Um, really? The “no-fun Olympics”

Courtesy of some foreign media in Beijing, welcome to the trend of the week- the ‘no fun’ Olympics (just Google the phrase and you’ll see). I’ll post something detailed on why I think some reports are inaccurate, but here are some talking points I wrote for interviews with, ironically, the media.

“No fun” for whom?
Most media reports do not distinguish between local residents, foreign residents, local tourists, foreign tourists, corporate guests, and so on. It feels like they are talking in good part about what foreign residents consider fun and, given many of the reporters live here, thus about themselves.

What do they mean “no fun”?
It seems they mean things like: 1) a half-dozen venues closed at the entrance to Workers’ Stadium*, 2) a handful of venues banned from hosting live music outside, and 3) ID checks by police. They also disproportionately cite people who have been personally and negatively impacted by these measures, hardly the kind to be objective about “fun.”  Please note that at the time of writing, hundreds of spots – thousands if you are open to more localized venues – are still slated to be open.

What do they mean by “fun”?
They mean nightlife. But they should consider, for example, that foreign tourists might prefer to not spend all their time in bars and instead watch events, eat Beijing duck and scorpions on a stick, visit the Great Wall and Forbidden City, shop, try some Mandarin on the locals, and ogle the size of the city, all things they will find fun.

The thing is, we don’t know if the Olympics will be fun, because we don’t know what other measures the government might take or, in terms of nightlife, exactly how many people will be out and about (due to corporate parties and, what I consider the biggest factor, visa issues). But my guess is that those who do come will define fun as more than nightlife, that if they do hit the bars they will find most of them open, , and that many residents – including foreign journalists – will end up having a good time.

I’ll have a more detailed post either later today or tomorrow morning.

Note: Interestingly, numerous long-term foreign residents in Beijing say some of their best partying came amidst the doom and gloom of SARS. I wonder if they’ll find the same during the “no fun” Olympics.

* These venues are a stone’s throw from Workers Stadium, which will host some soccer matches. The media portrays their closing as part of the “no fun” Olympics. But if they had remained open, and some major security breach occurred, the media would then have portrayed it as part of the “no security” Olympics. Sometimes you just can’t win.

30 thoughts on “Um, really? The “no-fun Olympics””

  1. Beijing Boyce:

    I could not agree more!

    The media have been running wild with two grossly misleading story lines:

    – That the Olympics will be “No Fun”

    – That the city’s five-star hotels will be empty during the Games

    Both could not be further from the truth.

    No Fun? I think it would be very difficult not to have fun during the Games. There is more to the city than Worker’s Stadium. What is the definition of “fun?”

    Also, the city’s five-star hotels will be packed full during the Games. The media did not distinguish between five-star hotels participating in the BOCOG hotel program and those that chose not to. Most five-star hotels are participating in the BOCOG program and will be at full capacity because they have been assigned a corporate sponsor, diplomatic or media delegation. If you really believe the media reports that five-star hotels are at 70 percent capacity, just try calling them and making a Games-time reservation.

  2. Problem is negative news supposedly sells better. Not sure if anyone has ever proven that, but that’s the way newspapers operate.

  3. Boyce you c!#$@$!^@# m^#$@#$^#@!^! Go back to Iowa with all them g&#$&#& tourists that are having such a d#$@ good time not eating Kro’s pizza and not drinking at the Pavilion!

    [Edited for profanity]

  4. “With a martini in one hand and a laptop in the other, Canadian expatriate Jim Boyce strives to provide “a consumer’s view of the bar scene in Beijing” with his semi-eponymous blog”, I read in PC World. So I came and read and saw…. denial!!! Well, do you really think it’s a foreign media biased or a kind of conspiring theory? Like the chinese government? Every person I know who has or manages a night business in Beijing, from Pink Loft to the Kerry Center Hotel, is complaining about empty rooms and tables. Maggie’s, an institution in the city, is closed, as the dance floor of Destination, the only gay club in Beijing. No music festivals for two months. D22 is closed (although Mao Live, chinese-japanese owned, is open), the Stone Boat Bar at Ritan Park can´t play music. Do you need more examples or is it a kind of I-live-in-denial-because-I-have-a-blog-about-bars-and-clubs-in-Beijing syndrome? It’s not a mere bunch of places at workers stadium, buddy. And China is already a huge source of negative and positive stories. Foreign press doesn´t need to invent another one to sell newspapers. Today, the spokesperson of Bocog’s security told to an astonished group of journalists that they are creating the “neighborhood volunteers”, about 400 thounsand Beijiners willing to inform police and authorities about everything “strange” in the city, from threats of bombs to …..prostitution or people spitting on the streets. This a cultural revolution nightmare!!! Drop the martini and the laptop, please!

  5. @ BJE,

    I agree, the whole hotel occupancy thing is tricky. I can say, however, there is excess capacity at Chateau Boyce during the Olympics (visa policy!).

    @ Mike,

    Yes, negative stories about “no fun.” Ironic, isn’t it.

    @ Scuba,

    Some of the best diving in the world is to be had there in Iowa, my friend.

    @ Gilbert,

    I am in denial because I think tourists will come here, see the Great Wall, eat Beijing duck, watch the Games, and so on, and leave having had a good time? First, you should re-read the article and see the distinction that I’ve made between residents and visitors. Do you really think people are coming here in August and with “see live music at D-22 and The Stone Boat” as a “must dos” on their itineraries?

    And no, I don’t think it’s a media conspiracy, I think it’s pack journalism. This story sells so now everyone is trying to package it for their own publications

    Cheers, Boyce

  6. Gilberto … “No music festivals for two months” …

    ‘Scuse me, you don’t live here year-round, do you?

    Beijing regularly goes entire seasons without a “music festival” … Music festivals happen two times a YEAR in Beijing, if we’re lucky. There’s the midi festival (oh GOD what am i going to do with my time now that i can’t go watch the same 15 derivative bands play in a different order than they played at last Saturday’s Nameless Highland death metal night?) and that chaoyang park “who’s washed up now” tour of western bands (where it’s fun to count how many of the guys in the band’s original line up are now dead).

    So they didn’t happen this year … they weren’t even scheduled to take place during the olympics anyhow.

    I mean more power to those music festival organizers (you gotta start somewhere) but to think the it is the Olympics that have somehow turned Beijing from a once thriving center of monthly music festivals into a cultural oasis is just the sort of undue media hype Beijing Boyce is onto with his above post.

  7. As a long term resident, let’s see what ‘fun’ we are having…

    – unable to drive my perfectly good car daily and have to either try and find a taxi or suffer the crush of people in the subway
    – random ID checks
    – aforementioned closed restaurants in gong ti area
    – unable to ship liquids/powders (which affects my business)
    – post office nazis for posting of regular items
    – annoyance of foreign clients wanting to get China visa

    And who knows what else is to come in the next 2 weeks before games begin?

    So, fun depends on where you stand. And as further comment, SARS was ‘fun’ only because restaurants were empty, traffic was bearable and most of us were immune from the insanity of measures the Beijing government instituted once they finally acknowledged the enormity of the situation.

  8. Seems some (not all) people are complaining b/c prostitutes are no longer easy to pick up from bars. If that’s the case, I don’t have sympathy.

  9. boyce, such great points. I find all this talk about the “no fun” Games typically coming from expats who are annoyed about visas or a closure of their favorite spot (often Maggies) and can’t help but laugh.

  10. oops, another nail in the coffin of the “no fun” olympics story: D-22, sited in the lead of a newsweek piece about how beijing won’t be fun for the olympics (http://tinyurl.com/newsweek-beijing-bars), is having live shows again this weekend.

    From this week’s 7 Days in Beijing newsletter:

    Saturday, July 26
    » Joyside, Scoff, Casino Demon and Linga
    D-22 regulars celebrate the return of live music to the venue. RMB 30-40.
    10pm. D-22 (6265 3177)

  11. Would you prefer the phrase “the killjoy Olympics”, Boyce?

    These stories are coming from the angle of what the government is trying to do – reduce the amount of fun that people can have outside of the Games themselves – rather than saying it is impossible that anyone will have any “fun”. “No fun at all” might well be the CP’s aim, in an ideal world; but, ever pragmatic, they content themselves with just pissing people off a little.

    There have been a whole raft of measures directed against entertainment venues and events – and, mostly, at the kind of things that foreigners (Westerners) tend to enjoy more than Chinese; KTV lounges and Chivas & Green Tea bars don’t seem to have been getting it in the neck in the same way.

    This has absolutely nothing to do with ‘security’ in the conventional sense (well, certainly not with anti-terrorism). Western tourists do tend to have the same interests as Western resident expats. Seeing the historical sites and the Olympic events will only keep them busy during the day. Restrictions on the nightlife scene will inconvenience and disappoint them to some degree (though not so much as those of us who know what we’re missing). Some visitors – not a lot, but a significant minority – might be looking forward to trying out a music club like D-22 that they’ve read about in the Western music press.

    You’re right, Boyce, that overseas visitor numbers are low mainly because of visa policy. But it is possible to get visas; difficult, but possible. The government, I think, really wants to discourage Westerners from attending the Games, and this nightlife crackdown is part of that policy. It also wants to discourage those of us that are here from going out much in the evenings.

    What annoys me most about this is not any inconvenience I might suffer (I wouldn’t be seen dead in any of the Gongti venues, apart from Kro’s; the only thing I miss about Maggie’s is the hotdogs; and I have no great love for D-22 or its house bands or Michael Pettis), but the sheer unreasonableness and stupidity of it. It demonstrates the desperate control-freakery of the Chinese government at its worst. (It also suggests – rather worryingly – that they haven’t got a goddamned clue about ensuring real security during the Olympics, and are just pursuing their usual approach of running around like headless chickens, preferring to be seen to be active rather than to be effective.)

    I know the emphasis of your post, Boyce, is on the tendency of the media to trivialise and exaggerate, and to jump on easy bandwagons, all pursuing the same stories to death. Fair enough, but you’d do better to stick to mocking things like the scorpions-on-a-stick obsession. When you seek to diminish the significance of the crackdown on bars and live music, you tend to come across as an apologist for the government. The restrictions on the nightlife scene are a major story. The overseas media are quite right to make a big deal out of this, I think. I’d like to see more thorough and more serious discussion of it.

  12. @ b. cheng,

    I agree – the whole thing seems very personalized.

    @ m-dawg,

    But will they have outdoor seating?

    @ froog,

    Calling me an apologist when you have disproved anything I’ve written, and in fact admitted you agree with it, is a bit hypocritical, don’t you think?

    By the way, you say the media tends to “trivialize and exaggerate.” All I’m doing is trying to provide another view. That’s not seeking to “diminish” anything – it’s putting it into perspective.

    Cheers, Boyce

  13. Not hypocritical at all.

    I was trying to be sympathetic – perhaps too sympathetic – with your purpose in writing this post; but I disagree with the general tenor of it.

    Your ‘perspective’ is a ‘diminished’ one.

    I didn’t set out to “disprove” anything, since this post is mainly an opinion rather than a factual piece. I merely register my disagreement with it. To my mind, the banning of these bars is A HUGE F***ING DEAL – not because of its practical impact (yes, there are still plenty of other bars we can go to), but because of the political motivations behind it, and because it is so symbolic of the inept approach to maintaining public order in this country.

    Hey, but if you’re looking for some disproof…..

    Your pooh-poohing of the examples cited of the crackdown was so perspective-diminishing (perhaps I should just say ‘inaccurate’?) as to suggest a conscious bias. You say “a half-dozen venues at the entrance to the Workers’ Stadium” closed down. In fact, as I understand, it’s all the venues within the complex, not just at the north gate, and that’s way more than six. And there has been talk of extending it to other bars in the vicinity, but not within the complex at all, like The Pavilion. And then, of course, there’s places like Maggie’s and Propaganda that are nowhere near any of the Olympic venues….

    You say “a handful of music bars banned from hosting live music outside”. In fact, all venues across the entire city are prohibited from playing live music outside. And 3 of the 6 main rock music venues have been banned from having live music inside. And most of the smaller music bars are living in fear of being closed down, enduring almost daily harrassment from the police and the chengguan.

    You mention ID checks without comment, but seem to imply that this is an unimportant issue. We are not talking about legitimate security activities here (focusing on individuals acting suspiciously, especially in the vicinity of Olympic venues, while the Games are in progress….). No, this is just inept and random harrassment – usually done by ‘police reserves’ or neighbourhood volunteers rather than proper policemen, people who don’t speak any English and who don’t show you their own ID.

    By diminishing the extent of these problems in this way, and choosing instead to deride the foreign media, you do come off as a pro-government propagandist: “Oh, it’s not that bad really.”

    I don’t disagree with your general point that it will still be possible to have fun here next month – but I think it’s a trivial, facetious and irrelevant point. The importance of these “no fun” stories is the political sub-text that the government here is dedicated to trying to stop foreigners having much fun. I am disappointed that you seem to be trivialising or ignoring that aspect of the story.

    Is this just an attempt to boost the numbers of your Chinese fans, Mr Boyce??

  14. @ Froog,

    I understand where you’re coming from, but I stand by my statement that most people, including foreign residents, tourists, and Beijingers will – barring any big changes – have fun in the end. Whatever sub-text, this needs to be part of the story and the media haven’t addressed it in enough depth – is the average Beijinger affected by a relatively few venues being closed? Do the examples they cite represent the scene? Etc. A pizza place or night club temporarily closed for legitimate security concerns doesn’t cut it in my books.

    Cheers, Boyce

  15. Froog: “There have been a whole raft of measures directed against entertainment venues and events – and, mostly, at the kind of things that foreigners (Westerners) tend to enjoy more than Chinese; KTV lounges and Chivas & Green Tea bars don’t seem to have been getting it in the neck in the same way.

    This has absolutely nothing to do with ‘security’ in the conventional sense (well, certainly not with anti-terrorism).”

    Perhaps the authorities have learned a bit from the terrorist bombings in Bali (that targeted bars populated almost exclusively by foreigners specifically because that generates the most international press for their causes).

    As for whether the chivas and green tea set are being spared a crackdown, i think you’re wrong — after all mix is far more popular with the chivas/green tea crowd than westerners

  16. Why not do something else for a change, Boyce? Is it that fun for your foreigners to sit in a bar and talk loudly and lol all night over a beer?

    A suggestion:In Poly Theater there has been an excellent Chinese acrobat show these days. Go have a look and you will not be disappointed!

    There are more funs in Beijing, but some foreigners only know Sanlitun bars!

  17. Not true jm. We foreigners don’t stick solely to Sanlitun bars. We also like to go to Havana bar on a Sunday afternoon for the live music….no, wait, that’s closed. Or we can go to Stone boat for some live mu… nope, also closed.

  18. If the hotels are full for the Olympics why are Beijing hotels offering discounts during the Olympics? I just booked a hotel with no problem – the hotel said they had plenty of rooms left. A year ago hotels were selling these same rooms for triple the normal price. Not nearly as many foreigners are coming to the Olympics as the gov’t predicted.

  19. “The media portrays their closing as part of the “no fun” Olympics. But if they had remained open, and some major security breach occurred, the media would then have portrayed it as part of the “no security” Olympics. Sometimes you just can’t win.”………

    good comment!

  20. Boyce,I suppose you got more common sence that some of the expats who complain about no-fun Olympic. I think that in this big and crowded city Beijing, security is the most important thing for the Olympic, and it is worth sacrificing some ” fun” if there is realy such fun which is more important than secutiry!

    “otoh July 24th, 2008 3:50 pm
    Seems some (not all) people are complaining b/c prostitutes are no longer easy to pick up from bars. If that’s the case, I don’t have sympathy.

  21. Why, when writing about the “no fun Olympics,” do you mainly refer to expats’ nightlife in bars? Being a “laolao,” I tend not to go to bars, but I still feel the “no-fun” part. And so do my Chinese colleagues.

    All those who can will be leaving Beijing before the 8th. Why? Because they’re afraid. The local media has been putting so much emphasis on terror threats, security, that people have started to feel under martial law. The general atmosphere has been dictating the “no fun” part, not the restrictions put on bars.

    My office is located a few meters away from the Bird’s Nest. All employees know they’re within range of the anti-missile armada… What do you think they feel? Fun?

    It’s been hell to travel to work. Police make frequent checks on residences. Commando-like forces are often seen patrolling streets. My Chinese colleagues and neighbors have gloomy faces and I doubt it’s because of the bar scene. Many in ‘business’ have seen a slow down. They had expected riches and are now stuck having to dismantle their kiosk, fruit counters, training schedules, promotion activities, and so on.

    The immense pressure that’s been repeatedly put on local citizens – what to say, how to talk, how to behave, what to do, what not to do, what to watch for, what to report – has been getting to them. That also accounts for the “no-fun”… It takes away all spontaneity.

    The current atmosphere has not been conducive to relaxation, to a welcoming attitude, the pleasure of receiving guests, of enjoying new things, participating in unknown experiences. Instead, minds are constantly geared towards the worst possible scenarios.

    Doesn’t matter how you look at it, its not fun at all.

  22. Oh, gosh, M-Dawg, we’re not safe!

    If only our nice, caring, reasonable government would close down EVERY foreigner-friendly bar in the city, then those nasty terrorists wouldn’t have anywhere to blow us up.

    Unless they go after us at the acrobat show, of course….

  23. Laolao,

    while your comments are quite valid, to spring to Beijingboyce’s defence (which I would rarely do otherwise), his blog is about the bar and club scene in Beijing. If it were about the daily grind, I am sure it would provide a different view…. perhaps, maybe, possibly…..

  24. 8 songs, I suggest you may go to Poly Theater to enjoy the performance (newly desined Chinese acrobat)I mentioned above. I hope it still shows till now.I went there a week ago, and had a good time. Before I went, I didn’t realize it was so exciting!

    A man sitting behind me shouting loudly(speaking French or Spanish? ) “Bravo!” There were also some other expats(not many that evening).They seemed all excited and satisfied. It is said that during the Olympics there will be lots of shows in Beijing. Why not go enjoy some of them you like? Bars finally will be open and before that it won’t be a bad idea to do sth esle for a change. What I said is just for your reference since I am not so keen for bars, and I know there is a saying that one man’s meat is another man’s poison.

  25. 1\laolao, it seems that you have noticed some facts around you, however different conclusions can be drawn from these facts. When secerity is emphasized, life will be more secured. If your place is near the anti-missile armada, your place will be safer than others! It’s much safer than monthes ago because the bad people ….thieves, robbers ect,are in hiding! If there were realy a martial law, the law woule be only to protect you, believe me. I have experienced martial law 20 years ago in Beijing and it was the safest period ever. On the whole, “you” wouldn’t need to worry if there were any such law.

    2\You mentioned that your Chinese colleagues are all complaining, and have “gloomy faces”, I suppose that their face being gloomy not because of the tight security measures but because of the hot and the muggy weather. We cannot do anything about the weather so just wait till LI QIU, and it will be fine.As for some of your guys want to go some where else, that is their choice. Much, much more will stay and stick to the event. Don’t agree? See this from YAHOO:

    Hot, impatient crowd vies for Olympics tickets

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080725/ap_on_re_as/oly_china_olympic_tickets;_ylt=Aqtx1s3rOsJhKqWkUSdKcY9vaA8F

    3\It is nothing wrong for the authorities to inform the locals how to talk with foreigners(reasons mentioned above) and how to behave. I don’t believe that you will like this kind of a quesion from a Beijing local: Hey, laolao, I know you foreigners are rich people, how much do you get for your job for a month?

    4\ Fun, or no fun, it is a quetion and the answer is quite personal. Anyway you can may fun if you try, and perhaps more fun during the event, especially in a much safer environment!

  26. Laolao makes an excellent point. The bar closures and live music restrictions are just the tip of an iceberg. The “no fun” criticism is not about the impact of any individual measure, it’s about the underlying policy, the attitude of the government, and the mood that this creates.

    And I’m afraid these are indeed a “no security” Olympics. All these daft measures that do nothing to increase security at all are some proof of that. Whereas many measures that obviously should be taken are being overlooked. Do those baggage checks on the subway actually accomplish anything, does anybody look at the scanners? Has there been any public education about watching out for unattended bags? Have they introduced transparent litter bins? Is there in fact any heightened vigilance around the popular American bars? What kind of special training has your average policeman or militiaman received?

    If the government somehow believes that a terrorist incident near a venue would embarrass it more than one anywhere else in the city, where does it draw the line? Surely places like The Den and the restaurants on the opposite side of Gongti Beilu ought to be closed as well? And everything on the North 4th Ring, if we’re really going to be ‘safe’?

  27. froog, when I was talking about the expats may find other things interesting to do besides going to Sanlitun, I didn’t mention how you expats seek a safe place in Beijing. There are lots of shows in Beijing now. African Show, Latin Show, ect…You like to go to a show? Just go. You don’t? OK, just stay where you are, who cares?

    If you were the target of any terrorists, you would not be safe unless you hide in your embassy where there is always heavily guarded by the MP! If it were the case, I guess that you would be full of gratitude to these MPs assigned by the local government for protecting you, and you wouldn’t have the mood to go to Sanlitun, and you wouldn’t say anything of complaint.

    So the question is only for you:Are you the target of any terrorists? :-)

  28. Erm, did you get the sarcasm, JM?

    I was making fun of M-Dawg’s suggestion that closing down a few bars makes anyone safer.

    No, I don’t think I’m a target for any terrorists because I’m not American. I don’t think any terror groups would target the Games, except possibly Al-Qaeda – and they wouldn’t go after the Games as a whole, they’d go after American targets. The American competitors will probably be far too well guarded; so the American sports bars are high threat.

    I very much doubt if anything bad will happen, but it’s wise to be watchful.

    It’s not wise to randomly shut places down, just to make it appear that you’re busy taking lots of “security measures”.

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