Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Thailand - March 2018

Carpe diem
A few days before the start of the trip, my partner Rich’s 80yr old father was admitted to the hospital. With the information known at the time, together we made the decision that Rich would stay behind and I would take the trip  to Thailand without him. A few days into the trip we learned that his Dad has end stage, aggressive, untreatable terminal cancer.

With today’s technology, it’s amazing how we feel connected to each other and able to offer support from halfway across the world. Although bad timing, this trip has taken on a whole new purpose and goal for me. More and more, I’m aware of my own mortality and how health can be so fragile. If you wait for the stars to line up perfectly before you tackle your bucket list, you’ll be waiting forever. And we all think we have more time than we do.  I’ve decided that the theme of the trip is “Carpe Diem” / “Cease the day”.

Thailand first stop - Chiang Mai


My bag didn’t even hit the floor of the Chiang Mai hotel reception lobby before I booked a 1hr massage.  This was my first Thai massage, and I can report that it is very intimate and very physical. Prepare to be pulled and pushed and stepped on and be in an intertwined human pretzel with your practitioner. All for $10/hr CDN.  And I’ve since found it for $5/hr.  I’ve also found a massage place by ex-inmates, and one by blind practitioners.  Have your heard of “fish spa”?  It’s a foot soak in an aquarium of tiny fish that nibble the dead skin off your feet. Checked that one off the list on the second day at a cost of $2.50 for 15min.  I love self care, I’ve decided I’m going to have as much massage and yoga and drug store facial masks as I can fit in.

Thai food
I think Thai food might be my favourite. I love it so much, I enrolled in a Thai cooking class, one of the top things to do in Chiang Mai. I made a chicken and cashew stir fry, Penang curry, sweet and sour soup, and egg rolls. The class location was on a quaint, rural organic farm. I ate all the food I made, and it was only a half day course. Is it possible to overdose on Thai food?

Sunday market
I planned the timing of the trip to make sure to be in Chiang Mai for their famous Sunday night market. I loved it!!  They closed traffic on two intersecting roads, each about seven blocks long. The main theme was local handmade arts and crafts, with lots of food stalls (including deep fried bugs), as well as huge massage stations for $3/30min foot massages (of which I partook, of course...). Well into the start of the market, there was a loud speaker announcement for the start of the Thai national anthem. Huge, busy market stopped and went silent until the end of the anthem.
Elephant Sanctuary
This was a big part of the reason I wanted to come to Chiang Mai. The tourist trade in many parts of Thailand abuses and tortures elephants so they are rideable and can perform circus stunts. There is a huge demand from consumers for more ethical interaction with elephants, which gave rise to the elephant sanctuary experience. Elephants are rescued / retire from the tourist (and farm) trade, and live out their days in a more natural jungle setting, being nurtured and cared for. Tourists pay to visit and interact, and to help feed them and bathe them. Huge highlight for me. I had a mud bath with the elephants, then we all rinsed off in the waterfall. We went on a jungle walk and watched how they eat and carry on in the wild. They carve their own path wherever they go. Huge trees being crushed in their wake. During the participant lunch, two of the elephants (mother and baby) stepped over the barrier of the camp ‘enclosure’, came over to the dining table and ate the platters of pineapple and watermelon from in front of us. The baby kept brushing up against me on the jungle walk and got mud on my camera lens.

Temples and more temples
There are so many temples in Chiang Mai, and they are all so beautiful and peaceful. There really is one every few blocks it seems.  Many temples had a massage place on their property, which worked out well for me. I had an experience in the temples, probably given the context of this trip. I found myself mesmerized and in a meditative and emotional state, thinking about my partner and father-in-law, reflecting on the finite nature of all our lives.

Next stop in Thailand: The island of Koh Tao

Snorkelling / massage / yoga

Koh Tao is a small island on the eastern side of Thailand, close to Koh Samui. This is just the vibe I was looking for. It is very “local”, not too crowded with tourists, but has all the restaurants, accommodation and activities that tourists want.  One of the yoga places I went to was at a youth hostel in the middle of town. The practice space was in the main lobby of the hostel, open air to the traffic and hustle bustle of the town. It was an interesting challenge to get on my namaste beside a working blender with scooters honking and hostellers smoking next to me. I was the only student in the class, so the instructor had the opportunity to do lots of adjustments for me. He was pulling me, pushing me, twisting me, it almost felt like a Thai massage.

Koh Tao is well known for cheap scuba. Many people come here to get PADI certified. I’m not into scuba, but I love snorkelling.  I was in my bathing suit and flip flops for the majority of my time on Koh Tao, with a permanent imprint of the snorkel mask on my face.

My resort was a 10min walk to the main town through a lovely jungle path connecting other neighbouring waterfront resorts.  I mostly walked everywhere I needed to go, including 40min walk to the next town for my favourite yoga place. On the way back one day, I decided to hitchhike and got picked up by a fellow traveler on a scooter who took me 2/3 of the way. Most everyone rents scooters to get around, but everything I read warned against it, due to the danger of inexperience, the quality of the roads, as well as the racket of the rental companies charging crazy money for scratches and dents you were not responsible for.

One day I went exploring down the beach trail, past the my resort beach to the next, more remote beach resort. I found heaven (right after I found a 6 foot lizard crossing my path). Hippie dippie beach with just a few people, a couple of ramshackle beach bungalows, a girl playing a ukelele, people practicing slacklining, and snorkeling right from the beach.  I spent a few hours reading my book on a pallat platform swing in the shade, with a few swim/snorkel breaks. Then I carried on farther down the path and found the Banana Cafe, playing a cool playlist of my favourite music, selling cold drinks and Thai food oceanside with a view. There were a few boat taxis available to take people back to the main pier or other parts of the island. This is my idea of awesome. 

Final stop: Bangkok

Massage / Markets / Temples / Grand Palace 

My accommodation was a small B&B right ON the river, with a direct view across the river to Wat Arun (beautiful temple), and right beside the reclining Budda temple and Grand Palace. I spent my time exploring by foot, tuk tuk, and boat-bus on the river. I visited the temple of the reclining Budda (huge, golden Budda), spent time on Khaosan Road (backpacker party area, markets, restaurants, massage places), and visited the Grand Palace (former royal residence). I joined a tour for the floating market and train market, which were quite a drive from the city. The floating market is set-up in a network of canals, with market stalls on the sides as well as vendors selling from their own boats, and you travel through via Gondola style boat.  Congested, chaotic and crazy, but very cool. The train market is set up on the tracks of a working railroad, with trains coming through every hour or so. The walking path between stalls is the tracks themselves. When the trains come through, vendors pull their awnings back and move items out of the way, and everyone squishes to the side as the train inches through at a snails pace. Then awnings come back and goods are shifted back, and the bustling market continues on.  
The heat in Bangkok was a bit overwhelming. I was soaked in sweat most of the time, guzzled water, and I had to cool off with any fan or AC I could find just to save from melting. In the summer months it is even hotter, I can’t imagine.

General cultural observations:
- Personal space: on my flight from Shanghai to Bangkok, my airplane row seat mate decided to stretch out over the empty seat between us, and nuzzle his head into my lap, with his legs extending into the aisle. I was asleep at the time, but came to as he was getting settled. Not sure if this deserves a post to the #metoo movement. Trying not be be offended at the same time as not being comfortable with it.

- Tai chi instruction on the airplane entertainment monitors. I’m happy to report that I did the cloud arms, and flamingo posture all from the comfort of 39L.

- Safety laws. Most scooter/motorbike drivers don’t wear a helmet. Many are on their phones while driving. People riding in the back of pick-up trucks. Family of 4 (or more) piled onto a scooter weaving through traffic. Babies riding in cars with no car seat or restraints of any kind.

- food safe practices - cooked food sitting on display all day in this tropical weather without heat/refrigeration. May have contributed to a few tummy grumbles I had on the trip.

- smoking - there is lots more smoking here than in Canada. And when I ask to be seated away from smokers in a restaurant, people look at me like I have four heads.

Goodbye Thailand, thanks for having me!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - 2013

This girls' trip to Mexico was a 40th birthday trip for my sister Nancy and our friend Cynthia.  We were the "Three Amigas" from Feb 3th - 10th in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico staying at the all-inclusive "Friendly Vallarta Resort & Spa".

Feb 3rd
One week in Puerto Vallarta was supposed to start this morning.  Has anyone had a flight delayed 14hrs before?

15hr flight delay to Puerto Vallarta.  Sunwing Airlines sucks!  A strongly worded letter to Sunwing headquarters to follow....

Feb 4th
Highlight of day #1 in Mexico:
Afternoon beachside happy hour musical entertainment by a Mexican man in a sombrero on a dancing horse.

Feb 5th
Highlights of day #2 in Mexico:
Oceanside massage, several good games of beach volleyball, and oceanside beach chair service of fajitas and cervesas by our cabana boy Jorge.

Friendly Vallarta Resort & Spa

Feb 6th
Highlights of day #3 in Mexico:
Groundhog day of same highlights from day # 2  + dinner at the gourmet fancy restaurant at the all-inclusive resort

Feb 7th
Highlights of day #4 in Mexico:
Waking up to the view from our oceanfront balcony overlooking the volleyball court.
Happy hour drinks perched at the edge of the infinity pool listening to the sound of the surf.
Mexican fiesta party at the resort with local entertainment.
PS. Things got a little crazy at Andales bar last night.  I may or may not have danced ON the bar.

Fiesta party at the resort
Dancers at the fiesta party

Heather, Nancy & Cynthia
Heather & Nancy
Heather & Nancy - dancing ON the bar at Andales
Heather & Nancy dancing ON the bar at Andales

Feb 8th
Highlights of day #5 in Mexico:
Ziplining through the jungle set of the 80's movie "Predator".
Swimming with cervesas in the river/waterfall afterwards.
Getting schooled in the fine art of tequila tasting.
Happy hour margaritas and fish tacos at Sea Monkey beach bar in old town.
Enjoyed a special order prawn dinner beachside at the resort.

The movie set of "Predator"
Lounging by the river after ziplining


Feb 9th
Highlights of day #6 in Mexico
Riding the local chicken bus to the hippie dippie surf town of Sayulita
Flopping on the beach and getting WAY too much sun
Margaritas and fish tacos at one of the local joints
Daydreaming of returning to that town for a trip with my #1 guy
Fancy dinner at an offsite restaurant
PS - Note to self: don't lose your wristband for the all-inclusive resort. The resort won't replace it, so I'm on the lam at the resort where I paid a lot of money to stay.  One more day to evade capture from "Friendly Vallarta Resort & Spa"

Sayulita beach
Cynthia, Heather & Nancy - Fish tacos and margaritas

Cynthia, Nancy & Heather - Dinner at La Leche

Feb 10th
Mexico 2013 in review:
Resurrected my cage dancing, tequila drinking, broken Spanish speaking Latina alter-ego "Rosita" - it's fun being a different version of myself for one week.
Laughing and smiling muscles have had a good workout, and the stressometer is at zero.
Successfully dodged the authorities at the resort - apparently only fraudulent criminals lose their all-inclusive wristbands coming in for a hard landing when ziplining.
Significantly improved my overhand volleyball serve.
Left for the airport wearing my swimsuit and flip flops covered in ocean and beach - I guess I have to leave, but it's under protest.

Dancing in the cage at "The Zoo" bar

Tequila shots in the cage at "The Zoo" bar

Friday, August 15, 2008

Beijing Olympics 2008

Beijing Summer Olympic Update #1 - July 29, 2008

Just a quick note to let you know that I've arrived in Beijing.  This is day one of my five weeks in China to work on the Olympics.

I flew from Vancouver to Beijing via San Francisco.  I can officially report that my Olympic fever started on the lay-over in the San Francisco airport.  The gate lounge was filled with people going to the Olympics in an official capacity.  The US Men's water polo team, a whole bunch of press, and a school band that will be playing on one of the stages at the Opening ceremonies. The water polo boys (all tall, blond and gorgeous.....) were all wearing official Olympic team uniforms, and getting their photo snapped by tourist paparazzi.  Beijing airport is a sight to behold.  Huge, modern, fresh paint, brand new just for the Olympics, and operating like clock work.  The city has Olympic signage everywhere, the 'look of the games' is very prominent.  The whole place is a buzz with Olympics already. My hotel is great, 4 star right in the city centre, not far from the Silk Market.  The headquarter hotel for the adidas program is a sister hotel one block away.  The weather is pretty warm here, about 25'C.  There is a light layer of fog/smog, but I'm told today is the clearest they've seen in awhile.

I have the night off (Tuesday), but tomorrow morning after some training sessions, I’ll be launching straight into my ticket manager duties for the adidas sponsor VIP hospitality program. 

I'm hoping to send regular update emails to share a few memorable moments, so stay tuned for more.


2008 Beijing Summer Olympic correspondent at large

Did you know?
70,000 - Olympic volunteers for the Beijing games
500,000 - capacity of Tian'anmmen Square
91,000 - capacity of the National Stadium for Opening and Closing Ceremonies
10,000 - athletes competing in the games
3,000,000 - number of pieces of apparel that adidas will be contributing to athletes, volunteers, staff, and technical officials for the games
150,000 - police and security personnel working the games
290,000 - security volunteers working the games
100,000 - anti-terror commandos on stand-by near Beijing

Beijing Summer Olympic Update #2 - August 3, 2008

I'm about one week into my Olympic experience, and having an incredible time.  I just love the team I'm working with on the adidas sponsorship hospitality program.  About half the people are first time 'Olympians' and the other half are Olympic gypsies and have stories about past Olympic games going back 10 or 15 years.  Everyone is really fun, REALLY competent and hard working, and we are constantly laughing and cracking jokes.  I love my team!

Breakfast is included at my hotel, so every morning I join some of the other team members for the 'breakfast club'.  It's a huge international buffet, hot and cold.  At first I was eating cereal and yoghurt because that's my regular pattern.  I've ditched that now, opting instead for noodles, rice, stir fry and salad.  It seems breakfast is the big meal here, so when in Rome.....    The company provides a per-dium for our food, so we have to go out and get what we want for lunch and dinner.  Lunch has been Subway or salad bar or pizza.  And for dinner I've been dipping into my snack stash.  I brought a wagonload of Costco snacks with me and they are really coming in handy.  Nuts, power bars, tuna & cracker packs, etc.

Traffic and pollution
The news media portrays a much bigger problem with traffic and pollution that I've been witness to so far.  That said, apparently half the cars are mandated off the road right now, and I think a bunch of factories have been ordered to close for August.  I usually wake up to beautiful clear blue skies, gorgeous hot sunshine.  Average temperature is somewhere between 25' and 30'C.   And the traffic just hasn't been a big problem so far.

Olympic Green
This is a huge Olympic park home to about a third of the Olympic venues.   It would take hours to walk from one end to the other.  You have to go through typical airport style security to get onto the 'Green', and no professional cameras are allowed in.  The National Stadium (aka Bird's Nest) and the Water Cube swimming venue are amoung the most notable venues on the Green.  The Bird's Nest architecture is really unique with huge steel 'beams'  wrapped and twisted around the entire building.  It holds 91,000, open air with covered stadium seating. The pictures don't properly convey how massive this structure is.   

Opening Ceremony rehearsal
Our entire team got last minute tickets to see the rehearsal of the Opening Ceremonies at the Bird's Nest.  This experience goes down as one of the best in my life.  It was the most amazing spectacle I've ever witnessed.  I was completely awe struck the entire time.  We arrived 30minutes prior to show time, and the performers were loading in.  Even that part was a work of art.  Words can't properly describe the show, but I'll give it a shot. The first part was a synchronized LED drumming sequence of over 2500 performers in a perfect grid.  There was a perfect circle people performing Tai Chi  doing their moves in unison, and a huge globe that came out of the floor with acrobats walking sideways on it.  There were thousands of performers in LED bodysuits that lit up it a patterned light show.  People dangling in the air and coming up from the floor.  A huge human powered Chinese typewriter with pillar/keys moving up and down with people inside each key.  Every once in a while fireworks would explode from the stadium lighting up the entire surrounding area, and spilling into the stadium through the roof.  Amazing use of projection and special effects.  It was very 'Chinese', with select international elements.  The thing that struck me was the exact precision and unison on a scale that I didn't know was possible.  My jaw was on the ground the whole time, and at times I was almost in tears.  I can't believe I'm actually here for the Beijing Olympics and I'm so grateful that I got to see the Opening Ceremony in person.

My average work day has been about 14 hours so far.  I'm responsible for 20,000 event tickets for all adidas VIP and celebrity guests.  Most of my days have been spent counting and sorting and logging tickets.  I have three full days before the first wave of VIP guest arrive and will be picking up their tickets.  I'm in pretty good shape, but I'll be glad when I get through the first wave (five waves in total).  My work so far has been grueling (brain fatigue), but the work coming up will be even more challenging trying to keep track of all the changes that we anticipate.  It's a huge responsibility, but so far I'm feeling pretty comfortable with it.

Time of my life!!!!


Beijing 2008 Summer Olympic correspondent at large

Did you know:
$450/night - cost of my hotel room
$3.75 Billion - cost to build terminal 3 at Beijing Airport
1.5 Million - visitors expected for the games

Beijing Summer Olympic Update #3 - August 9, 2008

Holy smoke, this is what it feels like to be at the centre of the universe.  It feels like the eyes of the world are here on Beijing, and I'm right in the middle of it. 

Some of the coverage that you'll see of some of the athlete interviews is video taped in the adidas Hopitality Suite where I'm stationed.  adidas has transformed a regular roof-top terrace and adjoining banquet rooms into an elaborate adidas themed indoor/outdoor lounge with TVs, refreshments, displays of the 17 Olympic team uniforms that adidas supplied to athletes.  We regularly have athletes coming in and out of the space for TV interviews.  It's so cool!

Opening ceremony
Last night was the opening ceremony for the games.  I'm so grateful to have seen the rehearsal a few nights ago, it was actually quite fun to experience it from the outside the second time.  My role was as bus parking lot manager responsible for positioning my team to direct adidas guests to the correct bus (in a sea of 100's of other sponsor buses) after the event.   We pulled it off perfectly, (ie. didn't leave any guests behind).  The logistics and security around the event were amazing. The entire surrounding area of the stadium (10 block radius?) was completely shut down to local traffic, only accredited vehicles were allowed access.  The roads to get to the stadium were all clear, no traffic in sight.  The security around the stadium was staggering.  Police stationed every 20 feet.  SWAT tanks and army troops on patrol, check points at every intersection for the accredited vehicles.  Getting into the Olympic Green / Bird's Nest Stadium through the 'airport security' was heightened.  Helicopters were swarming in the sky.  The streets were swarmed with locals watching the stadium from afar taking photos of the fireworks and the lighting of the cauldron.  Speaking of fireworks, HOLY SMOKE!  The fireworks show that was part of opening ceremony, and which carried on for 30 minutes after was amazing, even better than HSBC Celebration of Light  (sorry HSBC....).  There were fireworks on Olympic Green, in the stadium, throughout Beijing, and even on the Great Wall, all timed as part of the opening ceremony.  It was really cool to see the ceremony performers come out after the show, and walk the streets to their transportation.  Thousands of people walking in the same costume all together.  Everything at the Olympics is on a massive scale.  And there's no way to describe the energy until you've experienced it.  I'm in complete awe.

Aside from venue security, I've noticed a heightened security around Beijing in general.  There is a security check point getting into the headquarter hotel, and now I have to show my room card to get to my guest room.  There are more military and police around the streets, even SWAT tanks patrolling the highways.  This city is in complete lock down.

One of the things that strikes me is how corporate the Olympic games is.  There is so much money spent on sponsorship, branding, and showcasing.  Each sponsor has a pavilion on the Olympic Green, and each one is more elaborate than the one before.  There are other consumer showcases set-up all over town. Coke has one close to the hotel, where they've turned a regular retail space into a Coke themed experience, complete with an ice tunnel, LCD screen completely covering the ceiling, and free Coke products for all. 

Look of games
The whole city is covered with Olympic signage in the themed design and colours.  There is no mistaking it anywhere you go, the Olympics is in town.   Buildings are wrapped for the games, there are Olympic street signs, flower garden displays, signage on pedestrian walkway overpasses, flag pole signs, entire city blocks wrapped, etc. 

Work schedule
I didn't know it was possible to work 20 hours, have 1 hr sleep, then work another 20 hours.  But, I did it.  It's amazing what lack of sleep does to the brain.  Errors happen, things take 3 times as long, everything is an overwhelming task, logic becomes skewed, the simplest solution eludes you.  Add to that, I haven't been eating properly.  When I get in the zone on a task, I don't take the time to eat.  Thank goodness for my stash of snacks.  I anticipate that my workload will lighten for the rest of the games.  In my position as ticket manager, the largest sorting and organizing happens on the front end, and that's done now.  I think my schedule will be much more manageable from now on.

First sporting event
I went to my first event this morning.  Women's volleyball, Italy vs. Russia.  Those girls are TALL!!!  At this level the athletes are playing such a tight, strategic, well planned game. They had a sequins dance troop that came on the court during the breaks between games, so hilarious.  Even the court sweepers were choreographed, with their little hop over the mop, and synchronized patterns.  Airport security to get into the venue, no food or drink allowed.  Only small little portable cameras, no umbrellas or musical instruments.

Chinese names
This is one of the biggest challenges on the program.  Chinese people have several different names, and they use them at different times. This makes for a lot of confusion on so many levels.  Organizing an event that relies on accurate guest count information is very difficult when you don't know if you've got duplicate registrations for one person who registered information with two different names.  This is one of the biggest challenges so far. 

Celebrities and VIPs
The city is swarming with celebrities, and some have been in my general vicinity.  adidas held a "Gold Metal" gala party here at the hotel two days ago, with all sorts of 'A' list guests.  The production itself was amazing.  Millions of dollars to convert the hotel's tennis court facility into an extravagant night club for just one night.  The whole back wall of the stage was LCD screens, the stage was illuminated with the adidas logo.  The entire room is wrapped in gold, including gold carpet, drapes, furniture.  The guest included: Donovan Bailey (sprinter), Maurice Green (sprinter), Nadia Comaneci (Gymnastics), Ian Thorpe (swimmer), Tyson Gay (sprinter), Jeremy Wariner (runner), Jet Li (martial arts).  Last night I helped one of our guests out of a cell phone snafoo at opening ceremony, turns out he is the President and CEO of Reebok Global.  He was so grateful for my help, so now he and I are good buds.

Smog and heat
The clear skies that I mentioned before turned out to be a blip on the meteorological radar.  Most days since have been 'foggy' most of the day, 35' temperatures, and 80% humidity.  It's HOT here! 

This is good.  VERY good!

Beijing 2008 Olympic correspondent at large

Beijing Summer Olympic Update #4 - August 15, 2008

It's day 8 (of 17) of the Olympics, and into wave 3 (of 5).  I'm continuing to have an amazing Olympic experience with lots of great highlights to share.

Olympic events
The adidas client encourages us to get out to events, and there are lots of tickets available on a regular basis.  I've been able to make time in my schedule to attend two more events since my last message.  I went to gymnastics the other day, men's team gymnastics.  It was held in the National Indoor Stadium, right beside the Bird's Nest and Water Cube on Olympic Green.  Part of the experience is just being on "The Green" with so many other international Olympic visitors, amazing Olympic sculptures, great photo ops, and tonnes of extra-curricular things to do.  The Olympic Green is in fact very green.  Lots of grass, fragrant flower gardens, park area, mini lakes, bridges, etc.  There are Bellagio style fountains, over-sized golf cars for optional transportation, lots of concessions and public 'honey pots'.   The gymnastics event was really cool.  There were eight teams (China, Japan, USA, Germany, France, Russia, Korea, Romania), and they took turns at each of the six apparatus (floor, rings, pommel horse, vault, parallel bars, high bar).   It's amazing to me what those athletes can do with their bodies.  The awards ceremony happened immediately after the competition, and is obviously a really moving and exciting part of the event, especially because China won gold.  The part I enjoyed the most is the energy of the live crowd, flag waving, chanting, 'the wave', the crowd eruptions for amazing performances, and cheers for the Chinese team "Jia Yo"  = "Let's go / Keep going".  I also really love that they serve beer in the stands, even for morning events (not that I partook...).  I also attended swimming at the National Aquatics Centre / aka "Water Cube" this morning.  What an amazing and unique venue.  The structural design is based on the natural formation of soap bubbles which give a random, organic appearance.  The exterior of the building is a continuously inflated double layered plastic membrane.  The competition itself was really exciting because it was finals.  The medal ceremony happens immediately after the swimmers get out of the pool, then the next competition begins.  In one case, Michael Phelps (USA) was awarded gold for men’s individual 200m medley (backstoke, breaststroke, freestyle and butterfly), then got right back into the pool for the butterfly event.

The most common style of public toilet is a squat style, with a central supply of toilet paper on entry in the main room.  The public 'honey pots' on Olympic Green are squat style that are on permanent flush, and with a steady supply of foaming bubbles in the repository. This definitely takes some getting used to, with some logistical adjustments required regarding clothing etc.  This is one thing on a long list of cultural differences that makes travel so interesting to me.

I've taken to having massages on a semi regular basis.  Some of the other team members scoped out a good place right across the street from the hotel, they take drop-ins, and are open until 12 or 1am which fits with my schedule.  My back and feet are really sore, and although massage helps, my lower back is almost too sore to massage.  The other night, five of us went together and dropped in all at once.  They put us all in a room together with reclining chairs, and in came a massage troupe with foot baths, warm neck and back packs, and all sorts of lotions and potions.  I brought a pizza in with us, then we ordered some hors d'oeuvres and beer from the spa waiter.  How's that for gluttony?

Tourist killed in Tian'anmmen Square
I'm not sure if international news reported the recent killing in Tian'anmmen square.  The story we're told is that it was a lone attacker, who injured one and killed another, then jumped off a building and killed himself.  It wasn't targeted or considered terrorism, it was random and isolated.  The victims are American, family members of a basketball coach here with the US team. Very shocking and sad.

Apparently I am one.  Whenever I’m out, I’m stopped all the time by locals wanting to have their picture taken with me.  I’m not sure if it’s because I’m foreign, blond, look remarkably like someone famous, or that I’m wearing a uniform that makes me look like I’m official.  Speaking of celebrities, apparently David Schwimmer (Friend’s TV show) attended the opening ceremony and was trying to get into the adidas hospitality suite afterwards. The local hostess staff that were working the door turned him away because they didn't recognize him, and because he didn’t have an adidas namebadge.  By the time our senior staff knew what happened, it was too late to drag him back, however one of our team snapped a picture of him in the crowd walking away.  And rumour has it that David Beckham will be visiting the adidas suite soon.  I just learned that today, and I’m so excited about the prospect catching an up close glimpse of that fine specimen.

Local staff
SportsMark has hired approximately 350 local Beijing college students to work on the various sponsor programs (adidas, Visa, Coke, Manulife, Chevron, Qualcomm, Hilton, etc).  These local staff speak reasonable English, and have been a great help in translating for our mainly Asian guests.  Most of the kids are late teens, early twenties, and as sweet as pie.  They all work really hard, conscientious, eager to do a great job, and love practicing English.  The locals choose they own English name, and most have a story about the name they picked for themselves.  One of our staff is named “Coffee” because she likes the drink.  Another is named “Vanilla”, and one is named “Seven”.   I just love our local team members. 

As I’m writing this, sitting at the hospitality desk in the adidas suite, there is a UK track and field athlete standing talking to some guests right beside me, and Maurice Greene just walked by (Gold medal Olympic sprinter, ‘fastest man alive’).  Members of the Antigua/Barbuda Olympic team just walked in and are now camped out in the adidas lounge watching Olympic event coverage on the TVs.

I had a bit of a set-back technology wise.  I had been saving all my files to an external USB hard-drive instead of on my computer (per the company’s instructions).  All of a sudden it crashed and I lost all of the work for the past two weeks.  Luckily I had emailed two of the most critical documents two days prior, so had to re-do two days of work from my scratch pad of notes.   As if I didn’t have enough work to do!

Sleep & extra-curricular
For the most part, I’ve been getting enough sleep and feel rested and refreshed most days.  And last night, the whole senior team got a night off!!!  Shock and dismay!  We all went out for dinner together at a really beautiful traditional Chinese garden restaurant.  Afterwards a few of us went to Holland Heineken House, which is a huge Dutch party that serves only Heineken.  Heineken converted a huge traditional Chinese art gallery type building, into an Olympic party venue complete with live Dutch band, dance mosh-pit and huge outdoor beer garden.  The place was filled with Dutch people  and international guests alike, many wearing orange.  If you’re willing to get soaked in beer (from people throwing their full plastic beer cups up  in the air), then the centre of the dance floor is the place to be.  I stuck to the periphery and still felt the odd beer shower.  My head hit the pillow at 3am, and got up at 7am with a little headache.

I have Olympic fever!!!

Beijing 2008 Olympic correspondent at large

Did you know?
·  Sponsor guests waste +50% of the Olympic event tickets given to them
·  China has the highest incidents of traffic accidents (per capita) in the world
·  The probability of a natural disaster occurring during the Beijing Olympics is high
·  The order of countries in the parade of athletes at opening ceremony was in order of the number of brush strokes in the Chinese characters of the country names
·  110,000 tonnes of steel to make the Bird’s Nest Stadium – all made in China

Beijing Summer Olympic Update #5 - August 20, 2008

This experience continues to be one of the most memorable of my life.  I’m in disbelief every day about how privileged I am to be a part of the Olympics.

The Olympic dream
I’m having tiery moments all the time, and the theme of a recent emotional moment was regarding international harmony.  The Olympics is one of the only events in the world that brings people from every nation together in the spirit of goodwill and harmony.  The moment struck me as I was sitting in the stands listening to a dozen different languages spoken by people from every corner of the world.  I also get tiery eyed at every medal ceremony that I see, either in person or by broadcast.  It never gets boring.  Each and every medal represents a lifelong goal for these athletes, so much sacrifice, dedication and hardwork.  It reminds me to dream big and stay focused in my own life, because the impossible IS POSSIBLE!!!

Olympic events – Athletics x 2, WaterPolo, Diving, Beach Volleyball
My work has lightened up significantly during the last half of the games.  Since my last message, I’ve been able to attend an event almost every day, and sometimes twice a day.

Athletics  (aka Track and Field)
This event is held in National Stadium / “Bird’s Nest”, which is the same venue for opening and closing ceremonies, and where the Olympic cauldron is burning.  It is such a breathtaking building, and so incredibly massive (91,000 seats).  I attended two athletics events, with seats as close as they get to the field each time.  I could feel the breeze of the sprinters running by 20 feet in front of me.  And the medals ceremony podiums were also directly in front of my section.  I watched the finals of the Men’s 100M sprint.  This is one of the most hyped events in athletics. The finish was amazing, with Usain Bolt from Jamaica miles in front of the others, and strutting across the finish line posturing and gloating in his win.  He broke all sorts of records (Olympic and world), for the newest rank of ‘the fastest man alive’.  After the race he went crazy running all over the stadium floor in his victory circle around the track.  Also watched the javelin throw, men’s long jump, women’s heptathlon, hurdles, pole vault, discus throw, steeplechase and women’s shot put finals.  The 3000M steeple chase is an ancient event, which includes 4 hurdles on the track, one of which has a puddle that runners have to run through. The part I loved best about that event was the last place steeple chase runner.  He fell at the beginning, and ended up MILES behind the pack, but kept going regardless.  The whole stadium started to cheer for him, getting up out of their seats as he approached their section.  The place went nuts when he finally crossed the finish line minutes after the pack.  I love those examples of perseverance and determination, and how a potentially embarrassing performance can turn crowd inspiring.  The winner of the shot put was a New Zealander who also went crazy when she won.  She was running across the track to her family, while a running race while in progress.  Another highlight was the women’s pole vault final, with adidas sponsored Elena Isinbaeva from Russia blowing all other competitors out of the water, and breaking all sorts of records with a bar height of 5.05M. 

Men’s Waterpolo
WaterPolo was a blast.  We watched two matches, both preliminary (not final) games.  Serbia vs. Italy, then Hungary vs. Canada.  I’ve never even seen that game played before, so it was really cool to see it at the Olympic level.  Very fast, exciting game, and very animated spectators.  The crowd was almost entirely Hungarian fans, chanting, waving flags and going crazy for every goal, and then went completely bananas when Hungary beat Canada 12 vs. 3.  The inflatable mascots came out at half time and did a little dancing for the crowd at poolside, that was hilarious.  The part I like the best was the back-sides.  Those waterpolo boys have very nice physiques.  Most of my photos from this event are of waterpolo bums. 

Mens’ Diving
I attended with one of my team mates, who was a Illonois state diving champion back in her day.  It was interesting to learn the subtleties of the sport while watching the best in the world compete.  I enjoyed the scenery here as well.  Diving bums are just a nice as waterpolo bums.

Men’s Beach Volleyball
I attended the semi-final games for Men’s Beach Volleyball.  USA (Rogers/Dalhousser) vs. Georgia (Terceiro/ Gomes), then the second game was Brazil (Ricardo/Emanuel – defending Olympic champions) vs. Brazil (Araujo/Luiz).  This is my favourite event so far.  It’s basically a big beach party complete with DJ, dancing bikini clad beach hotties, an announcer that gets the crowd going with the wave, sing-a-longs and all sorts of other crowd revving.  USA pummeled Georgia to secure a place in the final game.  The two Brazilian teams had really close matches, but the under-dog Brazilian team beat the defending Olympic champions for a spot in the final game against USA.  The gold medal game is tomorrow, and I’ve signed up to GO!!!

Pin trading
I’m having a blast trading pins with people from all over the world.  I have a whole bunch attached to my lanyard, and when I’m out and about at events, I get accosted by people wanting to trade.  Many cannot speak English, so we communicate by doing pin trading charades.  At one event, I was sitting in the stands beside some members of the Saudi Arabia Olympic Committee, and traded pins with them.  Their pin has swords and a palm tree with the Olympic rings.  I also traded pins with a guy from Latvia and one from Russia, who gave me a pin of their respective national Olympic Committees.

People I know
I’ve run into three people that I know from Vancouver.  One friend of my cousin’s who works for Vancouver 2010 Olympics.  I knew he was coming, but didn’t know he was staying at my hotel, and certainly didn’t expect to run into him coincidently.  I also ran into the President and the Director of Sport Marketing of PRIME Strategies, one of the event planning companies that I work with.  They were sitting four rows in front of my at an Athletics event in the Bird’s Nest Stadium.  I knew they were coming to Beijing, but it’s a big city, and HUGE stadium, what a coincidence that I would bump into them.

More brushes with celebrities
- I got an email the other day from a fellow ticket manager, looking to fill a ticket request from Misty May-Treanor (Olympic gold medalist in Beach Volleyball).
- adidas got a call the other day from Ian Thorpe (US Olympic swimmer – adidas sponsored athlete), asking for assistance in escorting him to the Water Cube to watch a swimming competition.  It seems that whenever he goes out in public, he gets mauled by fans.  So adidas organized one of the staff members to escort him in one of our VIP cars, and get him into the swimming venue bi-passing the mob of fans. 
- The adidas hospitality suite continues to host all sorts of Olympians, including the gold and silver medalist in the women’s heptathlon.  Just looking at those ladies walk by inspires me to hit the gym more often.

There are only four days left in the Olympics, with closing ceremony capping it off on August 24th.  I fly to Hong Kong on Aug 28th for a visit with some family, then home on September 1st.   My next and final update will be from Hong Kong just before my return.

Jai Yo!!!

Beijing 2008 Olympic correspondent at large

Did you know?
-     302 gold medals will be awarded in the Beijing games, 214 have been awarded to date
-     China is leading the gold medal count with 45, but USA is leading the total medal count at 82.
-     92 athletes have won multiple medals, with Michael Phelps (US swimmer) leading with a record breaking 8 gold medals
-     The summer Olympics (10,000 athletes) is three times as large as the winter Olympics (3,000 athletes)
-     Over 900 adidas guests and 14 days of games so far - there have been no medical incidents or security threats with the adidas guests/program to date
-     The Great Wall of China has turned into a contrived amusement park with a gondola, chair lift and bob sled slide
-     adidas founder Adolf Dassler (nickname Adi  Dass) started the company with his brother, then had a falling out and the brother founded the Puma brand.
-     One of my team mates found a market in Beijing selling knock-off Tiffany jewelry.  Yippee!!!!!

Beijing Summer Olympic Update #6 – August 31, 2008

What an amazing, exciting, exhausting, thrilling, memorable five weeks this has been. 

More sporting events
During the last week of the games, my vault of tickets was pretty empty, so I shifted gears from ticket management to helping escort the adidas guests to the various sporting events.  This is like herding a bunch of cats.  It's almost impossible to keep track of everybody, but somehow we manage to get everyone back on the bus.

Men's Beach Volleyball final
This was probably my favourite event of the whole games.  Sitting in the sunshine, 25'C cloudless skies, 75% humidity, with cooling mist machines blowing on the audience, watching the best in the world compete in a game that I love.  This event is basically a big beach party with people dancing to the music, singing along, doing the arm gestures to the music, bouncing the beach balls around in the crowd, etc.  The Brazilian and US fans were in fine form decked out in patriotic colours with face paint & crazy wigs, draped in their country's flags and using all sorts of noisemaking devices to cheer for their team.  Brazil won the bronze medal match against Georgia, winning by a landslide, and the US (Rogers/Dalhausser) won the gold medal against the other Brazilian team (Araujo/Luiz), in a tight match, down to the third game.   There was a 75 minute wait in between the bronze and gold medal matches, which was filled with entertainment.  There were dancing bikini clad beach babes, audience member volleyball game (10 people each side), as well as audience members taking turns serving the ball over the net, trying to hit the inflatable mascots and knock them over.  So hilarious.

I've never seen this game played before in my life.  For those of you in the same boat, I would describe the game as a cross between basketball and hockey.  You have to bounce the ball when you move with it across the basketball type court, but instead of shooting up in a basket, you throw it into a hockey net.  It's a very fast, very rough and physical game.  I watched the Men's semi-final game of Croatia vs. France, with France winning to advance to the gold medal game.

Table Tennis
The Chinese totally dominate this sport.  I saw two semi-final matches: Sweden vs. China and China vs. China.  The #1 and #2 ranked players (both Chinese) emerged from these games to face off against each other in the gold medal match.  What an amazing sport to watch in a country that reveres the sport.  The game starts with the players and referees being escorted into the gymnasium like royalty.  I loved how the players serve the ball.  It seems like they have a little pep-talk with the ball and the paddle, then a few little tiny bounces of the ball while crouching close to the table, and finally a tiny little soft serve across the net. A few rallies back and forth, then they start to spike the ball and the play moves several feet away from the table, with jumping and lunging all over the place.  The crowd was VERY animated, shouting cheers and encouragement to the players in the local language.  Very exciting game to watch.

My birthday
I celebrated the 9th anniversary of my 29th birthday while in Beijing.  I received all sorts of lovely birthday wishes by email, and the whole adidas team surprised me with birthday cake.  They lured me to the surprise claiming a David Beckham sighting in the hospitality suite. 

Pin trading rehab
I've admitted myself into rehab for my pin trading habit.  It was getting to be a bit of a problem logistically, so I quit cold turkey.  I was finding that people would come up to me and start man-handling the pins on my lanyard (ie. chest area), which was starting to invade my personal space.  Also, I was finding it hard to go anywhere in a hurry.  I was always being stopped by people insisting that I trade with them, and I didn't want to be rude and tell them I didn't have time. 

Closing ceremonies
I helped to escort the adidas guests onto Olympic Green for Closing Ceremonies, but didn't have a ticket to get into the stadium.  While the ceremony was taking place, our whole adidas team hung out in the adidas section of the "OHC - Olympic Hospitality Centre" located on Olympic Green.  This is a zone where all the major sponsors are provided a pavilion, which they completely customize with branding, furniture, TVs, food and beverage facilities, etc, and in which they can host their guests.  We lounged on the couches, shoes off, feet on coffee table, in air conditioned comfort, having drinks and food, watching the live broadcast of the ceremony on the big screens, and having the benefit of seeing the fireworks explode from the outside of the stadium and throughout the Olympic Green.  Before the end of the ceremony, our team (20-30 people) dispersed throughout Olympic Green with handheld adidas 'lollipop' signs directing guests to the adidas buses.  My job was in the parking lot (as with opening ceremony), directing adidas guests onto the buses (in a sea of other sponsor buses), counting heads and sending buses when full.  The ceremony itself was pretty amazing if you ask me.  I loved the bouncing jumping guys, and the ribbon covered tower that came up from the floor.  The London 2012 portion wasn't my favourite, I thought it was pretty predicable and uninspired.  One of the parts I love best about the Olympics is feeling like I'm at the centre of the universe, and that feeling is amplified during the opening and closing ceremony events. 

More celebrities
Bill Gates – was staying at our hotel for a few days during the Olympics. 
Vince Vaughan – was everywhere.  He walked past me on the street, he was part of an NBC group being escorted out of the mens' gold medal basketball game.  Two of my teammates bumped into him in various venues around town.  Another of my teammates saw him at the NBC party the other night.
David Beckham – was in town, and visited Beijing's flagship adidas store (largest adidas store in the world).  A copy of his itinerary and media interview questions was laying around the adidas suite, accidently left by one of his handlers, so I grabbed it for safe keeping.  David Beckham is an adidas sponsored athlete, and was the token British athlete that was London's feature star in the closing ceremonies.  London 2012 is the next summer Olympics.

There were plenty of parties around town during the Olympics, but once the games ended, the wrap-up parties for the event operations teams kicked into high gear.  The adidas team party was held at the headquarter hotel, in the adidas hospitality suite outdoor terrace.  100 team members all kicking back, drinking, eating, playing Nintendo Wii on the outdoor big screen, and singing karaoke.  One of the team members put together a DVD with photos of the team set to music, so that was revealed at the party as well.    It is so hilarious, filled with photos of all our crazy antics and inside jokes from the games.  The SportsMark "Xie Xie" Party (=thank you) was held at a really cool Chinese club/restaurant with some tented outdoor seating pods, lots of dancing and drinking.    About 500 in attendance, included all of the SportsMark teams as well as clients and suppliers.  And on my last night in Beijing, the core adidas team hooked up in Tian'anmman Square to watch the daily flag ceremony, then went for traditional Peking Duck at a restaurant close to the square.  After dinner 10 of us went for a massage, 6 in one room, 4 in the other.  90 minute treatment, includes shoulder, back, feet and legs, with snacks included for ~$20.  We were all fast asleep in no time, it was quite a picture to see, and the perfect ending to an amazing time together.

I've done some serious damage at two of the major markets in Beijing.  Handbags, scarves, shoes, jewelry and gifts.  Add to that all the Olympic souvenirs and adidas swag that the team received from the client.  I've had to buy an additional suitcase to bring all this stuff home.

Beijing to Hong Kong
Beijing airport is like no other I've ever seen.  When you first walk through the doors, you must pass through a security check-point.  Then you must find your check-in desk, which is coded A-Z depending on your airline (Air China was in the 'F' section).  Once checked-in, you pass through a temperature (SARS) detection screening, then two check points for Chinese immigration, then the security mag and bag, with a full body man-handle and wand inspection.  Then onto a train for 4 minutes for transportation to the international departures gates.  I would guess the walk from that point to my gate was over 1km.  Once at the gate, you board a bus to take you for a 10minute ride on the back area of the tarmack to the plane. For some reason the airport doesn't use their air bridges to connect the airplanes to the terminal, instead they park the planes far away, only accessible by the bus service.  The whole process from check-in to boarding the plane took about 1.5hrs, most of it walking within the massive terminal.  I'm in Hong Kong for four days, visiting with my sister-in-law/brother-in-law once removed (ie. my sister's sister-in-law/brother-in-law), and their 9mth old daughter, which I've declared as my niece.  They have a lovely home in Discovery Bay on Lantau Island, close to the airport.  5+ bedroom home, with seaviews, a private garden terrace, and children playing in the street.  We're sticking pretty close to home for this visit, just walking around town, reading books, having naps, going out for dinner, visiting and playing with my little niece.

Things I'm looking forward to when I get home....
- body mainternance - pedicure/manicure/facial/hair removal/haircut
- home cooked food
- exercise
- sleeping in my own bed
- reconnecting with friends and family

Goodbye from China!

Beijing 2008 Olympic correspondent at large

Did you know?
- Olympic sponsors customize the buses that they use for transporting their guests during the games.  The buses are completely 'wrapped' on the outside in custom branding, and customized on the inside with branded headrest covers, etc.