presented by Gaitpost Magazine

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Hong Kong: Lucky 13

In Chinese culture, the number thirteen is considered lucky. All of the journalists on this trip are in rooms numbered 13, so we are all on different floors, piled directly on top of one another. I’m in room 1413, but I guess if I were really lucky I’d be in 1313. The unlucky bit is that the internet stopped working, but with only two days left before heading home to YVR, I decided not to whine about it. Some in the group haven’t had internet yet – at least I had a one day honeymoon. And speaking of connectivity, internet on site at the games will cost a whopping 7800 HK dollars, which is almost exactly $1000 CAD. Since that is roughly how much I intend to pay for my sleeps, and since those sleeps (today IS my lucky day because I’ve found a guesthouse at the university right across the river from the venue) include free internet, I will not be buying into the games internet plan, thank you very much.

We had some good luck yesterday too. Toward the end of our from-the-sidelines tour of the cross country course at Beas River, Michael Etherington-Smith (the course designer for those of you not-in-the-eventing-know) turned up fresh off the plane. The course is being built while the golf course is in continuous use by some impressively bad golfers, and our tour guides were concerned for our safety – not to mention the happiness of the club members, who have already been reluctant to share their golfing haven with the course builders. Mike pshawed the risk of our getting beaned by stray golf balls and led us to one of the two water complexes. One journalist from Norway got so giddy about her proximity to Mike that we nearly had to drag her away by the feet (but not before the rest of us had pumped him for as many sound bites as we could get).

The course is not very near completion, but because the golf course (one of three at the country club) will be in continued use until shortly before the games, course builder Dave Evans told us he is assembling many obstacles in the work yard, to be moved or reassembled on the course much closer to the date. We watched Dave wielding his chain saw as he created a wooden dragon (whose exact use on the course Dave cagily avoided divulging) and I learned that a pre-requisite to being a top notch course designer these days is a Master’s degree in chain saw art. The course may not be ready, but the footing has been in place for at least a year, and passed with flying colours at last year’s test event, which was a test in a very important respect: there was a typhoon before the cross country. The setting at Beas River is bucolic and doesn’t lack for shade, which will come in handy in August. From what we have been told, it seems nothing logistical has been forgotten in the planning, including ease of transport for the 20,000 spectators who will be able to attend on the big day.

Continuing to Impress

I don’t remember exactly in what way the Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) is the biggest in the world, but it probably has something to do with the fact that every race meeting is worth around a billion Hong Kong Dollars (that’s about 128 million CAD – or USD, take your pick). They run an incredibly tight ship, from the quality of the turf on the track to the care of their 1200 horses. I don’t think most of the people who have been invited to tour the facilities and see how these games are being organized (a treat for us, and unprecedented for equestrian journalists), could possibly have appreciated beforehand the degree to which the HKJC is equipped to do this. We’ve been spending a lot of time over the past two days with the JC’s Manager of Equestrian Affairs, Soenke Lauterbach. His background is with Aachen, and his future is with the German Federation. “When I came here about a year and a half ago, I spent a lot of time explaining to people that no, racing is not an Olympic discipline,” he told us. Where HK has lacked the expertise, they haven’t been shy about importing it from Europe or elsewhere; Soenke is living proof of that.

And They’re Off!

We were treated to an evening at the races last night, which was an opportunity for me to rediscover that I do not have the gambling itch – the same could not be said for a couple of people in the group, but no one lost their shirts. For the second-to-last race we were taken down to the starting gate for an up-close look at that terrifying moment in every race horse’s day. British photographer Kit Houghton got some fantastic shots of the finish, which made me nearly want to take out a loan to buy a camera like he has. We continue to be fed like Hansel and Gretel, and I must say that one of the main reasons I would return to Hong Kong (other than for the events of this summer) is the food. And notwithstanding the indifferent service regarding internet at this hotel (I know, I know I should just shut up about it), I have found the people to be hospitable and friendly – no small feat for a city that packs 7 million people onto a postage stamp.

The HOG?

If my blogs this week have seemed a little more tame and polite than usual, or if you’ve noticed the scarcity of the word ‘Olympic’, here is the reason: the IOC has issued a set of blogging guidelines for accredited media. It’s the first time such a set of guidelines has been imposed, because of course blogging barely existed a few years ago. The guidelines are written in a kind of legalese, instilling fear but not understanding in this lowly Canadian journalist. What is not ambiguous is the threat that if any accredited journalists are found to be writing things that are deemed contrary to the spirit of the games they will be stripped of their accreditation and sent home lickity-split. I don’t believe I lack a proper degree of the right spirit. I am very excited about spending my August writing about all the athletic wonders that will take place in Hong Kong; I also hope to recognize in print (and virtual print) the performances of a lifetime for some of our Canadians. I do not want to become a media casualty, so I am thinking about avoiding the use of the trademarked terms in my blogs, Olympic being the primary one. Don’t be confused if, come this summer, I am reporting to you from an event called the HOG, which is, I think, a good amalgamation of the name of the host city and you-know-what. And as far as I know, it is not a trademarked term, or at least not for the greatest sporting event on earth.

No comments: