One hundred and thirty seven: The Beijing Olympics
Mark: Well, here we are.
Steve: Hi Mark.
Mark: Hi Steve, another EnglishLingQ Podcast.
We're enjoying the summer; although, today is not as nice as it has been. But, I guess, obviously, one of the global phenomenon's this summer is the Olympics in Beijing.
Mark: And, of course, that's one thing about the…why is it “Bei-jing” now?
Steve: I know that's one of your pet peeves.
What I find, you are annoyed because we are forced to call it “Bei-jing” whereas in other languages they continue calling it what they always called it.
Steve: “Peka” or “Peking” or whatever we call it, but what really annoys me is when they call it “Bei-jing”.
Why? I mean “j” is pronounced “ja” in English. It's “Beijing” in Chinese, why do they call it “Bei-jing”?
Mark: It's someone trying to be even more politically correct.
Steve: You know why it is in Canada to English speaking Canadians?
A foreign language must be pronounced like French.
Mark: Right, that's part of it.
Steve: That's part of it, so “Beijing” is “Bei-jing”.
Mark: The thing about it is…I don't mind calling it Beijing; it makes no difference to me.
What is annoying about it is that it seems like every time we turn around someone is telling English speakers you can't do that we have to do this to be more sensitive to these people and we have to do that to be more sensitive to those people. Well why? There are so many different cities in the world that are called different things in different languages, why do we English speakers all of a sudden have to start pronouncing them like the original?
Steve: Nor do we call Rome “Roma”.
Mark: Exactly, or “Milano” or “Pari”.
I mean it's just…no, we don't.
Mark: It's just silly.
Steve: I agree, it's silly and, in fact, I understand that in Bombay, now known as “Mumbai”…
Mark: There's another one.
Steve: …the locals still call it Bombay.
Mark: Of course.
Are you going to change the name of a place? I mean however the name evolved that's the name.
Steve: Anyway, let's get back to the Olympics where, in the case of Canada, everyone was moaning the fact, bemoaning the fact, moaning over the fact, that Canada had so few medals.
Steve: And then our first Gold Medal…maybe, I don't remember if it was the first one, one of the first…was a very interesting story because it's a female wrestler.
Steve: Now, first of all, we don't think of female wrestlers.
Steve: It's not something we would normally put our daughters into.
Steve: And then I watched her when she got into the final and she is so quick and so clever; I was very impressed.
And then it turns out that she's from Hazelton, which is a town way up north in B.C. where, I don't know, there's lots of unemployment and there's also quite a large first nations like native community there.
Steve: But as in a lot of those communities that to the outsider might seem somewhat dysfunctional, actually, those communities are very tight-knit.
Steve: And so that community raised a lot of money.
First of all, they had a wrestling program at the high school started by a teacher and what's interesting is the influence that one person can have.
Steve: So he started this wrestling program; he got even girls involved.
Of course, a lot of people were against the idea of having girls involved in wrestling. They developed a real elite program of people from Hazelton, this town, 500-800 people.
Mark: A nothing town.
Steve: A nothing town buried in the mountains, like nowhere, way up north.
Steve: And so this girl, whose parents were refugees, refugees from Vietnam, came to Canada, started a new life.
I think the father worked as a carpenter and then started some business up there. She went to the University of Calgary and she was involved in wrestling. And, obviously, she has a talent and she's done well, but it's just an amazing story. I mean we talk about…Canadians always think that other countries spend a lot more money on their athletes; we don't know that.
Steve: If we see some weightlifter from Turkmenistan or something, maybe he got his whole village to pay for him; we don't know.
We always think we would do better if we spent more money, but money can't replace, obviously, the talent that this girl had. And then the way the whole community…well, the program at the school and the way the community got behind it.
Steve: So I think that's a real interesting story; interesting story.
Then I think we won some medals in rowing, so now we've already got like seven medals. Some of the other countries that have money that don't do well include…like Sweden has, I think, three medals.
Steve: Switzerland has two or something, you know, so there are countries that don't seem to make that a priority.
Mark: But those countries have much fewer people than we do too.
Mark: I mean based on population we should…
Steve: …we should probably do better.
Mark: And, probably, I mean I think it maybe depends on the sport.
I would imagine that rowing might be fairly expensive as a sport.
Steve: Yeah, but there are a lot of countries that can afford it.
Steve: All the countries in Europe and Japan, they can all afford to have a rowing team.
Mark: Yeah, yeah, that's true.
Steve: So I think there there's probably a tradition.
I think Canada has always been strong in rowing, so there's a tradition there, so there are people around. But, certainly, the success…I mean China, I mean some of their athletes, their divers and their gymnasts are just phenomenal.
Mark: Gymnasts, I mean yeah, yeah and they've always been strong in sports.
Steve: And they've always been strong.
Mark: Yeah, the Russians as well.
Steve: Well the Russians too and there's lots of medals in gymnastics.
Steve: In swimming there are lots of medals.
Steve: And, of course, Phelps, you know, that's amazing.
Mark: I mean that's unbelievable.
Steve: And the other thing amazing is the Jamaicans (for such a small country) dominated.
Mark: Well the 100 meter guy, I mean he's not even trying, he's flying.
That guy's unbelievable.
Steve: I know.
Mark: The rest of the guys aren't even close.
Steve: Well, but even the girl who won the…the Jamaicans went one, two and three in the 100 meter dash.
Mark: For the women?
Mark: I didn't see the women's.
Steve: And the girl who won it, I mean she was just flying.
But, apparently, in Jamaica, you know, there's quite a tradition.
Steve: Donovan Bailey, who was a Canadian Gold Medalist, originally emigrated from Jamaica when he was 14 and, therefore, is kind of a…now he's a Canadian icon, but he's originally from Jamaica.
He said that's the sport down there.
Steve: Track and sprinting.
Steve: So, I mean the Ethiopians dominate in the distance races, so countries have their traditions.
But having said that, I mean usually in those races it's quite close, like they're talking about split seconds either way. But that Usain Bolt in the 100 meter, he wasn't even trying. He was gliding, like floating at the end; he was so far ahead of everybody.
Steve: You think he can go faster?
Mark: Oh yeah.
Like he kind of stopped before the finish line and started celebrating.
Mark: Oh yeah.
Like it wasn't even close; it was not even close.
I didn't see his race you know.
Steve: I don't know what I was doing that day.
Mark: To me, from the 100 meter races that I've seen in the past, I mean he was just so far ahead.
He certainly wasn't fighting to the last second to get over the line. Like the commentators were all saying, you know, he should have stayed with it.
Mark: He would have broken the world record by more.
Mark: He started celebrating before he crossed the finish line.
Mark: Anyway, we'll get to see him in the 200 meter final as well…
Steve: Oh yeah.
Mark: …which is his better event, apparently.
But yeah, no, that guy was amazing. Obviously, Phelps, that's amazing. I mean not just amazing that...okay, he's amazing because he won six, I guess, or five…
Mark: …on his own…
Steve: Right, oh.
Mark: …and then there were two or three team.
Mark: But the fact that the team also won.
I mean for all those factors to fall into place.
Steve: And not by much, necessarily.
Mark: Did you see the one -- the butterfly -- where he basically was behind the Croatian guy or Serbian or whatever the guy was and, basically, overtook him right at the last split second?
He won by a 100th of a second or something; like it was unbelievable.
Steve: That was the butterfly segment?
Mark: The butterfly, yeah.
Steve: Well he did…Phelps did the butterfly segment.
Mark: No, no, no, it was like the 100 meter butterfly.
Steve: Oh, where he raced on his own.
Mark: He raced on his own.
Mark: And I can't remember whether he was Serbian or Croatian or whatever he was, he was one of those two, he was in the lead the whole way.
Mark: And with about five meters to go, he kind of reached out for the wall when he probably should have taken another stroke.
And just as he was gliding in -- he was ahead all the way to the end -- Phelps came from behind, took an extra stroke with his extra-long arms and just managed to get a finger in ahead of that guy; it was unbelievable.
Steve: Oh well.
Steve: And, of course, I mean everyone is commenting on how well-organized the games have been.
Some comment about the situation where they had some girl (I didn't see this) singing whatever song it was and singing it very well, but they felt that her teeth were too crooked, so they substituted another girl, you know, to lip sync.
Steve: You know, synchronizing her lips.
Steve: And so this was criticized and some people say well, you know, they do that in the movies too.
Well yeah, that's okay, but that's not the same.
Steve: Very often they'll say, you know, sung by so and so.
Steve: So that was kind of unnecessary.
You do have these kinds of things go on. Like sometimes when they have outdoor concerts or shows at half-time and they have a performer out there they aren't, in fact, singing live. They're playing the audio and they're lip syncing on stage, for whatever reason. And then it comes out later and people make a big fuss about it, so I mean it does occur. I seem to remember there was some kind of a rock group that lip synched all their videos and then finally it came out. I mean I guess it does happen.
Steve: But yeah, I'm sure it happens.
But it's just that here when you have a little girl…
Steve: …singing so well, that everyone sort of “Wow!
Look at her, she's tremendous!” and yet that's not the girl.
Mark: I know that's a bit…that's not quite right.
You know another interesting thing, interesting on the subject of the Olympics, was the Spanish basketball team, which had a picture taken with them all pushing their eyes back. You know, more sort of oriental-eyes type of thing and this created quite a controversy and some people said that this was racist and stuff like that. There wasn't much criticism in China; no one was particularly perturbed by it. There were a lot of sort of politically-correct people in North America or elsewhere, in Europe, who said this was terrible and stuff.
Steve: But, I must say, whatever!
If the Chinese basketball team puts on either afro wigs…
Steve: …or blond wigs to pretend they're either Black or Swedish…
Steve: …I mean I don't see why that's such a bad thing.
I mean people get so sensitive about it. Yeah, I mean I don't think that…I mean I guess they thought it was funny. I don't really think it was funny.
Steve: I can't see why they would do it.
Mark: I don't see why they would do it either.
Mark: I don't know, it's like a strange thing to do. Steve: Well, it's like here we are in China.
Here we are in China; people have almond eyes in China or however you want or slanted eyes as it's sometimes said.
Steve: Obviously, the word “almond” eyes is considered a nicer term than “slanted” eyes or whatever.
Steve: But, yeah, people can say, you know, long noses or whatever, curly hair…
Steve: Yeah, I think it's what you put into it.
Anyway, that was a rather childish thing to do. It doesn't make the Spanish basketball team look very clever, but still.
Mark: It just makes me think…like I don't think…like that would never happen here.
Mark: Never, because I think…probably because we see Asians all the time here.
Mark: Presumably in Spain, maybe they don't have many Asians.
Mark: I don't know.
Steve: I think Asians probably are more of a rarity.
Steve: Whereas here in Vancouver where it's 40% Asian it's not a big deal.
Steve: But, I mean in…
Mark: I was surprised, like they did that?
Steve: That's kind of childish.
Mark: It's just that I was surprised to hear that.
Steve: But I mean it's just in a mood of playfulness; people are hamming around.
There's an expression, “hamming around”, “hamming it up” and the picture is being taken and so they did this thing.
In general, I think people are far too sensitive about all that kind of stuff.
Mark: I mean it doesn't bother me.
It's just…people just take themselves too seriously.
Well, I mean you take, for example, I speak Cantonese and in Cantonese the most common word to refer to a European is guailo. Now guailo, strictly speaking, means like ghost person…
Steve: …or devil or something like that.
I mean that's just their standard term.
Steve: It's the most commonly-used term.
Steve: And, of course, they'll say “Oh, that's not…,” you know, “There's no intent…” or whatever.
But when you really think about it, it's not a very nice term.
Steve: It's not.
Mark: And when they say “Oh, there's no intent”, that's exactly the same with all the terms that we use to describe people.
Mark: Most of the time, most of the people using them, there's no harm or intended harm at all, so… Unfortunately, here we're not allowed to, we're much too sensitive.
Steve: Well, it also has to do with the history of how these different terms were used.
And if the terms were used in a very sort of, you know, by people who are obviously very racist and if there's a history like in the case of Black people are being lynched…
Steve: I mean there's a pretty grim history of persecution of Blacks in the southern part of the United States, for example.
But today, to carry on and, typically, the people protesting about the Spanish basketball team are not people in China who thought, oh… Either they thought they were stupid or they thought it was insignificant.
Steve: But it's the Canadian-Chinese activist society…
Steve: …most of whom are quite content to say “guailo” all the time when they're referring to Westerners or Canadians, but who want to be so sensitive about any opportunity to find a slight, you know?
Steve: So yeah, I agree with you, the world would be a better place if we learned to take it easy a bit.
But a lot of these things are…
Steve: I guess it depends on how people are or, you know, react to them.
Mark: People are conditioned now to react, “Oh, it's just horrible!” Well, it isn't really.
I mean they're just words and people just have to take it easy a little bit.
Mark: But, anyway, getting back to the Olympics.
Mark: Yeah, I mean it's great, it happens once every four years.
I'm trying to think of any other notable…
Steve: Well, you know one thing that I thought was interesting was the Mayor, not the Mayor the Premiere, like the Prime Minister of British Columbia our Province, was in Beijing at our expense, the taxpayer's expense, “swanning around” as we call it here, you know.
Steve: And he had a press conference to announce something that was of no significance to anyone but, of course, the Chinese press was there.
And the Chinese press are very miffed -- there's a word “miffed”, “annoyed” – that the Western press has been so critical of many of the arrangements leading up to the Games, about the Torch Parade and stuff like this and the Western press was complaining about pollution and one thing or another. So the Chinese reporters started grilling our Premiere, “What are you going to do about the East Hastings?” There's an area of Vancouver, which is very rundown and where drug addicts gather. It is extremely unpleasant to go there and they said, “What are you going to do about this? Are you going to clean it up for the Olympics?” Because Vancouver has the Olympics in 2010, the Winter Olympics and, apparently, he says, “Oh yeah, we'll have it cleaned up.” What a stupid thing for a politician to say. He hasn't got it cleaned up yet…
Steve: …what makes him think he's going to have it cleaned up in two years?
So, anyway, I got a chuckle out of that…
Steve: …what politicians will say.
Steve: Unfortunately, politicians…I don't want to get into that.
Mark: No, no.
Steve: Maybe other countries have better politicians than we do, but I doubt it.
Mark: I doubt it.
I think it's their occupation.
Steve: Hey, but somebody's got to do that job, right?
Mark: Yeah, that's right.
Steve: So we have to be…
Mark: Part of it is that who wants to be a politician?
Steve: Well that's right.
Mark: Yeah, no.
Steve: But, we are going to have the Winter Olympic Games here, which is no where near what the Summer Olympic Games is.
We like the Winter Olympics better because there's less competition for our athletes.
Steve: Right, that's right.
Mark: We have some definite advantages there.
Steve: Well I'll bet you the Chinese will prepare for that.
Mark: Oh yeah.
Steve: They have a lot of people who live in a very cold climate, so… But yeah, Europe is a main competition.
Mark: Well and there's lots of countries that the climate thing needn't necessarily be that important.
Like the Russians, obviously, do very well at the Olympics.
Steve: The Norwegians.
Mark: Summer Olympics I mean.
Steve: Oh, in the summer, yeah, the Russians.
The Russians do well in the winter and summer.
Mark: The Japanese have a lot of medals.
Mark: You know, summer and winter.
Mark: They do well in both.
Steve: They haven't always.
Mark: Oh no?
Steve: I think they did really well this time.
Normally they've done well in the gymnastics, but this year they did very well in swimming.
Steve: And they seem to be everywhere.
Steve: Every event you found a Japanese person was in the, you know, competition or in the finals and stuff.
Mark: Yeah, they've done a lot.
Steve: And the Koreans.
Mark: Koreans are doing well, I know.
Steve: The Koreans did well and the Italians and the French did well.
Mark: Italians and French, yeah.
English actually do quite well too. Someone on the radio as I was driving in was saying, “We should be able to be close to the British.” I guess population-wise they probably have about twice as many people as we do…
Steve: Yeah, they do.
Mark: …but they certainly have more than twice as many medals.
But they have, perhaps, more of a tradition in certain fields, maybe in track and field. They certainly had a stronger swimming program. You know swimming is a big one. There are lots of medals in swimming…
Mark: So many medals to be had.
Steve: …and climate is no factor.
Steve: So it's how good your program is.
Steve: How early you can start them swimming and so forth.
Well apparently that Phelps guy from age 11 has swum like every day, every day, all day, all year. Anyway, I guess that's probably a good place to end it.
Mark: We'll talk to you all again another time.