Updated noon Friday, Aug. 8:
Jason Simms sends an update after the Olympic opening ceremonies in Beijing:
Here's an opening ceremony update...before it even airs in the US!
[Photos from Beijing Olympics website]
Earlier today, a lot of people mistook me for an athlete but that's another story. What the world wants to know about now is the much anticipated opening ceremony. Right now, four billion people are watching the opening ceremony on TV. I am one of them.
Why would I watch it on TV if I'm in Beijing? Well, I'll tell you. I think I had a pretty typical opening ceremony evening for a Beijinger, actually.
Beijing is a city of 17 million people. The Olympic stadium can't hold more than 100,000 people. That's already 1/170th of the population of the city, but if you factor in all the foreigners at the opening ceremony, it adds up to the fact that pretty much no one actually got tickets. I mean, I met a millionaire today who wasn't going.
So all of these people who couldn't get in, figured they'd go somewhere to watch fireworks. There were three fireworks shows around town, but the English, baby! crew figured we'd go close to the stadium.
But no such luck. Everything is closed off for miles around the stadium. So we got as close as we could in a huge group of people up against a barricade in a park. It reminded me a scene in a zombie movie.
There were a few low fireworks, and the crowd surged. They couldn't see anything, really, and what they could see was pretty common place. Just fractions of fireworks like you see on any new year's. But everyone was taking pictures and shouting. Those were Olympic fireworks. You don't have to see them, you can feel them.
...for a while. After amazing us with their enthusiasm for something that couldn't be seen (we interviewed two young Chinese people at this time and both of them said that this was the most important day for their country in their lifetimes), people realized they couldn't see anything and left. Maybe there will be a huge fireworks show at the end of the ceremony. I wouldn't know. I'm going to bed in a minute. Watching all the country's teams parade by is only slightly less boring than staring at the skyline in a park. I hope no one thinks I'm a horrible person for saying that, but, c'mon, parades are boring, admit it.
Biking in Beijing, however? Never boring. Nor is Olympic ping pong, I imagine. I'll find find out for sure Wednesday.
5:15 am Friday, Aug. 8:
As an estimated 4 billion people
around the world watch today's opening ceremonies of the 2008 Olympic Games on TV, one WW alumnus is in Beijing getting a street view of the festivities.
"Like most people here, we don't have tickets to the opening ceremonies," emails former Local Cut music writer Jason Simms. "So we're going to do what a lot of people are going to do—stand outside and watch the best fireworks show of our lives."
Simms is in China during the Olympics for the Portland-based website English, Baby!
, which provides online lessons, social networking and videos for people learning English. Simms, who arrived in Beijing Wednesday night, plans to make and post streetside videos during the Games:
The whole point of this trip is to profile our users and talk to them about how and why they're learning English and play some sports with them too. But the Chinese government is notorious for cracking down on things, seemingly at random, so I had a pretty substantial fear that we would be constantly asked to turn off our camera.
But moments after getting off the plane, the exact opposite was already true. An immigration official began filming us. He was the friendliest and least threatening immigration official of any country I've ever met and he let us interview him on camera as best as his English could muster. There was a "no photography" sign right next to us.
As we filmed from the window of our cab, people with Chinese flags painted on their faces waved at us. Even as we walk around Qianmao hutong--an old, low-income area with one-story huts--people smile though we share no words. It's one thing to read about how proud China is to be hosting the games, and other to see it on such a microscopic level. There are almost no other tourists in this part of town, a couple of miles from the Olympic stadium, and as we enter restaurants, people seem excited and nervous to serve the some of the first Olympic visitors they've been preparing for for months.
(As for the quality of those restaurants, Simms reports he's been lucky so far: "Maybe that was just the 10-hour flight talking, but mushrooms and fish balls never tasted so good.")
Simms may be stuck outside the stadium teaching the fireworks-watching throngs how to say "ooh" and "aah" in English, but he's fine with that. "What I'm really psyched to see is events," he says. "And given a chance, I'd probably choose women's weight lifting over the opening ceremony."
Here's a "training video" Simms and his Ebaby! team made before their trip. Look for more videos and Olympic dispatches on WWire.
Watch NBC's coverage of the Olympic opening ceremones on KGW-TV Channel 8 starting at 7:30 pm Friday, Aug. 8. Photos above courtesy of Jason Simms.