountains aren’t very high but formed a significant barrier to the early settlers when they tried to explore further west of Sydney. It seemed quite strange being able to look out upon miles of what is really just wilderness having just arrived from Hong Kong (and to a lesser extent the UK) where everywhere has been discovered, explored, and populated. The weather had cleared and there were even had blue skies and sunshine which made the views (with no rubbish air pollution either) all the better. The Blue Mountains is the location of the much photographed (and now by me also) Three Sisters. If you follow the link you’ll even get to read about the slightly odd Aboriginal story behind the name. There should be some of the pictures I took available via the flickr link on the blog, or for the lazy, you can just click here.

The following day was all about the rugby match. I was hoping for an Australian victory, and not just because I was in Australia and surrounded by Aussies. With the Bledisloe Cup being played over four matches this year, the forth match is in Hong Kong in November. It would be a shame if the Cup was already won by the time the teams reach here. I know I’m now writing this blog after the first two games, but I did fully expect the All Blacks to win in New Zealand. Ideally, if Australia are 2-1 up coming to Hong Kong, then it’s a winner takes all match. But even if the All Blacks are 2-1 up they won’t want to tie the series, and the Aussies of course will. The match was taking place at the ANZ Stadium, formerly the Telstra Stadium and before that simply the Olympic Stadium. There are some similarities to London here, in that the Olympic Park is outside of the Central Business District of Sydney and is reached via a relatively quick and reliable overground rail link. Cleverly, if you buy a ticket to the match your public transport is free (this is buses into Sydney, trains to Olympic Park and out again). The stadium is now a little smaller than it was for the Olympics – it now only holds 80,000 people. There was apparently a crowd of ~78,000 on the Saturday night I was there. The atmosphere within the ground was fantastic and having arrived just in time to see the All Blacks perform their pre-match haka there wasn’t long to wait for the kick off. As with most sports events you don’t get to see quite as much being there as you do on television, but being at the event more than makes up for that. This was, of course, helped with the Aussies Wallabies going into an early lead (sadly at the opposite end of the ground to me for the first half). If anything you get to appreciate the sheer physicality of rugby by seeing it live rather than on television, as well as being able to see how plays progress and where there is space which isn’t always visible on television. Australia led narrowly at half time only to fall behind early on in the second half to an All Blacks try. This set the rest of the second half up nicely with a couple of converted tries and a drop goal for Australia, this time at the end I was sat at. Plenty of good photograph opportunities from this game as well – as ever available via flickr.

The Olympic Park in Sydney is really well done, and an object lesson for London. London’s organising committess really should just say to the people who designed/built the Sydney Olympic Park ‘we’ll have one of those, please’. The following day was pretty relaxing and spent wandering round Circular Quay – where you can view both the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. You can see the somewhat ominous clouds in the background. It was shortly to start raining really quite heavily. Quite a contrast to the last time I wandered round Circular Quay when it was in the 30s in Celsius and there was hardly a cloud in the sky. Makes for good photographs though. If I had a bit more time/skill with PhotoShop I could probably tidy them up a bit more.

And finally … I flew to Australia via Cathay Pacific one day before this flight arrived. There’s another typhoon on the way to Hong Kong, expected to hit either tomorrow or Saturday. We’re currently at a T1 warning with this one (Typhoon Nuri) possibly being classed as a T10. That could prove very interesting. As it’s known the British like to talk about the weather, you can follow it’s progress here.

I’ll look to write another entry about all things Olympic in the next day or so.