OK! Here begins the social-media campaign. Buy this book, please. Recommended by Gay Talese ("revealing and well-written") and Gene Weingarten ("brilliant insights about China, the United States, and the audacity of empire"). "He excels at straddling the line between the personal and sociopolitical," says Publishers Weekly. "Fun," says Kirkus Reviews.
On sale August 4, but feel free to pre-order it from your favorite bookseller. Reading events are planned for Manhattan, Brooklyn, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. Tell a friend. Or five. Beijing Welcomes You!
The New York Times has a little snicker at the expense of the Olympic event of modern pentathlon, which is condensing its five-part premodern military-skills format--shooting, fencing, riding, running, and swimming--into four parts. Running and shooting will become a combined sub-event, like the winter biathlon without skis:
But modern pentathlon -- derived from Greek, combining five (penta) and contest (athlon) -- has no plans to change its name to tetrathlon.
Nor should it! It still takes five skills; it just requires a little bit of multitasking. What the sport really needs to do is to keep building on the run-and-shoot concept. I didn't watch any modern pentathlon in Beijing, but I did make a point of buying a commemorative modern-pentathlon Fuwa figurine, because--well, because just look at it. You tell Huanhuan you're not sure his discipline should be in future Olympics. Postmodern pentathlon would be the baddest event there is.
The Xiali era recedes even further with the addition, in time for the Paralympics, of 30 "London-style" taxicabs to Beijing's fleet. The big cabs are prominently marked as handicapped-accessible (as are an accompanying group of new minivan taxis), which feels like a nice bit of progress on behalf of the disabled till you stop and think about what it would be like to get into the other 99.975 percent of the current Beijing taxi fleet if you were in a wheelchair. So despite my curiosity, I have yet to hail one of the new cabs, especially not one of the ones that are always waiting at the taxi stand outside the Main Press Center on the Olympic Green.
The cab here was parked right out back by the river, on Zuojiazhuang Xilu, across from the Yuyang Hotel. The little round badge in the middle of the back hatch identifies it as a product of "The London Taxi Company," while the nameplate to the left says it's made by "Shanghai Yinglun"--"Ying" as in "England" and "Lun" as in "London." London itself is reportedly looking at alternatives to its classic cabs (maybe some nice Red Flags?), but China sees a future in the body type: besides the Shanghai Yingluns on the road, the Beijing auto show this past spring included a display of the Geely TX4, another London-style taxi.
Beijing's other very important international sporting event--"Two Games, Equal Splendor," the perhaps aspirational slogan goes--opens tonight. Outside the Olympic-merchandise flagship store in Wangfujing this week, there was still protective film on the aluminum-plastic composite paneling on the face of the steepish-looking, newly built wheelchair ramp. And the facade depicted Fu Niu Lele, the Paralympic mascot, performing various athletic activities. I particularly enjoyed the rendering (not visible in this picture) of sweet, melancholy Fu Niu Lele pointing a gun.
Last week, I wrote for Slate about the struggle to get Olympics tickets--how the failures of the ticket-allocation system had left Beijing with a glut of empty seats and a baffling landscape of scalpers and scams. By August 20, when I went to the Peking University gymnasium for ping-pong, the authorities had apparently begun to address half the problem. But only half.
This past weekend, the New York Times seemed to invite just about everybody to weigh in on the Beijing Olympics. My own contribution is the introduction to the Olympic issue of Play magazine. It seems a little backwards to use the blog to point readers to the New York Times Web site, but there you go. That's probably why I'm doing this four days late.
Besides the obvious advantages of writing the piece, taking the Play assignment forced me to once and for all come up with a title for the book, so I could put it in my writer credit. So there it is, at last: Beijing Welcomes You. That is the title of my upcoming book. Now to report it and write it.