What I've Learned: Final Edition

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greatwall.JPGAs I leave China tomorrow, I'd like to post a final note on all of the things I've learned here in China. (Click here to view the first and second installment of What I've Learned.) Enjoy, after the jump:

Kidd Signs With Peak

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Jason Kidd won a gold medal here in Beijing. But before he went back to the States, he made an unusual move: he decided to leave Nike -- his longtime sponsor, and the sponsor of the U.S. men's Olympic team -- and signed with a Chinese shoe company, Peak.

He'll join Shane Battier as a Peak endorser, and he'll be just the third non-Houston Rockets player -- Shaq and Damon Jones are the others -- to sign with a Chinese shoe company.

Kidd shot his new Chinese ad before heading back to the U.S., and if it's as widely run as Battier's ad, he'll be as well known as Kobe and Carmelo before the year is out.

The Beijing Shofar

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I haven't been keeping track of all of the weird things I've seen in Beijing, and that's probably a good thing. I don't know if the Internet has room for all of them.

Here is one strange moment that I did manage to capture on video, though. I was walking through Sanlitun this week when a car drove past with an obvious horn problem. No one even really seemed to notice the noise.


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I'm Jewish, and when I was a kid, my family used to have Friday night Shabbat dinners. There was one staple of every Shabbat dinner at the Oshinsky house: at the end of the meal, we'd go around the table and give thanks for something that had happened that week. We'd seen a few family friends do it at dinner one time, and my parents liked the tradition.

Particularly, they enjoyed the response that our friends' eldest child provided when asked to speak. I'm thankful for the toilet, he'd say. That always got big laughs.

Here in China, though, I do want to give thanks for a number of things, and weirdly enough, the toilet is on that list. Trust me when I say: compared to the holes in the ground that pass as public facilities here, the "Western-style" toilet in my hotel room is a post-gastronomic sanctuary.

In two months on this blog, we've posted nearly 250 entries and north of 50,000 words. We've received more than 125 comments, and if we hadn't accidentally blocked the commenting feature for the first six weeks of the blog, we might have even heard a bit more from readers.

The people who've made this blog possible are almost too numerous to list. So, briefly:

Thanks to The General, Julie at the visa office, Evander Holyfield, Mike and Dan at Club Bud, Abe for the Sanlitun adventures, Sam for showing me the best meatball sub in town, Becca for finding me that pop-a-shot machine, whoever the tailor at CCTV is, the Nigerian cheering section, Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post for the pop-a-shot contest, the Brazilian swim and dive team, Tim Hilbert, Cameltoe and the rest of the Hashers, Jim Boyce, Paul Astephen, Steve Schwankert, Will Smith and Flight of the Conchords, the entire nations of Holland and New Zealand, Grandmaster Qi, Matt Schrader for lunch, the Chicago and Washington, D.C., consulates, John at the BIMC, the entire Fitzgerald family, Lisa the Jamaican roommate, Ken Tremendous, Allen at the English Corner, the marvelous tailors at Beijing Ya Xiu Silk at the YaShow Market, the kind salespeople at Li Ning and Anta, George Wang over at Silk Street, whoever makes the dumplings at the Renmin University Foreign Students Canteen and anyone and everyone who offered me assistance on the street when I was lost and confused.

To all at the Rocky who've helped make this possible: thank you.

And to China, for all of the hurdles you put me through, let me say this: Liu Xiang didn't make it over all of them, either. I guess that's consolation.

I Heart BJ

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Seen at the Temple of Heaven today: this woman, wearing that unusual hat.

Yes, Beijingers do like to refer to the city as "BJ," but there's still something strange about seeing a Chinese woman who does not speak English walking around at a 15th century Taoist temple with a hat that makes merchandise from the University of South Carolina seem tame. Not sure what that something is.

Please do not overrun our commenting section with "That's What She Said" jokes.

En Fuego

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onfire1.jpgI've been trying to find this one particular sign for the last two months. I've seen some weird signs so far, but nothing nearly as strange as this.

But today, riding in a taxi back from the Forbidden City, I noticed the sign up ahead on the road, and my cab driver was going slow enough for me to snap a photo of it. At right, you're looking at the least sensical sign in all of Beijing.

What could that sign possibly be saying? No flaming vehicles in this lane? No bonfires on the roof of your car when driving? I'm just not sure.

Weirdly enough, my journalism degree doesn't cover road signs that don't make any sense. I'm starting to think that maybe it should.

Liu Xiang = The U.S. Men's Soccer Team?

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donovan.JPGI've been trying to figure out a proper American equivalent for Liu Xiang for a few weeks now, and it's been tough. He's one of the most marketable athletes in the world. He won China's first track & field gold medal. In the process, Chinese feel that he shattered the stereotype that they cannot compete in any sprint-type event. Chinese regard him as a symbol of progress here, perhaps even a symbol of China's future as a superpower in many new, diverse regions of economics and politics.

There is a team in America's past that I do feel brings out a similar sense of nationalism among Americans: the 1980 Miracle on Ice squad. Had that team lived in today's world, Nike would have had them in "Just Do It" ads immediately. They'd have sold commemorative skates and star spangled jerseys in their stores.

But Nike wasn't advertising like that back in 1980. Still, there is one team that -- if they won a major international competition -- could be the Chinese equivalent of Liu Xiang.

I'm talking about the U.S. men's soccer team.

If -- and, yes, this is a big if -- the U.S. men's team was to win the World Cup, it would be an enormous triumph for Americans. The U.S. team has never been regarded as a powerhouse; the sport isn't among the top four most popular in the States. So a championship would certainly shatter the notion that Americans are only good at team sports like basketball or football. It would bring instant credibility to the sport, which is already played by millions of youths around the country. It would be a historic moment in U.S. sport.

Liu Xiang faced similar conditions. The Chinese had never won gold in any track event. The sport is behind other Chinese favorites, like basketball, badminton, gymnastics or soccer. Now, it's growing in popularity, and the Chinese consider Liu Xiang to be a legend, despite his decision not to run in these Olympics.

A U.S. win would be seen by millions both domestically and abroad. Soccer doesn't get great ratings in the States, but the World Cup draws big numbers. So did the the 2004 Olympics, where Liu Xiang won gold.

In terms of marketing, the opportunity would be practically unprecedented in the States. Nike's the sponsor of the men's team, and the players would become instant celebrities. Soccer TV ads are already visually stunning; insert Americans instead of European stars into those ads, and imagine the potential for Nike.

After he won gold, Liu Xiang started endorsing everything, and his commercials inspired new track programs all across China.

It's not an exact comparison, though. Liu Xiang's victory was viewed here as a major triumph for an entire race of Chinese people. But the U.S. team is racially and culturally diverse. There is no such stereotype that Americans -- due to our genetic makeup as Americans -- are unable to play soccer at a high level.

That aside, there's still one major obstacle for the U.S. soccer team to becoming the American version of Liu Xiang: they still have to win a major competition first.

[photo by Vincent Yu/Associated Press]

U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

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A month ago, as I was fighting with the Chinese over my press credential, I told a friend here that I was looking forward to August 28 at about 4:11 p.m. That's when my flight back to the States is scheduled to take off.

At the moment when the wheels lift off from the ground, I told him, I feel like I might just turn to the person next to me on the plane and start ranting about all of the strange things that have happened here to me. It's a 14 hour flight to Chicago. I'm not sure that I'll have enough time to go through everything.

I mean, last week, I saw a man run out into the middle of a six lane highway and catch a pigeon with his bare hands, and that wasn't among the top five strangest things that I've seen happen this week.

Here's a good way to sum up the way I feel about my return to the U.S.: check out the last few seconds of this "Daily Show" report from Rob Riggle. I empathize.

Trading Unrelated to Olympic Pins

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Around the world, TV stations are returning to their regularly scheduled programming. But here in China, it's tough to even remember what regularly scheduled programming is. All I've seen on CCTV -- besides the occasional soap or non-soap opera -- is hype for the Olympics.

I wouldn't call their post-Olympic coverage incredible. At around noontime, CCTV-9 was airing an interview about Austria's economy plans for the European Union. CCTV-Olympics was showing a Michael Phelps montage.

CCTV-2, however, was showing something oddly familiar: a Chinese version of "Trading Spaces."

The end product for one of the family's houses -- including a jacuzzi and two new flat screen TVs -- cost 7,900 yuan ($1,153.59). I'd say that glitter consisted of about 90% of the budget for the entire project.

But after seeing Chinese "Trading Spaces," I'm optimistic that I'll be seeing Chinese "Family Feud" in the very near future.

Ad Watch: Post-Games Delicious Happiness

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The Games are over, which means it's time for sponsors to find new ways to ride the Olympics' coattails. Coca Cola -- or, as it's known here, Delicious Happiness -- is coming out with a new bottle to celebrate the Olympics and China's decisive victory in the gold medal count.

Here's their TV ad for the new bottle: