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Day 103 – Olympic Stadia and the Unstoppable World Cup

June 14, 2010

Dateline: Beijing, China – Monday, June 14, 2010

Kobe and I are about the same age. As a Laker fan, I’ve been watching him play since his rookie year. He was starting up in the NBA and I was getting used to dorm life in college. Over the past 14 years, I feel like I’ve learned a bit about him as a basketball player.

As a fan, you can see when he’s about to erupt. Kobe will dribble the ball across the half court and the Laker faithful know he’s going to jack up a three. He has this look about him that says, “I’m going to score, consequences be damned.” If he hits the three, you know what’s coming next. He’s going into attack mode. For the next few possessions, he’s going to take the whole opposing team on his own. It’s like he’d hate to think that, win or lose, the team didn’t try to do it with its most potent weapon. He believes he’s the team’s best weapon, so he’s going to use it. Over and over again.

Over the years, this means we Laker fans have been treated to some amazing feats of basketball. It’s like watching that great white shark from the “Planet Earth” series take down a seal. You just shake your head and say, “Damn. . .” Just ask Dwayne Wade about that. He was in attendance at today’s Game 5 and when Kobe went on this 19 straight Laker point tear, he did the same thing we fans have been doing for years.

Kobe jacked up long threes, hit fading turnaround jumpers from the baseline, and knocked down off balance floaters in the lane. Some shots were just bad shots. Bad ideas. Shots that a player with a conscience would feel terrible about. Not Kobe. They all went in. It was nasty.

Unfortunately, when Kobe goes on one of these streaks, his teammates tend to zone out. They end up watching him like we fans do. When it comes time for them to help out, they aren’t in the rhythm of the game. It’s like they have to get up off their mental couches, switch off their mental TVs, and jump into a basketball game while still wearing their pajamas. They’re just not ready.

I think that’s what happened last night. The Lakers had turnover problems, shot problems, bench problems. Kobe took over the 3rd and kept them competitive, but the rest of the team wasn’t ready. I can’t remember a Pau Gasol play from the second half. He should have been demanding the ball. Screaming at people to get him involved. He is their second best weapon and, for two quarters last night, he disappeared.

Ah well. This series isn’t over. There are two Laker home games coming up. The Laker bench will play better at home. The Celtic bench shouldn’t be as much of a factor. My guess is that the Laker turnovers go down and the offense starts to click. Fewer 4-minute scoreless stretches.

That said, I can’t say I’m optimistic. I’m a Laker fan, but I still stand by my gut feeling that the Celts are going to pull this out. I hope not. If nothing else, this series has renewed my hatred of Celtic green. When the Celtics beat L.A. back in 2008, I consoled myself with the fact that KG and Ray Allen finally got their rings. I liked them as players.

These days, not so much. They have their hardware. If I have to put up with listening to loudmouth Boston fans crow about how their team owns ours, I’m going to be sick. I don’t want to hear all the Laker-haters say that my team sucks and is all flash and no heart. More than the joy of winning, I loathe the horror of losing. The Lakers are a high profile team and people just love to pile on when the going gets tough. Hey. I can’t help that I root for this team. I was born this way. You don’t choose to be a fan, circumstances dictate it. Just ask Cubs or Cavalier fans.

Okay, enough basketball. Let’s talk food and Olympics. Max and I had dinner at Drum and Gong Fusion Restaurant in Nanluogu Xiang, one of Beijing’s more famous alleyways. Rumor has it that this area (or portions of it) will be developed. I have no idea why. It’s not an authentic hutong (far too snazzy and commercial for that), but it does retain a lot of the flavor. I hope the rumors aren’t true.

We ended up sitting outdoors on the roof. The restaurant claims to be fusion, but everything on the menu seemed to be strictly Chinese. It didn’t even seem like they were fusing different kinds of Chinese food (Sichuan and Taiwanese, for example). Our dishes: sweet and sour fried fish (whole), beef and vegetable grilled then steamed in lotus leaf, pork stuffed eggplant, and bullfrog clay pot. Everything was delicious. If you don’t know, bullfrog is a lot like chicken except the meat is a lot softer. It was served with the bones so working to get at the tasty bits took some work.

The beef in lotus leaf was especially tasty. I’ve had sticky rice and pork in lotus leaf at dim sum and didn’t find it memorable. The beef, though, was nice. The fragrance of the lotus leaf was lightly infused into the meat. It wasn’t overwhelming, just a subtle hint. Enough to lighten the meat flavor.

The surprise of the night though was the haw juice. My Chinese friends all know what haw flakes are, having eaten them as kids. The little cardboard-like disks are pink and have a slightly sweet taste to them. No one, however, has been able to tell me what haw flakes are made of. I’ve joked that they’re leftover pig parts, dried and compressed and seasoned with a bit of sugar then sold to kids as “candy.”

Turns out I was wrong. Apparently, haw is a kind of wild berry. At least according to the picture on the bottle of the haw juice. It tasted like liquid haw flakes, which is really weird since I always assumed haw flakes got most of their flavor from some chemical preservative.

An awesome discovery all around, though. The haw juice alone would have made for a great meal. The fact that the dishes were delicious and that we got to sit outside put it over the top.

Afterwards, we took a cab to the Olympic Stadiums. They were closed, but we were able to walk around the outside. The Water Cube wasn’t lit up, but looked impressive nonetheless. It’s a lot bigger than I expected. The Bird’s Nest was about what I thought it would be. Too bad they’d closed off the park area and weren’t allowing pedestrians.

When China hosted the Olympics, they decided to go big. The boulevards are wide. The stadium area is something like three miles long and dotted with venues and parks. Every event had its own stadium. Fencing, wrestling, ping pong, each got a separate building. I didn’t realize that, during the Olympics, you weren’t allowed to walk within three blocks of the stadium area unless you had an event ticket. China also sent somewhere around 1 million migrant workers home for the duration of the games.

It’s modern building on a grand scale. Imposing, impressive, lots of lights and a bit over the top. In other words, very Beijing.

As a night cap, we went back to Houhai and 31 Bar to listen to Uyghurs play Spanish music. If there was any doubt that World Cup fever’s captured Beijing, our walk to 31 Bar confirmed it. Every restaurant and bar had at least 3 TVs tuned to the live game. Everyone was watching. During the whole walk to 31 Bar at the back of the lake, we had an uninterrupted view of the game. Even our Uyghur buddies were into it. The bar projected the game next to the band on a giant screen. Nothing stops World Cup. Nothing.

GALLERY: Click through to today’s gallery to what haw really looks like and to see more pictures of the Olympic Stadium, some taken by squeezing the camera through the fencing.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 18, 2010 10:34 am

    If it’s like English, then “haw” is short for “hawthorne”, which is a bushy plant in the east that bears a fruit somewhat like an apple, although MUCH smaller (as is typical of wild v. cultivated fruit, of course). They’re similar enough that the fruit flies laying eggs on the hawthorne fruit were quite happy to move over and begin parasitizing the apples that were brought over from England – and that’s how we got the apple maggot, because the babies eat the fruit prior to pupating.

    TMI, I know……..

    • June 22, 2010 1:39 am

      In my world, there’s almost never TMI, so long as it’s true. That’s some real good info. Thanks.

      From the picture, you’re probably right. I should have known to ask a botanist, if only I’d thought haw flakes were made of fruit!

  2. tutz permalink
    June 20, 2010 9:08 pm

    Sir, Congrats, Lakers won! As always LA Lakers turned the game in the final quarter by getting 30-22 points. The final finished with 83 points for Lakers and 79 points for Celtics… this is a very tight game and the result proved it as the difference between the two teams is just 4 points. -from a Celtics fan. =(

    • June 22, 2010 1:43 am

      Good game, if not well played. Don’t congratulate me; I didn’t do anything. I’m just a fan. 🙂

      I am happy, though.


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