Monday, March 24, 2008

Beijing 2008

I read this story on MSNBC this morning, whilst awaiting Sooz's arrival for our twice-weekly swim training session.

And I saw a few pictures that look something like this:

In case you're wondering, that's a picture from a vocational school in China, where girls train to become flight attendants. Most of them are also learning etiquette in hopes of being selected to be medal ceremony hostesses at this year's Summer Olympics.

Excerpts from the article:

The young women practice posture by balancing books on their heads while squeezing a sheet of paper between the knees. A perfect smile is honed by hours in front of a mirror with a chopstick clasped between the teeth.

“The smile should be spontaneous. If it’s a fake smile, then it doesn’t look good,” Yang said, her hands folded primly at the waist. “When we practice smiling, we hold a chopstick between our teeth and try to think about something happy.”

Some of those will likely be picked for the actual games, said Li Zhanjun, director of the Beijing Olympics media center. He would not say how many would be chosen or what criteria was used to pick presenters.

The 32 students in Yang’s class said they were thrilled by the possibility of being part of the Olympics, an event China’s communist government intends to use to show the world it is ready to take its place among the ranks of great nations.

“We want (visitors) to think that China is a polite country that really lives up to its name,” said 17-year-old Feng Jiale, who wore a Communist Youth League pin on her airline uniform.

“I want them to know that the Chinese people are refined, that we really are confident about our country,” said 16-year-old Feng Shuo.

Beijing Olympics organizers’ pickiness in choosing hostesses illustrates the inordinate amount of planning that has gone into the upcoming games. Four years ago, the laidback Greeks selected hostesses from among the general pool of volunteers following brief interviews, a former Athens Games official said.

By turning to the state-run flight attendant schools, organizers are picking from among a group selected for their physical attributes and ability to make a good impression.

At Changping, students must stand between 5-foot-6 and 5-foot-8 and weigh 110 to 120 pounds. They learn English, French, German, Japanese and Korean. Classes in applying makeup are part of the curriculum.

A class of young women, age 16 to 18, gave a demonstration in the school gymnasium on Wednesday to show off the proper posture and how to walk with a tray. (“The forearms and upper arms must form a 90 degree angle,” the teacher reminded them.)

They practiced bows of 15, 30 and 45 degrees, holding the poses even though they appeared rather uncomfortable.

China is often accused of human rights violations and torturing political prisoners. Unspeakable horror stories come out of dissenters, the brave students who sat in Tiananmen Square over 17 years ago are long forgotten. The Internet is censored completely by what the government calls "The Golden Shield."

I am certain that China is a country of great beauty, history and culture. However, there is enough evidence in my mind to suggest that Nicolas Sarkozy might just have it right this time; we might very well be best served to boycott this Olympics. I am certain it won't happen because the corporate culture of America won't permit it. Nike and Adidas have billions tied up in the athletes, the airline sponsorships are worth millions, the broadcasting rights alone are worth inordinate amounts of money, and no CEO would allow his stock to plummet over political issues and American values. Such is our culture now - the almighty dollar rules most everything, most of the time.

The picture above is just a kinder, gentler example of what China does to its citizens on a regular basis, in order to preserve its self image and maintain its devotion to outward appearances.

Sure, she's wearing a beautifully tailored suit, and she's got a smile on her face.

It still looks like torture to me.

Today's training:Swimming
100 free warm-up, 50 kick, 50 pull
Main set: 4x200, 45 second RI
50 breast cooldown
Total yardage: 950

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