Boys with toys

Mark writes
Ever lay awake at night wondering: “after the athlete has thrown the discus all that way, how does it get back to the ring for the next competitor to throw ?” No? Well I have, and last night in the Bird’s Nest I saw the answer. A remote-controlled, rocket-shaped, red car.Now, imagine you are one of the hundreds of thousands of patriotic volunteers who’ve been successfully created to serve the Beijing games. You arrive on your first day for training wondering what your job’s going to be. Will i get to hold the bins open for the press guys to throw away their burger wrappers? Will I put people’s toast on? Will I get to stand at a door all day and say “Ni Hao” a lot?

Maybe, if I dare to dream I could be one of the people who runs out with a mop to wipe away the sweat on the court during the handball?

Then you find out : you , son, will be operating a fleet of big, red remote controlled cars on the infield of the national stadium in front of 91 thousand people. You’d think all your birthdays had come at once.

The stadium is beautiful- and oddly graceful. It’s become the iconic image of the games , which will be just as the authorities would like it. Without wishing to sound like a whingeing hack, the food leaves something to be desired. Ok, i do sound like a whingeing hack, but 4 small hot dog sausages served in a cup does not a sporting feast make. And i’m missing my usual chicken balti pie at Upton Park, for this?

During the evening a Chinese heptathlete won her heat of the 200 metres – the roof of the stadium was raised just a few inches by the roar of the crowd. I’m no expert but I don’t think she has a prayer of winning the heptathlon, but it made me think just how noisy the place will be on “Liu Xiang night”.

And so much for the “green games”: after every event we were all handed screeds of paper with stats, quotes and analysis. By the end of the evening I had 40 sheets, whether I wanted them or not. But the alternative of course is to give us free internet access, and that would never do.

But it was another “Good games, bad games” day. Following on from what I wrote yesterday, my colleague Rebecca went to interview a dissident, with the guest’s permission. She waited at the appointed time outside a restaurant where she was photographed, filmed and after waiting an hour, followed when she left.

Another potential interviewee told her on the phone that he had “no time” to talk to her. A minute after Rebecca called him, he was phoned again and someone told him “we thought we might come and see you- you’re not expecting anyone are you?”

One of our interpreters “David” is very jittery. He says that every cab in Beijing is bugged and has cameras (you can see them, but this story has been dismissed as an urban myth by the press here). He says his phone doesn’t work properly any more. We’ve decided to pay him, but not use his services as we don’t want to cause any more stress.

Let’s make this clear; nobody thinks they are under a genuine, physical threat, but there’s an air of menace – it may just be a simple way of keeping us in check, not backed with any intent, and sometimes it works. Since yesterday, every time we’ve got into a cab, the driver’s made a phone call. Of course, it could just be a coincidence, and why would he need to make a call when his cab is bugged anyway ?

15 Responses to “Boys with toys”

  1. August 16, 2008 at 15:12

    Since Mark can’t write directly on this blog from China, this shows to what extent the internet is censored there. Presumably WordPress isn’t available there.

    I presume he sends his dispatches by email, which are later pasted on this blog.
    The fact that they have an armada of spies and informers all over the areas where the Olympics are held shows that the Chinese authorities are still skeptical of the foreigners, if not paranoid.

    From Mark’s dispatch it is clear that the Chinese (including dissidents and interpreters) are afraid to talk in public, especially to foreigners.

    I guess Mark can read the responses to his dispatches on this blog only when he’s out of China or when they are pasted to him in an email.

    Anyway, Mark enjoy your stay in China and don’t forget to load WHYS flicker with the pictures you took there.

  2. 2 Dennis
    August 16, 2008 at 18:49

    @ Abdelilah Boukili:

    To answer your question about Mark Sandell: When i did the moderators [where you were not around]…

    He does it via his bbc email address and sends it to the London and has one of the staff, put it thru WORDPRESS….


  3. August 16, 2008 at 19:18

    @ Dennis,
    Thanks for the clarification. Nonetheless, Mark’s article above shows that China is still below the standard level of freedom as people there are afraid of taliking openly for fear of being prosecuted.

  4. 4 nelsoni
    August 16, 2008 at 22:36

    The idea of being watched or monitored in China is something foreign Journalist should get used to. I once said this the leopard can not change its spot overnight.

  5. 5 natalie sara
    August 17, 2008 at 18:15

    oh the ‘liu xiang night’ is very funny, i personally am waiting to see it! i think i watched on channel news asia last night that all the cabbies in beijing had to go for night classes before the beijing olympics. basic english classes so that the non-chinese visitors will have a easy time commuting and communicating with them. well the bugging thing would surely make them super stressed wouldnt it.

  6. 6 kpellyhezekiah
    August 17, 2008 at 20:57

    About a week before the games started I stated on this site that something very sinister was going on in this world. It is an evil collaboration between a few multi-lateral businesses using many politicians as their tools and warned that the world was living in a time of CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER(I’ve borrowed this phrase from the movie). I also said the whole programme is being tested on a wide scale simultaneously now and that if care is not taken we would lose democracy as the accepted form of human political governance. But most importantly, I stated emphatically that we, journalist, are the only group of social force that can fight effectively against this evil. Unfortunately, nobody gave me a second thought. Within 14 days, Russia has invaded georgia(Europe’s test), there has been a military coup in mauritania(africa’s test), There has been some shooting again in the US and there has been a purported terrorists attack in china(asia’s test) All this is happening during the olympic games period.
    Then comes the suicide bombings in the middle east. In the midst of this is the reduction in the price of crude oil with the usual excuse of it happening as a result of market forces which is a blatant lie. Guys, please listen. I am not joking. The world need to stand up and we,journalists, must wake the general population up. I’m happy that the chinese have bloc even the bbc reporter’s site as I said would happen. All I can say for now is that in the real ‘international circle’ there is no longer press freedom. Its been taken away about two years ago. The press is to report what ‘they’ want the press to report. All we are seeing is just window dressings. Do we want it to continue like this? God bless us all

  7. 7 Dennis
    August 18, 2008 at 02:45

    @ Abdelilah:

    No problem!


  8. 8 Shirley
    August 18, 2008 at 06:37

    Disgusting. Freedom of press my big fat toe. Be safe, Mark. And Rebecca, and David, and dissident, and…

    Strange. In fighting communism, it seems that McCarthy used some of the same tools used by anti-democratic communist governments. It seems that it made for the same air of fear and suspicion. Are we now and again slinking back into the nightmares of another Orwellian night?

  9. 9 Tom
    August 18, 2008 at 07:02

    The much hyped Liu Xiang night is not happening after all. He has pulled out of the hurdles race due to injury much to the disappointment of the local crowd.


  10. 10 Tom
    August 18, 2008 at 07:19

    @ Shirley,

    Of all freedoms that the Chinese people might be getting in the coming decades, unfortunately media freedom will be among the last, if ever, to be granted. True media freedom doesn’t exist even in countries that are considered democratic. Eg. Malaysia.

    I’d say that in an effort to improve civic morality and administrative efficiency, the Chinese government may be inclined to experiment with increase religious freedom or low-level popular elections. However, the media being a dangerously powerful tool that could rally entire populations will likely to remain under tight official control.

  11. 11 Shirley
    August 18, 2008 at 13:28

    I hear you, Tom (or read you) and do appreciate your insights into these kinds of things.

  12. 12 ben's younger brother
    August 18, 2008 at 14:03

    Hi Mark

    Thanks for your reports: each one conveys more than the individual words would suggest – an atmosphere, if you like. That is truly excellent reporting.

    Here, I think, lies hope. The Pen is mightier than the sword because it can be subtle and convey lots of human things – a sense of menace, for example; or the fact that not everyone in a place thinks the same thing. Your report sparks off in my mind what it must be like to be a taxi driver around the Olympics – how does it feel to get up and go out and do your job? How do you feel at the end of the day? Are you at all influenced by the people you meet, even tho’ you cannot say so?

    Chicken balti pie did you say? P-L-E-A-S-E. I’d rather have the hot dog sausages.

    Power to you!

  13. August 18, 2008 at 16:59

    I rather enjoy reading your perspective on the Games, notwithstanding some of the more distressing stuff like your “Good games, bad games” theme in your reports. It helps to paint a varied picture of the Olympics.

    I am still of the view that the Chinese, notwithstanding their record on human rights, have been given an especially warm time by a very critical Western media. This, though, is understandable with the sort of crystal tower in the prison yard effect, where the secrity appears to always be on watch even when they are not (?). So that the prisoners end up watching each other in keeping with these expectations. That is really sad as it does lend to the sense of a heightened tension in the atmosphere and throws a pall over an otherwise excellent Games.

    The politicisation of the Olympics in this way seems almost to take away, in some small way, from the excellent sportsmanship on display in the Water Cube and on Saturday and Sunday in the Bird’s Nest, etc. Michael Phelps (USA); Usain Bolt,
    Shelly-Ann Fraser, Kerron Stewart and Sherone Simpson (all Jamaicans!), respectively, among others have been some of the real stars – at least for me!

  14. August 18, 2008 at 17:01

    I overlooked to have added – thanks for the insights, Mark!

  15. 15 Venessa
    August 18, 2008 at 21:27

    Mark ~ I’ve continued to enjoy your reports over the time you’ve been in China. Fortunately I did not experience the sinister side of the watchful government when I was in China but have no doubt it exists. Fear of losing control of such a large population can be quite a motivator, especially with so many influences and people from liberal places (in comparison) descending into their country.

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