China, cool, video


I haven’t been watching the Olympics, mainly because the rabbit-ears on our television don’t pick up NBC. But if I were, I’m sure I’d be just as disappointed with NBC as everyone else seems to be–the tape delays, the incessant commentary. Since NBC is blocking international video feeds online, I can’t see any that way, either (the software NBC streams is created by Microsoft and requires a PC or an Intel Mac). So I’ve missed out on the counterfeit fireworks, the counterfeit singer, the allegedly counterfeit 16-year-old gymnasts, [update 8/15: counterfeit ethnic children, too!] and all the other hijinks.

One thing I don’t regret missing, though, is the promotional marketing that NBC must be constantly playing. Boring, I’d guess, but designed to appeal to everybody. Boring. So points to BBC SPORT for choosing something inventive, and specific. That’s Monkey. Fans of Damon Albarn and the Gorillaz will be pleased.

A high-res version with more info is available at the BBC.

While we’re at it, here’s an old favorite:

China, success

Li Ning’s Reward

photo of gymnast Li Ning at the torch ceremony in beijing. photo by xinhua

I was surprised to hear that Li Ning was the final torch bearer at Beijing’s opening ceremonies. That’s him flying through the air, photographed by Xinhua. That Li should be the choice makes sense: after staying away from the Olympics for decades, China returned in 1984; then-19-year-old Li Ning left L.A. with six medals in gymnastics, three of them gold. So there is some national significance to Li’s selection.

Li is now an incredibly successful businessman, owner of a sports apparel and accessory company that does a brisk business in China. His company is called Li Ning.

li ning brand bagI own a Li Ning shoulder bag, bought almost exactly one year ago at one of the company’s stores on the third floor of a mall in Benxi City, Liaoning. The store’s columns were wrapped with life-sized posters of Shaquille O’Neal, appropriately branded. It’s a durable bag. I didn’t realize that it was such a recognizable brand until, one day in San Francisco, a Chinese emigre lifted up my bag and announced, “Li Ning.”

Li Ning. If you visit the company’s English-language web site, there is no mention of the Olympics. If you visit the company’s other English-language web site, there is some mention of the Olympics. Oh, Mr. Li and his executives must have desperately wanted their company to be an official sponsor of the Beijing Olympics, but lost out to Adidas. But Li Ning is no slouch, and the company is outfitting a number of teams, starting with the Swedish, and including the American ping pong team. He’s also got CCTV-5’s sportscasters. Li Ning’s continued presence, corporal and corporate, will, presumably, be noted.

So the more cynical side of me registered some surprise at Li Ning’s moment in the spotlight. Offend the advertisers and sponsors? But the takeaway seems to be that there are still some things money can’t buy, and Beijing’s organizers put national pride before commercial imperatives. Classic. And reassuring, so long as national pride does not transform into a nationalist imperative. This is China.

China, environment, irony

Olympics Preview in Bay Area

Here’s my backyard on Thursday morning.

my backyard june 26, 2008

The roses are blooming. There’s a nice, warm light here. But what is it about this air that’s so familiar?

Take a look at the government’s air forecast map for this weekend:
air quality prediction for united states on june 28, 2008

California doesn’t look too good. All those little fire icons are making the air here “moderate,” at best, “very unhealthy,” at worst.

There are more than a thousand wildfires burning in California, and they are filling the place up with smoke. The smoke makes the light flattering, in its way, diffusing sunlight during the high contrast afternoon hours and making the magic hour light at sunset and sunrise even more attractive. The roses look better than ever.

There is a trade-off, I suppose. The regional air quality management agency is warning us not to do anything outside (here’s a PDF of its latest health advisory). People have irritated eyes and throats. That’s familiar, too.

The air these days seems as bad as Beijing’s. That’s what I’m reminded of. I hope to get back to China, soon. Until then, I guess we’ve got a taste of China here.

Our athletes should consider training out here in California, just to see how they might perform in Beijing. We’ve got an atmospheric preview of what many expect in August, and you don’t even have to cross the Pacific.

If the air quality board is still concerned for our health, they might consider contacting Beijing’s Weather Modification Office for advice.

A couple of blogs help to put Chinese air pollution in context relative to the U.S. and other countries. The Beijing Air Blog notes that air quality indices in China and the U.S. are roughly the same, numerically, but are not categorized similarly on a qualitative level (I’m looking for the SEPA standards to confirm). For example, unhealthy air in the U.S. is “lightly polluted” in China. Another site,, with the charming tagline “living in China despite the pollution,” displays Beijing’s air quality in the header, and you can click a menu to see how that would rate in other cities. A Good air day in Beijing still counts as a Very Bad day in Paris.

I’ve seen a lot of blue skies in China. Maybe I simply noticed them more since my expectations were so grim. During my last couple of days in Beijing in August, everyone noted that we were enjoying unusually clear weather. Driving through Shanxi, full of coal mines and power plants, the gray-blue skies could be oppressive, but one of the locals told us that air quality had improved a great deal over the last five years. The sky, he said, used to be black.

I remember my first few moments in Beijing: the acrid smell and the view, composed mainly of my plane and the soupy gray-brown air that blocked out everything else. It looked like this:

view of air pollution at Beijing airport