Saturday, August 16, 2008

Going for gold


Going for gold


Okay, so they faked a few fireworks at the Olympics' opening ceremony and that cute little girl with the great voice may be a sweetie, but she actually wasn't the singer. But apart from that, the Beijing Olympics got off to a good start.

Crutch has been getting into the Olympic spirit - sprinting between waterholes, running around in circles, falling down the stairs, jumping on the bandwagon, throwing tantrums and bending an elbow, not necessarily in that order. Alas, no medals were forthcoming.

The Bangkok Olympics

Some people may have forgotten that Bangkok put in an official bid for the 2008 Olympics, but didn't escape the first cull of potential cities and Beijing went on to be the successful bidder, smog and all. One suspects that a Friday afternoon sweating it out in the traffic on Sukhumvit Road was about enough for IOC delegates to give the City of Angels the thumbs down. At least it saved the country a lot of money, although we might have seen a few more skytrains whizzing around the city by now.

Not to worry, Bangkok residents can regularly experience their own Olympics. Probably the most exciting event is the Pedestrian Crossing Dash, something most ambulatory persons practice every day. It is always a stiff challenge, even if you are Usain Bolt. However, this event is recommended for only the fittest people and those a bit slow off the mark have been known to come to a sticky end.

Another popular race for those "fleet of foot" is the Fleeing The Scene Sprint, much beloved by truck drivers and, more recently, politicians. Those boys can really move, but are reluctant to hang around for any medals. Many former winners in this event are believed to be currently residing in Nakhon Nowhere ... or shopping in the UK.

Bangkok pedestrians would also been among the favourites for the Hole Plunging event. Some have even made this event a work of art, especially the authentic screams as they disappear into the depths. Synchronised Pothole Plunging is also growing in popularity.

Those that prefer a less strenuous sport might enter the Snoring Marathon, a popular event usually dominated by those in inactive posts.

Aquatic events tend to be limited to the rainy season where contestants compete in the Rolled-Up Trouser Leg Paddle on most city roads after a storm. For swimmers, three lengths of the tub at the Happy Fingers massage parlour would be enough to exhaust even the strongest Olympic swimmers.

Hello and good morning

I was fortunate enough to visit Beijing a couple of years ago while covering a golf tournament. The city was already gearing up for the Olympics, particularly in making foreigners feel welcome. You were constantly greeted by grinning locals practicing "hello", "good morning", "you're welcome" and "thank you", and very nice it was too. Hotel staff were particularly polite and just going to the coffee-shop for breakfast I must have exchanged 10 greetings of "good morning". In fact they were still saying "good morning" in the afternoon and evening.

It took a little while to get used to the security guards saluting every time you entered the golf course. To get to the first tee required passing about a dozen female caddies in colourful uniform standing at attention. Everyone who walked past them was greeted with "good morning", but this time in unison like a school class greeting the teacher. I'm surprised they didn't make it an Olympic event - Synchronised Good Mornings. Another gold for China.

The name game

Waitresses and other service staff geared up for the invasion of visitors have adopted traditional western names like Stephanie, Jenny, Bessie, Nancy and Molly. They were fine serving the standard Tsingtao beer, which our group consumed in large quantities, but struggled a bit with things like gin and tonic which initially caused great confusion. More elaborate drinks prompted a major summit meeting amongst the serving staff.

On one occasion I played a rare round of golf in Kunming. At the first tee the caddie informed me her name was Dolly. Of course the whole round I had to had restrain myself from bursting forth into the song "Hello Dolly". Poor Dolly spent the whole morning plunging down ravines and groping about in the rough hunting Crutch's wayward shots. She also said "good shot" every time I hit the ball, even when it squirted 20 yards into a ditch. Dolly got a good tip.

Memorable marathon

There was a Great Moment in Sport about 30 years ago when Bangkok was hosting the Southeast Asian Games. Towards the end of the ladies marathon, a weary Indonesian back-marker was plodding along Phaya Thai Road when she came across a sight beloved by all Bangkok motorists, a railway crossing. Suddenly the barriers were put up and a goods train trundled across. The unfortunate athlete had no option but resort to running on the spot while the train passed.

But this was no ordinary train, it was the shunter, which stopped while still blocking the crossing and then proceeded to go backwards at a painfully slow rate. Meanwhile, the poor woman was still running on the spot, not something to put you in the best of moods when you have already run more than 40km.

It will come as no surprise this athlete was not among the winners, although she deserved some sort of medal for her patience. It was not known whether the goods train was awarded a medal.

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