Sunday, August 31, 2008

A view from Ritan Park

Another absolutely beautiful day today. What would you have done with it?

Saying goodbye to summer, and a list

The astronomical start of autumn is September 23; in the West it's September 1; here it's August 7, going off solar terms, an East Asian method of organizing the calendar into 24 parts.

In China, the end of summer and beginning of autumn is called liqiu (立秋), marked by no particular festivity but usually bringing a sense of relief to the people, maybe even joy: the most beautiful time of year is upon us -- no sandstorms as in spring, no heat and humidity as in summer, and, of course, no blistering cold.

As for me, I realized summer had officially passed on Saturday. A morning thunderstorm had swept through, followed by an evening shower that left the air fresh as the stuff out of ionizers. Yet as I walked in t-shirts and shorts, an uneasy feeling settled upon me, a looming despair, an anxiety over something desolate just on the horizon. I couldn't really explain it, but I had the sense that an era was coming to an end. Maybe this was another symptom of post-Olympics depression; maybe the departure of a handful of friends was hitting me at last; I'm not sure -- maybe it was just the air, how if it were any cooler I might have felt cold, how if it were any darker I'd have known we were in the downslope in the year's length of days.

Summer's over. That's what it comes down to. And while I don't have the time right now to commemorate what's passed -- my third of four fantasy football drafts commences in about four hours and 15 minutes (update: make that three hours and 15 minutes), and I have my alarm set -- I do want to take a moment to rank this summer with the other summers in my life, since I fear the longer I put off this task the less I'll remember...

The past 15 summers:

1. 2001: Pinehurst Park Ultimate Frisbee every day (or at least five days/week) with Alan, David, Anna, Caleb, Mary, etc. -- that spring was my first year playing Ultimate, if you can believe it (stress factor: knowing Alan, David, Anna, etc. were going away to college while I had one more year of Overland Park)

2. 2002: Summer before college, lots of Ultimate at Pinehurst, lots of disc golf with Caleb; found new friends in Courtney, Maddy, etc.; China trip with traveling to Shanghai; Tool concert (stress factor: know that Eve 6 song "Here's to the Night"? Somehow, towards the end, that tune resonated...)

3. 2008: Beijing, new friends, lots of Frisbee, Olympics (see: THIS BLOG) (stress factor: sense of literary atrophy)

4. 2007: Back in New York's Upper West Side, Smartwhores Ultimate, pickup Ultimate at Prospect Park every Tuesday/Thursday evening followed by caps at Ian/Paul/David's; parties, freelancing for magazines (stress factor: lack of work)

5. 1994: Finished 4th grade; lots of football in the yard with Caleb (not the aforementioned Caleb), Keith, etc.; summer of Ashley and Amber, esp. Ashley, first love of my life.

(Not to be too dramatic about it, but I left for China in July and when I returned she was gone, moved away; two years later, when I was in 6th grade and she in 5th, I saw her again on the day of our Sterling Strings concert tour. ("Sterling Strings" isn't the name of the program -- I forget what it actually was -- but we were a group of kids from different schools who'd get together once a week in the morning for orchestra rehearsal). Anyway, she'd been in my program for months, but it was only on the day of our concert tour -- we'd worked all year for this -- that we realized who the other was. This day is carved into my memory: we toured five elementary schools, playing concerts, I being fifth-chair violinist (and, being the lone representative of Comanche Elementary, not getting to play in front of my schoolmates). I remember the lunch at Oak Park Mall, how she lent me money, how I was too shy to put my tray next to hers, choosing instead to eat alone, only stealing glances at her, making eye contact once. I remember, on the bus, her asking for the radio to be turned to 93.3 FM, which just happened to be my favorite station. Afterwards, as I rose from my seat, silently cursing the fact that I'd have to leave her side, she gave me her number, which I promptly lost. I have not seen or heard from her since.)

(Stress factor: none... truly, none)

6. 2005: First summer in New York, Sports Illustrated Intern with the Time Inc. program, Columbia U. suite with Max, Erika, Tania, Erin, etc., without a TV; lots of Big Two (card game) and General Tsao's chicken (stress factor: work)

7. 1995: A near-stress-free summer, full of playing at other people's houses; one memory in particular stands out, of an afternoon at Beth's; details aren't really important (stress factor: some newly awakened sense that I could not be so young and carefree forever)

8. 1998: Math and Science Institute -- summer enrichment program at Shawnee Mission South, which was to become my high school; developed an infatuation which was to last for a long, long time; China trip (stress factor: girl)

9. 2006: Volunteered for NPR in KC; summer before moving to NYC (stress factor: dad's anxiety; the "future")

10. 2003: visited KU several times, especially Templin Hall, apparently because I couldn't let go of the fact that all my friends went to that school while I chose out-of-state; teaching assistant in the SM Summer Enrichment Program (stress factor: longing)

11. 2000: China trip -- always a pleasure. This was, however, the last of "Old China" in my memory. The next time I'd return, in the summer of 2002, it would be nothing like I remembered. (Stress factor: ???)

12. 1999: Lots of StarCraft/Brood War with Caleb; summer writing program, where I met Aaron; lots of writing; not much else (stress factor: idleness)

13. 1996: China trip; just got done with 6th grade and changed districts, from SM West to SM South; bawled my eyes out night before first day at Indian Woods Middle School (stress factor: losing all my friends)

14. 1997: Magic: The Gathering; sleepovers at Justin's and Brian's; not a great summer in retrospect, but not bad while it was happening (stress factor: I was a middle-school kid; go figure)

15. 2004: Not a good summer at all: worked two jobs as waiter, at IHOP and Winstead's. And I had braces (stress factor: drifting away from friends)

(Wow. What a mind-bending and horribly narcissitic and nostalgic (AWFUL combination) exercise this proved to be. Final thought: 2008 shouldn't feel bad for coming in third. I've had some great fucking summers.)

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Jason and Stephanie's final day in Beijing, and other pictures

We had quite the going-away party for Jason Cox and Stephanie Zhang yesterday, first at a Russian place called The Elephant, where we were treated to a cabaret show, then at a bar called 2nd Floor in Sanlitun.

The highlight of the night, for me personally, was Jason chugging a bottle of 100-proof baijiu. I chanted "chug" when I passed him the white poison but had no expectation of him actually doing it. When he lifted the bottle, well, let's just say I couldn't press the RECORD button fast enough. I got the tail end of it though.

If you want to know how shocking this was for everyone, just watch the reactions of those around him: first Joe jumping up and down flapping his arms like a kid who just got his dream present on Christmas morning, then Jim cringing like a gambler with 10 grand on the table...

An entire photo album dedicated to the night is here (titled "Jason and Stephanie's last night / Joe makes out with Beijing").

Jason, we'll miss you.

From Betsy Beijing:

hey frisbee faithful,
trust me when i say betsy would not break her vow of silence for just
anyone. after what happened in shanghai this past june between myself,
lincoln, claire, toni's vomit, and barbie's pink barbie outfit, it's going
to take a lot more penance for me to win my way back into god's good graces.

but some thing's cannot be passed by without proper comment.

the day that betsy once warned you about has finally come. jason is leaving
beijing. it may not be in a straight-jacket like many of us predicted, but
it seems there's nothing we can do to stop it.

i've been in beijing since the dawn of beijing ultimate, and i can say with
complete certainty that over the past 3 plus years, no one has done more for
the expat ultimate community in beijing than jason has. if it weren't for
him, there's a high probability we would still be fighting for pavement
space in the gong ti parking lot. he's used satellite photos, gps
technology, and his mountain bike to go scout out fields for us. he's kept
track of our money, only skimming off the top for his and stephanie's
anniversary. he's designed jerseys for us, helped plan leagues for us,
helped start the beijing ultimate committee, gotten us to and from
tournaments without losing anyone (well, i haven't seen julio since sunday
night in jeju, but that's another story), and has turned beijing ultimate
into one of the fastest growing frisbee communities in asia. and that's not
to say he's only been focused on us expats either. he's been at the
forefront of helping to make frisbee more accessible and open for chinese
players. when jason came to beijing, ultimate here was heading towards one
of it's low points. jason is the number one reason it turned around. i
know there's been a lot of other people that have contributed to make this
growth spurt possible, but if it weren't for jason at the center of it all,
who knows where we would be? beijing certainly would not have just hosted
it's first ever tournament this past may.

so take a moment to think about what jason has meant to this community.
it's no accident that jason keeps winning our annual spirit award, no
matter how much doc thinks he deserves it instead. he's been at the heart
of beijing ultimate for three years, and it's going to be a tough, tough job
to try and fill his shoes. good luck trying, kevin.

so jason, as you move back to vancouver, and you think back of beijing
ultimate, i hope you remember us fondly. because when you come back to
visit, you'll probably find that we've eaten each other alive like the true
cannibals we are.

we'll miss you.


I missed the baijiu that ruined you but I was there later and I want
to reiterate from a drunken stupor at five in the morning how much
this community will miss Jason.

words cannot express the love that the entire community should have
for this man.

he carried us through to what I see as the other side. and here we are
and I hope we continue to kick ass in his name.

we will miss you Jason. We all wish you and Stephanie the most

And more pictures, because not all could fit on Facebook (no duplicates here, so be sure to check out the link above):

Happy Rat set to attack Little Jason's nipples.

Rest assured, ladies, Joe likes you more.

Stephanie as buffer.

Hey, if it's your last night...

She's 16. Keep that in mind as we proceed...

Normal people!

On the left: like father and daughter. On the right: not so much.

Joe definitely won the party.

POSTSCRIPT: Anther photo album, this one of Beijing Ultimate. It's part one of two, going from the Tianjin tournament through Shanghai. Part two will come after the Hong Kong tournament in late October, which I will officially be attending -- just had my flight changed a couple days ago from September 12 to October 29.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Chinese Postsecret

The Postsecret blog is somewhat of a guilty pleasure for me, and there was a card this week about China that struck me as worth sharing here. I first saw this on Blogging for China (they offer a translation) and didn't think much of it until I ran across it again on Postsecret itself.

While we're on the subject, let me just say that getting behind on your Postsecret RSS feed is not recommended. You might find youself reading four weeks' worth of secrets in one sitting, and that'll leave you mentally exhausted and emotionally spent. I feel like some part of me just got hit with a cement truck.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Closing shop on ESPN's Beijing Bureau

The Olympics came, bringing color, joy, sound, culture. People arrived with drums, face paint, flags, chants. For two and a half weeks, they helped transform the city into a place befitting the center of the world, giving us something to smile about and take pictures of (or with) every step of the way.

And now it's gone, all gone. Only a few reminders of the big party are left, regular tourists who have stayed to watch the city's post-Olympic depression manifest itself in the empty streets, the folded-up volunteer kiosks, the subway tunnels where once again the only faces are those of the Chinese. The clamor has been turned down. Life returned to normal. I can't bear to even turn on the TV because all I'd see are reruns -- reminders of what was.


Final entry here.

Bureau archive here.

Look for a couple posts about the Bird's Nest in the coming days, and also some tying up of odds and ends. But seriously... the post-Olympic depression has hit.