The flame is out but it was an experience of a lifetime

Friday, August 29, 2008

Hi all,

I am writing this last installment as I am on the flight traveling back to Atlanta. Closing ceremonies was a touch boring a times but exciting to be there none the less. Coke had a couple of extra closing tickets so we did a raffle for the local staff to come an enjoy. They were so excited and 2 gals from the F & B team were picked to go. Gloria was beside herself about getting a winning ticket. She told me the next day that being there was unbelievable. Which was a big word for her to use..and seeing David Becham was a thrill for her.

In true manipulative form of the Chinese Organizing Committee they told everyone that closing would be almost as long as opening. Many of the international staff thought this was weird. It is important to have accurate information because we need reliable information for staffing, the after party back at the hotel and ground transportation. Luckily when we got the OHC where our guests could hang out prior to going to the bird’s nest our dear friends at NBC told us that it was only going to be 2 to 2.5 ours. They had to be told the truth for broadcasting back to the states. This new information lead to a new flurry of activity where people where once again having to jump through hoops to make this work for the exit. When you enter the Bird’s Nest for closing the one thing that stikes you is there is obviously no one scalping tickets. If any one got caught doing this you were thrown in jail with a big government fine. So kiss that activity goodbye. But there are very few concession stands in the stadium. Luckily I had some snacks in my backpack that I was able to sneak in. Security has slowed down quite a bit since opening. They do sell some weird things at the stands. They did have popcorn and potatoe chips, beer was super cheap. A guy who sat with us bought a package of “bread” and it was 3 hot dog buns that’s it just 3 buns. We were laughing at him. The beer sold for just under $1.00 for a glass of good beer. We were all in uniform so no beer for us. Then at your seat we were given a swag bag. This was filled with goodies that one had to light up or flap at any given time. Then approx 20 minutes prior to opening local Chinese celebrities came out and our section guide walked us through our using the goodies in our bag to assist with closing ceremonies.

Watching the ceremonies live was kool but you definitely miss the TV commentary. They did some English throughout. We all couldn’t get over how LAME the London portion of their presentation was. Mr. Isdell the Chairman of Coke told us earlier in the week that London is going to have a very tough act to follow after China’s opening ceremony. Being inside the stadium is cramped and hot because part of the roof of the stadium is covered by an overhang. True to form the ceremonies lasted 2 hours and we were on our way out.

When we were doing our closing ceremony staff briefing it was funny. BOCOG made it quite clear that if any of the OHC guests had a medical emergency during closing it was up to their host corporation to deal with the guest. Don’t look to them to help. It was up to us to provide medial services.

Coke had a VIP customer council for wave 4 so on Monday when we normally would be moving out – we still had a full day of activity with meeting etc. So it was business back to normal for one more day. Moving out 30 something cooler filled with product plus the product we hadn’t touched was a bitch. Not even going to lie about it. We had to bag up all leftover product and tag it by flavor so we could get a true ending inventory. This took almost 2 days to do. Plus trying to keep the local staff motivated as they too are nearing the end. Luckily I was blessed our team just kept the focus as we kept moving. The hotel did a great job of getting all the coolers moved. And I was blessed with my Jill who is the worlds best counter. I keep telling she needs to be an accountant but she said she doesn’t like the idea of sitting at a desk all day. She is brilliant with numbers.

I do have to give an honorable mention to Coke – they had a lot of customer gifts leftover so they were more than generous that everyone got a swag bag. I mean everyone including us managers are walking away with a suitcase of goodies.

Saying good bye to the local staff proved to be hard. I have come to learn all their personalities and cherish each and every one of them. As I was saying goodbye to them for the last time after all the inventory had been done – Rob came in to the office and said everyone wanted to have their pictures taken with me. I said fine (as I was missing the Coke staff party to start flying back to the States) I go bouncing out off the office to say ok, let’s take a picture. I said do you all want some pictures made. They all looked up with their beautiful faces and said yes they wanted to take some pictures with me in them. I said great let’s do it..and they all sat there. It was when I realized they didn’t have a camera. Only Rebecca did. So I ran to get my camera and told them I would post them on my web site so they would be able to see. I thought the whole thing was so sweet and makes me realize how blessed I am. In the US we say Cheese to have our picture taken in China the say Eggplant because the word Eggplant in Mandarin sounds like the US word Cheese.

A couple of things I hadn’t mentioned that I would like to do so now. Is in China they don’t put the calorie information on any of their food packaging. I didn’t really know this. The first week of the games I went to the OHC and asked Rebecca if she would like a piece of candy. She said NO she went to McDonalds on the Olympic Green and had a Big Mac which was 800 calories and she needs to watch her diet. I thought it was a funny thing to say and didn’t think much more about it. Then as I wrote earlier Helen and I went. She too starts chirping away at the caloric value of the foods I was eating. It was then I realized that this is all new to them. I asked this a couple days later to the staff and they said no. They don’t put any calories on any of their packaging this is why they were so intrigued with the McDonalds packaging.

Regarding medical emergencies if you had one you were in good shape if you were working with Coke. They hired an outside agency that bought in doctors and we had an ambulance at the hotel at all times. The Doc who was there the first part was from Russia. Then halfway through we had a gal from S. Africa. Both were great and kept busy with the usual aches and pains. I had lunch with the S. African Doctor. She was asking about some of our sweets. She said a doctor in her clinic went to America once and came back with some Mr. Jelly Belly candies. She was commenting on some weird flavors of their jelly beans. We had to explain to her they were weird to us too. This lady also bought back flavored popcorn which the doctor found quite good.

I think I talked a bit about dating…but I want to touch on it again as I am winding down this Olympic blog. Watching dating and relationships in Chinese culture has such an incredible sweetness to it. You don’t hear the dirty jokes, the swearing none of the crudeness that we experience as teenagers in the US. Here boys really respect the girls and it takes them quite a bit of time to build up the nerves to talk to a gal. There were 9 local gals and 1 guy (Rob) on my team. Coke had another container that had beverage and these drinks went on all the busses that took people for tours, airport and to and from the various venues. I helped manage that product and there were 6 boys that were part of the cooler container team. Their lead was a nice looking Chinese boy named Sid or in Mandarin CED. Towards the end we were toggling drinks back and forth from the container to the hotel – or we would go to the container to help them when we got deliveries. Well 9 gals on the team going to help out 6 boys was a funny combination. Sid in a very sweet non threatening way really enjoyed being with us and helping us out. He enjoyed getting to talk to the gals in mutual environment. Plus it didn’t hurt that they were all adorable. One day I went over to the container with a couple of guys to get some product from him and he kept saying he couldn’t help me this was the girl’s job. I said I know Sid but we are short staffed this morning I need you to help me. No, this is the girl’s job and he was insistent. Then it hit me..he wanted just the girls to be around. Not that he would do any inappropriate just that it was a teenage boy being a teenage boy. But in the innocence he would never ask any of them out but was happy with the idea of hanging out with them and talking to them. I finally caught on to what he was wanted and promised the girls would come out and help him as soon as they got here and that seemed to satisfy him. He then pitched in to help me out. This scenario turned out to be more of a bonus because when Sid wasn’t busy he would show up where we were to help. Trust me that worked for us as the girls seemed to enjoy him as well. It turned out that Jill went to school with him. I don’t think they had classes together just saw each other in the hallway. I told all the girls to go up to Sid or CED at the closing staff party and make sure they thank him for all his help.

A couple of days prior to closing Helen came to me and was upset. Gina overheard some security guards talking and mentioned they had Helen on tape stealing some Vitaminwater and putting it into her boyfriend’s black car. Helen wanted to tell me about it in case I got wind of it prior to her telling me. I called Michele over because it was a staffing issue. Actually something like this was reported to KO security but the story was switched around a bit…but we all knew it was a lie because for starters Helen doesn’t have a boyfriend, second I think Helen knows few people that have a car and third it would never occur to Helen to steal anything. She was very passionately telling Michele and I this story on how it would be impossible for her to steal this water. I tell Helen and Michele very dead pan that I believed Helen because if Helen was going to steal anything I would like to think it would be something more than Vitaminwater. Helen started laughing and immediately said “of course” I would steal you (meaning me) a BMW and she looked at Michele and said she would steal her a Mercedes. Then we all started laughing. Helen saying all of this was a big deal because I was being totally sarcastic in English and not only did she get the joke but she knew to continue on with the joke in English. Her comprehension was definitely improving. We assured Helen she was in no trouble and to forget it. A couple of days later she came to me and wanted to know if I found out anything about the incident. And why would anyone say anything like that about her. I told her to she needs to “let it drop” she was in no trouble at all. That we all love her. She asked was that the same as “let it be” I said they are similar and gave her some examples of the difference. Then oddly enough later on in the day – she and I were standing there and Rob told me about something and he said “let it drop”..and Helen looked at me and started laughing as she felt like she had a better understanding of the difference.

The other couple of generalizations I can say about the Chinese – they are passionate about their food. It is common that a Chinese will ask you if you have had something to eat before they even say hello. I have said this a number of times but they are wonderful about numbers..and last if they borrow something even if it is a pen that are very exact about returning it to you.

I must say the main reason why I started this blog was more to preserve the memories for myself. For those of you who read it I hope that you have enjoyed it. I can honestly say this has been one of the most incredible work experiences that I have ever had. It wasn’t about the guest experience for me it was about the staffing experience and getting to spend some time and observe a culture so different from our own.

I missed the staff party because I had to start my journey home. I flew 9:00 pm Beijing to Seoul Korea. Spent the night and then 10:00 am crossing over to Atlanta. I am writing this from the airplane. Wan was so generous to go to the Pearl Market the day of my product move out to buy all the girls a little bracelet as a gift. Wan ran in a million different directions this Olympics all with a lot of style and grace under very stressful conditions and all while speaking English and Mandarin. In addition to serving as translator to the rest of the staff. I asked Wan when she reflects back on the Olympics 5 months from now what will stand out for her. Wan promptly said all the layers and layers of bureaucracy. No one could make a decision and yet everyone wanted to make a decision. The frustrating oddity of it. At the hotel we had a health inspector living on site to do inspections everyday at any time of day or night. Same with the fire inspector. We were at these people’s whim’s even though plans were submitted and approved. The taxes that were imposed on everything just for the course of the Olympics. But yet no one seems to know about these things before hand. They are implemented along the way with any notice. This will be a part that Wan said was more overwhelming than ever. Wan should know this is her 20th Olympic games. I called her the Olympic Diva.

As we are all blowing out our own personal Olympic torches this is what is in store for the F & B local staff.

Rob my XPAT who just graduated college in St. Louis is leaving Beijing today to go visit his parents for a couple of weeks. He has an apartment in Manhattan and starts his first out of college grown up job in November. Rob is a good guy; he will do well. Plus it doesn’t hurt that he is almost fluent in Mandarin. I think he is planning on going back over to China to live for 6 month increments to work on projects. I tease him and tell him in 10 years when I look him up we will meet in Chinatown for lunch.

Fidelia is starting back to her medical residency this fall in obgyn.

Serina is hoping to get into grad school. I am not sure for what. She gave me a beautiful gift from Russia. Her Chinese home state boarders Russia.

Gina, Jill, Ann, Helen, Gloria, Jill and Kate are all going back to school

And Rebecca is going back to teach English this fall.

This is my final Olympic story and I am sticking to it.

Thank you to anyone who took the time to read this blog.

With Fondest Memories and Deepest Appreciation.
Claire R. Gould

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