How a small mis-calculation saved us lots of money in China!

So I’ve got a bit of an embarrassing story to tell. My wife and I were catching up this morning on how much money we’ve spent. Before we left London we had looked up the exchange rates for the dollar and the pound to the yuan. We memorized the numbers 7 and 13 for easy reference.

Well, we somehow mixed the two up (probably remembering that 2 dollars is worth one pound and forgetting the inversion) and got in our heads that 7 yuan equals one pound instead of 13 yuan equals one pound! Luckily, that just saved us a ton of cash, or at least it feels like we did. Everything we’ve bought so far only cost us half of what we thought, and we thought we were getting a pretty good deal as it was! Even with lots of food and drinks at the venue, with official souveneirs/gifts, it seems like we’ve hardly spent a thing! I managed to do a quick Google search on my phone to confirm it all, and that made our morning quite a happy one.

New places, old faces

China is a country of 1.3 billion people, and Beijing has millions. But yet somehow as we were walking in Tienanmen Square this morning we ran into two people from Thames Rowing Club! One guy that was on the men’s squad last year, and a cox from my novice year that has since gone on to cox at Henley finals three times, winning once. We ended up splitting up after about 20–30 minutes because we were doing different things, but it was great to catch up.

Then, as we were about to catch the bus to go out to rowing for the day, another friend that we haven’t seen since last year this weekend saw us at the bus stop! We ended up sharing a cab out to the rowing lake so that we could get there faster. She rows back in the States, and is in China for a chunk of the summer on holiday. We’re hoping to head out to see the Great Wall with her tomorrow.

Monday sights

Today we took our first in-depth tour around the classic sights in Beijing. We went through security and then walked through Tienanmen Square. There’s really not much there, and is surrounded by oppressive architecture. It’s got some Olympics-themed landscaping that’s been brought in, but that’s about it.

We then walked across the street to see the Forbidden City. Once we went in we realized that we just didn’t have the time to do it properly, so are planning on going back later this week, probably Wednesday morning. It looks fantastic, and has a really interesting history.

Finally, in my quest to see all of the cool new architecture that’s been built in Beijing, we walked around the Beijing Opera House. It was just recently built, and has been nicknamed the “egg-shell,” since it’s this bubble/eggshell looking structure completely surrounded by a ring of water. The entrance goes under this moat (which you can see above you). It’s very cool, and I hope to post pictures later.

Monday rowing

There was some great racing today out at the rowing lake. All of the men’s single scullers raced, and the top guys were spread out amongst the quarterfinals. Mahe Drysdale of New Zealand in particular had a fantastic race against Karponen from Sweden where Mahe just barely held him off, and Alan Campbell from the GB squad ended up taking second behind Marcel Hacker of Germany. But since the top three qualified to continue on to the top semi-finals, there wasn’t quite the same pressure to win.

Perhaps my favourite race was Elise and Anna in the GB Women’s Double Sculls. They were in the repercharge, and had to place in the top two of four to advance to the A final and a chance to medal. They were second for most of the first 1500 meters and well ahead of the next two, but were about 2 seconds behind Germany. Elise and Anna put in a hell of a push in the last 500 and beat Germany by just over 1 second. I’m really looking to seeing them race in the final.

The GB Men’s 8+ also raced today, and all I have to say is WOW. They were racing some tough competition, and once they got back the 500 meter mark, they took a solid lead and just wouldn’t let go. They just screamed past, and qualified directly for the A final on Sunday.

Finally, the GB Women’s 8+ raced, though didn’t qualify to move directly to the A final (only the top boat did). They looked really strong, but just couldn’t keep up with the USA women. The girls now have to go through to the repercharge on Wednesday (a reschedule), where we’ll be cheering them on again.


It was a great day. We saw our friends race and do well, we ran into friends in strange places out in town, and it looks like we just got set up for a trip out to the Great Wall tomorrow. All in all, a good day.

We’re skipping our rowing events tomorrow so that we can see the Wall. Everyone that we would have wanted to see rowing tomorrow either doesn’t have to because they did well yesterday, or their event was rescheduled. We’re going to take advantage of it and see some of the sights that you need most of the day to go see.

She’s dancing!

It’s true! We’ve managed to secure tickets for the Sunday rowing finals in Beijing!

When we originally booked tickets in June of 2007 (!) we asked for every rowing event and got tickets for every session except the Sunday finals. Unfortunately, this day will feature the lightweight events, quads and eights, with a few different medal potentials and a couple of friends competing. (That our friends and fellow Thames RC members are competing was a much more compelling reason.) We figured we would somehow manage to get tickets, but it was really starting to worry us. Luckily a well-connected friend came through and now we’re all set. Woo-hoo!

Rowing impressions

The whole event is pretty organized, though the first day had some hiccups. (Long queues for security, completely disorganized food vendors). Our tickets are for the stands about 150meters away from the finish (of a 2000m course) and in good view of the television that shows coverage of the entire race and the results board showing who’s ahead every 500meters. When photos are uploaded I’ll link to them here. (I’m not the photographer in the household)

[By the way, porto-loos in China are squat toilets. Luckily they also have regular toilets in a separate building. Again, guys generally have things easier here.]

The initial heats are always a mixed bag. Typically the first 2–3 boats are pretty competitive, but the last-place boats are often miles behind. This should tighten up for each race. But as I mentioned before, some crews have taken it easy once they were in a place to qualify for the next round instead of racing it to the end, to save themselves some energy.

Today, Sunday the 10th, the racing was cancelled just after the quad sculls heats were done because of the weather. (Rain, lightning, etc.) The women’s eights that had been at the start paddled down the course, and the other eights came in as well. At first the announcements just said that racing was delayed, but about twenty minutes later (after another batch of lightning) it was cancelled for the day. Apparently it’s now been scheduled for tomorrow.

Another strange note, but two Chinese boats scratched (officially “Did Not Start”) yesterday. That’s really too bad, as that puts a lot of athletes’ and their countries’ efforts over the past years to waste. Rowing was one of their big efforts for these Olympics since it’s known as a “medal-rich” sport, and this takes away two of the fourteen chances just by not showing up.

Life in the stands has been interesting. We’ve met some interesting people from elsewhere in Britain, been in front of an enthusiastic group of Poland supporters, and laughed at a fairly boisterous (read: drunk) group of Ireland supporters dressed in leprechaun outfits. Also met a guy today who was at the opening ceremonies. He mentioned that there while most of the stadium was full, there were still a good bunch of empty seats, which is a shame.

Life in China

So we’ve been doing a homestay here in Beijing which has been interesting. The flat is owned by a couple in their 50’s, a Canadian man and his Chinese wife. They live in a flat in the same neighborhood, the “Airport Dormitories,” since it’s by the airport and populated by a lot of their workers.

When we first walked up to the flat, the words going through my head were “tenement”, “ghetto”, “s**t-pit” and more. Luckily once we got to the top floor and our flat, we found a nice new modern door and a newly and nicely furnished flat. It’s fairly small, but complete with good kitchen, Western-style toilet/shower, great TV, and DSL. The owners have been incredibly kind to us, making sure we know the local area, how to get on local buses, interesting places in the area, etc. They also helped us get a Chinese SIM card for one of our mobiles.

We are definitely the only Westerners in our area, but word about us got around pretty quickly, so there’s no strange staring going on. Yesterday we got to know the local convenience store, and today we got to know the local department store/grocery store. Coming back from the rowing today we got enough food to last us two or three days easily for the equivalent of £9.

It’s been great to come back every night and see other events on the television, across four different channels. Unfortunately all of the commentary is in Chinese, but considering the standard of most sports commentary, that’s probably a good thing. It’s fun to wake up to Olympic sports, go see Olympic events, and come back home to see more Olympic sports. It’s going to be full-on for the next 10 days which is great!

Starting Day 2 in the rain

So Day 2 of our Olympics trek has started in rain. It’s pass reasonably quickly and everyone in the stands are now dressed in identical yellow rain jackets, handed out by the organizers.

We now have DSL up and running so will finally be able to respond to emails, etc. That just happened this morning so full Beijing update will start tonight.

We saw some great racing yesterday. Rob Waddell from New Zealand came from a length down at the 1500m mark to win by ~2 lengths. Not terribly surprising, considering he won gold in 2000 and is quite likely the strongest and fittest rower in a generation. Also saw the Kiwis row through the Netherlands in the Men’s 4- in the last 500.

I would be careful reading too much into yesterday’s official results. While some crews raced to the finish, others took it down a couple notches when it was clear they qualified for the next round. (The GB M2x was a good example of this.) It’s hard to describe just how hot and humid it was yesterday, and I can see why they would want to conserve their strength.

Up today are the lighties, the women’s quad and the eights. The rain has cooled things off, and we’re looking forward to seeing the racing kick off!

By the way, our hero of the day yesterday was Darryl Reid. He’s the psyiotherapist for the New Zealand squad, and has access to all the athlete facilities. We managed to get his attention as he was cycling by yesterday and it was great to say hi. But he also very kindly brought us ice-cold bottles of water to drink and help keep us cool. Awesome!

We’re in Beijing and have our tickets!

We’ve had problems getting DSL running at our flat, so I’m posting this from my iPhone. First impressions? HOT. Damn hot. Sunny, bit we haven’t seen it through the haze yet.

Beijing-ers have been incredibly friendly and helpful, especially through the language barriers.

We’re sitting on the first sessions of rowing right now, and have seen some convincing wins by the usual suspects. Elise & Anna and the GB four will be racing soon!