Monday, January 21, 2008

Greetings from China – Part IV – The Final Installment

Morning greetings from China! Last we visited we were sleeping off an enormous meal courtesy of the CFA and headed to the gym the next morning to work it off. Satisfied that the calorie count was a little more balanced between import and export, the Chinese officials picked us up for another round of shopping. After a few close calls for some bicycle-riders – I swear we just about picked off 4 or 5 of them – we were deposited on Mao St., where the irony drips once again as it’s the most capitalist street I’ve ever seen. Times Square in New York looks almost quaint in comparison, as we entered a 4-block, 6-story monstrosity of shops. I honed in almost immediately to the Starbucks, where out of habit I ordered a double-tall skinny latte and without missing a beat they repeated it back to me and served it up hot enough to exfoliate my entire mouth. Right on. In the hour it took to cool down, we found ourselves (girls that we are) in a Bath-n-Body type shop, where the common goals of women the world over were apparent: “H12O6 raises energy to raise face water” and the promising “Resists senile energy tight skin water”. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about. I got a whole lot of senile energy that needs resisting, so sign me up.

Since this appeared to be Western Shopping Day, we were naturally taken to KFC for lunch. Being a Saturday we expected it to be busy, especially with Chinese New Year celebrations in the air, but this place was PACKED. We watched the Chinese officials literally muscle some multi-generational family out of a set of tables, and were instantly served up 2 buckets of chicken, complete with a couple liters of Pepsi, corn on the cob, and 6 buns (cuz clearly there weren’t enough carbs in our meal yet). The Western girls each had a bit but mostly stared in awe as these five rail-thin 80-pound Chinese women slammed back a sandwich each plus their bucket of chicken plus half of our bucket. Holy Dinah.

After lunch we refreshed ourselves with a bit of “In-Depth water raises moistens blast” spritzer, and hit Beijing Road again to watch Kirsi’s bargaining talents in action. That woman can shop and I have video to prove it. About 4 hours later we regrouped with our interpreters and were taken to a hot pot restaurant. Another 8 course feast. This city and their people sure know how to eat. A giant pot with a rice-based broth sits boiling in the middle of the table over an enormous flame and platter after platter of fresh meat, fish, and veggies gets dropped in, spooned out, and distributed. A concoction of soy sauce, fresh ginger, scallions, and enough hot mustard oil to induce an aneurysm is used for dipping. Kirsi turned purple, Carol-Anne slammed the table a couple of times, and I think I actually lost consciousness for a minute. Jeez it was good. Another comatose ride home and off to bed.

Yesterday we finished the last games and as you likely know by now, the US captured the title with a 1-0 win over China. It was a fun match to watch, and the noise from the stick-banging crowd was incredible. Even with only about 2000 seats taken out of the 80,000 capacity stadium, it was electrically loud. That place must really rock when it’s full. The US also swept most of the award categories, a nod to the way their new possession game translated into goals for the team. The previous match saw Canada match up against Finland, where I was the 4th official for the Chinese referee Gu Ying and our two Chinese assistants Zhang Lingling and Cui Yongmei. The Finns scored late in the first half against the run of play, frustrating the Canadians who were fiercely determined to register a goal in the tournament. After their solid draw against a talented Chinese team, Canada came out on a mission in the second half and peppered the Finnish goal with shot after shot. For all the spaghetti, er, lo mein, they threw against the wall, something finally stuck when Jodi-Ann Robinson ripped a shot from 25 yards out in the 4th minute of stoppage time, shortly before the final whistle. The Canadians went mad and dog-piled the goalscorer who put them into third place for the tournament.

Lots of hugs, email swaps, and gift exchanges later, we said goodbye to our wonderful new Chinese friends and colleagues. I sincerely hope we will have a chance to work together again, and I wish them the very best in their careers. Today is a free day, I plan on going out to take some day-in-the-life pics, maybe find some good strong Chinese tea, and sheepishly find a bigger suitcase to pack all my goodies in. I wonder if the nice massage lady will fit in one? Hmm.

A big thank you to US Soccer for providing me with this incredible opportunity, it was an honor to represent the US and our officials at this wonderful tournament. Much appreciation also goes to the Chinese Football Association, our translators, and drivers, who graciously and generously hosted us throughout the week. Congratulations to the US team on a well-played tournament and well-earned title, they are truly a remarkable group of young women.

See you on the pitch, and may the ball always bounce your way.

From China, all the best!

fini :)

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