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Player's Corner

db - Beijing: The good, the bad, the crowded

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posted 9/15/08 - 9:25 pm

We have been truely impressed by how helpful and friendly the people of Beijing have been. After my wheelchair broke, I wrote about the manager of my hotel taking my broken bolt to look for a replacement. I was dubious about his chances for success, but didn't have any better options at hand. The next evening as I rolled into the hotel on three wheels, the staff were waiting for us. A repacement bolt wasn't found, but had been welded back together. It wasn't pretty, it wasn't straight, and I wasn't sure it was going to work. Once again, the manager in his pressed suit started reassembling my front caster. The welded bolt is too long, so there's some slop, but it is rolling again. Since reassembling the front caster, I've been extra careful, knowing it is a temporary fix. Of course the manager wouldn't let us pay for the weld, but did let us tip the maintance man who had run out for the fix. Talk about customer service!

We've been to as many Paralympic events as we can squeeze in. The main Paralympic venue area with the Bird's Nest and Water Cube is HUGE! You need to plan where you're going to get around in a timely manner and not miss your events. Luckily Beijing is flat, and the Paralympic venue has smooth pavement. The first day when we went to the Water Cube, lines were pretty reasonable through security. You can't bring in outside food or water which means having to buy from a limited selection when you get inside. We made the mistake of buying "hot dogs" at the Water Cube. First, they're cold and come in a plastic bag. More like pigs in a blanket than ball park franks. I could barely choke mine down. On the positive side, accessible seating at the venues has been great and plentyful.

We've been taking taxis from the hotel to reach the venues. Leaving the main Paralympic center, taxis are hard to get. We asked how far to the gym where Wheelchair Rugby was and were directed to the #8 Olympic bus. The Paralympic center has a bus station and we were the only westeners, and I was the only one in a chair. It was a bit chaotic, but we followed the signs to a disabled loading area. No curb cut in the entire loading area, something that was consistent at all bus stops. We asked a traffic marshal where bus #8 was. One was just leaving and she ran after it. We loaded in the middle of the parking lot onto an empty bus. The bus then headed over to the normal loading area, and people pushed their way onto the bus. In moments is was packed, standing room only. When we reached our stop, someone indicated for us to get off, otherwise we would have had no idea. On the street, they didn't deploy the steep ramp. Instead two people lifted me and my chair off. Again, no curb cut, so I was lifted onto the sidewalk. Someone pointed where we had to go and we were on our own.

The wheelchair rugby games are held at the University of Science and Technology gym. The roll through the dorms was quiet, shaded and peaceful. A welcome change from the chaos near the bigger events. The first game was USA vs China. The Chinese fans love watching their team, and are very enthusiastic. The Chinese team has potential and played with a lot of heart. Brian Kirkland would get his photo on the front page of the english China Today paper in the following morning. I expected to be the only US quad rugby palyer in the stands, but was joinged by Dave from Michigan Storm and John from Seattle Slam. Scott from Michigan Storm was there, he is competing in field.

The next day we went to watch wheelchair basketball, USA vs Iran. Iran didn't show for the game and was disqualified. It was an unusual protest and unfair to the other teams that could have played. It was the only bit of politics that I've seen surrounding the game. Hanging out infront of the National Indoor Stadium (again a huge building) we ended up hanging out with a group of spectators from Great Britian. In a few minutes we found that Emma, was close friends with GB's Ross Morrison who had played with my team, Denver Harlequins for two years. Small world. With three chairs and two prosthetic legs, we were soon joined by curious Chinese. A disabled young man asked me about what spoirts I was here to watch. He and his mom had traveled two hours that morning to see the game. A man pushed his young daughter next to my mom and I for a photo. A couple of college kids praticed their english with us. A chinese man pointed to the prosthetic leg and mimed a machine gun, wondering if he was hurt in the war. The college kids translated that it was a motorcycle accident. Our accidental community soon passed the time before the next game, Canada vs Israel.

The chinese fans love to cheer, and with a little prompting can be convinced to cheer for your team. The few Israeli fans took advantage of this and would get the crowd hooked on, "China, Israel". Every venue we've been too has been full of enthusiastic fans. Even when the opposing team scores against China they politely clap.

On our third day of Paralympic events, our luck with security came to an abrupt end. Not sure if it was the holdiay weekend, or that we were trying to get through earlier, but security was backed up. The organized lines were jammed. The wheelchair bypass lane was jammed with wheelchairs and pushy Chinese able bodies. Soon we were surrounded; good thing I've been in similar situations and not clausterphobic. People were for the most part polite, but keep steadily pushing and pushing. A few rude people elbowed their way by on the sides. I wished I knew enough Chinese to yell at them, but instead I kept my elbows wide and silently fumed. An hour later we were through security. To make up some time, we took the milk wagon as the Brit's yesterday called them. The milk wagon is a large golf cart with a ramp for wheelchair users. The discriminate however, as they wouldn't stop for amputes. We had to yell at our driver to get him to let a ampute with a prosethic leg on. Roderick from the US was so thankful we made them stop as he said his stump was hurting from all the walking he had been doing.

In the women's wheelchair basketball game of Canada vs China, the energy was electric. The Chinese love their basket ball. The crowds were thunderous. People would run through the stadium with Chinese flags on their back to get the crowd fired up. Unofficial cheerleaders made sure there was never a dull moment. And if there was, the wave got started up to thunderous approval.

The first few nights we ate at the hotel. Leaving the wheelchair rugby match one evening, we asked about any nearby restaurants. We've found the local's restaurants to be have some excellent food and some less than western friendly items. First, they don't believe in trimming off the fat. And bones are in. One dish was a sliced chicken breast. Sliced bones and all. Made it a bit quad unfriendly. Ordering an extra dish provdes safety in numbers. The second night, we went to dinner with the Denver supporters: Jason's mom, dad and brother; Chance's mom and girlfriend. With more numbers we had a table full of awesome dishes. The fish is fresh as it was swimming in a tank until you order it. When you order a fish dish, they net it out and bring it to the table for your inspection. The duck dish, included the fried head for decoration.

We've seen lots of events, including swimming, basketball, tennis, track and field, but the reason we came was for wheelchair rugby. Each of the USA's games have been getting more and more energetic. The section of Team USA supporters grows and grows. We've gotten to know the friends and families of our wheelchair rugby community. After each game, we wait outside on the second level. As each athelete cleans up and changes into their Team USA polo shirts, they're welcomed with chants of USA, USA! Last night after the USA vs GB batch, the players were mobbed by the Chinese groupies. Girls asked to have their photis taken with the players. Tickets were signed. Your host db, even was gotten pulled into the fan club (as was anyone rolling around in a chair).

Team USA has been playing well. Gumbie has been playing the 2s (Brian, Will, Andy, Nick and subbing Seth) as his favorite lineup in the matches vs Canada and GB. The second strong line has been Joel, Jason, Brian and Will. The lines with Zupan and Chance leading haven't gotten much playing time by comparison. Joel has been a force, smashing his way through the opposition. Last night Joel took on GB's Ross Morisson head to head. Ross is a big boy as well and lost out, ending up in Joel's lap. Nick has been a defensive animal. Creating havoc and generating turnovers. Will's combination of steely calm and decisive speed have ensure he is the dominate scoring machine.

Tonight is the big event as Team USA plays Australia for the gold. I watched Australia vs GB the other night and they're a force to be respected. They too have a player like Joel, Batt a 3.5 ampute. He's the center of their a team and a serious steamroller. Tonight's game is going to be a helluva game!



hooper's picture

posted 9/16/08 - 11:17 am

thanks for the update,

thanks for the update, db.

fried duck head, yum.