Tuesday, August 12, 2008

"IT IS FORBIDDEN"

But I did it anyway.
It is expressly forbidden to display political signs in Olympic venues, or on Olympic grounds, or anywhere in China for that matter. But I would not be deterred. (Damn it I blinked!) USA vs. China -Women's Basketball, I was there and I unfurled this sign. "USA Out of Iraq, and into the Medal Round." How did I sneak the sign in you may ask?
First I had to beg some volunteers to give me a large piece of paper or poster board. I noticed they had large scale maps that were blank on the back. But, they too, were forbidden. "Just give me the map, I'll give you a free handball ticket." The girls at the volunteer kiosk wouldn't let go of the map. So I did what I thought was best, I said, "I'm taking the map!" and I ran away. Then I found a nearby mall (which was formerly a mosque, sorry Islam) and I frantically went looking for something to write with. On the top floor there was a children's store with lots of tiny little markers, the clock was ticking and the night's events were about to begin. My Canadian friend Cassie (her shirt says 50% Chinese, 50% Italian, All Canadian), who was coming to the games with me joined me at the children's store, and we drew up the map as fast as possible, with dozens of Chinese onlookers wondering what the hell are they doing?

Having the protest sign on the back of a map was the perfect distraction to get it past the Chinese sensors. I just folded it up with the "USA out of Iraq" part hidden and slid right on in. Layer after layer of security let me and my giant map go through without questioning.

We had the map at the swimming event, but its true destination was the USA basketball game. I raced across town after swimming and once again made it into another venue with no one looking inside my map. My seats were nowhere near the court, but I broke out the sign and got a lot of laughs and applause and a lot of photographs. There was one Australian who kept yelling "Security! Security! We have a breach! Free speech over here, security!"

Naturally I decided I wanted to get closer to the court, so I knew I would have to sneak down. This is China, and it's not like a sporting event in Seattle, or at all like Athens, where you can just act confident and walk past one or two ushers and grab a really good seat. Sure there are empty seats everywhere (well done China/Cosport!) but in China, they are checking tickets, even the old beer in each hand doesn't work. Look how many guards are at each entrance; 8 volunteers per gate, and no other spectators to distract.

Finally I managed to get by a giggling girl and a distracted young man. The next person yelled, "Ticket, ticket." I pointed like back at the other ushers and then back at the stands as if to say, "yeah they checked me, I'm right down here.

FIFTH ROW! The sign was unfurled yet again, the game was just finishing up, and USA had just crushed the Chinese by over 50 points. As the players were about to exit I made my way to the guardrail above where all the press cameras were. This is also where the athletes exit the stadium. I let the sign out over the guardrail, and it took nearly 10 minutes for Chinese security to see it. In the meantime cameras from CCTV, CBC, and other organizations all took pictures of the sign. NBC refused as I kept yelling at them, "C'mon NBC, take a picture, it's an election year."

The best part was that as the American athletes were exiting a few of them looked up to see my sign and they loved it. Cappie Pondexter (#4), pointed at it, smiled and mouthed what I think was "hell yeah!"
Tina Thompson (#11) saw it, gave me a point, a smile, a head nod, and a fist pump. That was pretty nice, gave me a very satisfying ripple of shivers up and down my spine.

That's when the authorities found me. I saw two officials from a distance pointing at me, they approached quickly, I handed my camera off to a nice Chinese man who fricking LOVED my sign.

"It is forbidden, no photo," the olympic representative said, but it was too late. I didn't want to give up my sign so, I folded it up and headed back to my seat.

"It is forbidden," they kept yelling at me, but I just walked away like I had done nothing wrong.
I put the folded map back in my bag.

"No, no, you can not have that sign" he repeated, he was holding his hand out, asking for my sign.

I pulled it out. "But I need the map," I said. "I need the map, I don't understand Beijing's subway, I need the map." This really confused them, the guy harassing me spoke little English, and I just kept speaking very quickly trying to confuse him further.

He grabbed my map-sign and said "Wait here." Damn it, he was walking off with my map and heading in the direction of what I assumed was his superiors.

What was going to happen now. Was I in trouble, would I get thrown out? Deported, detained, who knows, this is China after all.

He returned with my sign. "It is forbidden," he repeated, "please put away, if you take it out again, I will take it away."

He handed the sign back to me, I put it back in my bag.

I said "Thank you," and he shook my hand.

"Enjoy the game," he said, and I did.

30 comments:

Mara said...

Thrilling, compelling, wonderful! How was the swimming after all of that?

rhythm laureate said...

AMAZING!

You are a master of protest signs!

I so wish I was there. Yeah, I hardly remember that your hair was all long & shaggy in Athens. Ie-Chen - she's hardcore!

Rhythm laureate said...

Update: You got Slogged.

hokwei said...

AWESOME!!

Armando said...

Cassie is hot have her email me aosuna@sitelab.com, geez she is hot! Although I am 2 so this will work out:)

Anonymous said...

great story...too bad your a commie

johnO said...

you made it onto slog:
http://slog.thestranger.com/2008/08/seattle_man_barely_busted_in_beijing

Anonymous said...

thank you for solving the pain and suffering of a war torn country with you markers. Next time make a macaroni necklace and end world hunger. Very brave you douche bag. If you want to make a real impact, how about instead of spending a shit load of money to travel to Beijing you donate it to a local food bank. God I hate douche bags.

Joel H said...

The Chinese government, through the press, actually opposed the Iraq war. So your "protest" was pretty much in line with their political stance.

Had your sign said "Free Tibet," I suspect things would have gotten a lot messier. You certainly wouldn't have gotten your sign back.

But, all in all, an effective, low risk, exercise in direct action. Thumbs up.

erika said...

Hey "anonymous"
You hate douche bags? Y'know that is sooo funny! I also dislike douche bags. Seems like we have a lot in common -- maybe we could hang out and I could edit the rants that you are too chicken shit to sign your name to and you could explain to me just how you drew your brilliant conclusions about someone's personal intentions and impact from a story that is primarily about the joy of getting away with it. Having a good adventure while simultaneously taking the piss out of a system that suppresses dissent and maybe just maybe reminding the world that some Americans are still aware of and opposed to the war in Iraq is pretty awesome in my book. So I guess we don't have that much in common after all.

Anonymous said...

Ohhh goody, thank you erika. That was my first time commenting/blogging. So, I'm glad you liked it. This is only my second time now, so be gentle. If it would make things a little more romantic, my name is Kenji. But this is the internet so I don't see how my name really matters. I guess what I was originally trying to say was, that wasn't a rebellious adventure. And it is kinda pathetic to think it was. When was the last time you had your beliefs altered via a single protest sign in the upper deck of a sporting event? I don't like douche bags, but I hate hippie douche bags who think they are taking the piss out of the system by not shaving or flushing toilets and or think they are changing the world by vacationing through it. Can we at least agree on that? Muah, thank you again.

benji hates kenji said...

hey kenji (kenji??) go away.

Joel H said...

Ummm...Anonymous, or "Kenji", this "pathetic...single protest," as you put it, got posted to ESPN.com. Which is how I arrived here. I've worked in politics, and free press like this is worth many thousands of dollars.

(Regarding your remark about food banks being a better use of resources than free speech, I've volunteered in food banks, so I value them, but you gotta have both.)

I'll just assume you're one of the many 14 year olds who toddles around the internet trying to annoy people. I recommend you make a diary of all your annoying postings. Then, when you're thirty, you'll read and want to strangle yourself for being such an idiot.

And look, you've made me waste my time on you. Jerk.

Jeanne Lee said...

Gosh, Kenji, I'm kind of new at blogging and commenting as well...hmmm...let me see....

How do you let someone know that fully understanding someone's intentions and history from a blog....well, it's next to impossible....

I guess your just not too bright.........and Mark and his family and friends have to forgive someone who's, well, probably lonely or confused or a little different.

But, I don't know you. Maybe you're just a stinker.

Rydo said...

Wait. They're letting women play basketball now?

I'm with Kenji, this blog sucks.

rachel said...

Fortune favors the bold!

Jeff said...

Dude--

I'm with Kenji. You're an ass. Kenji also thinks the Habit sucks, and for good reason.

PS- LOVE THE SIGN and the harrowing tale. Nice work, my friend.

flamingbanjo said...

You know you've finally arrived on the internets when you start accumulating haters. Well done, sir!

Lucas said...

Mark,

Stunning. You're my hero, and as such, I am obligated to try and sleep with you.

Kenji (if that's your real name)back off my boy or I'll throw salsa in your eye.

andrea said...

Wow! So at first I totally thought rydo was anonymous and I was all like 'why is erika getting so upset?' But THEN I saw that anonymous was Kenji and I was like 'jeez louize!' and then 'good job erika - you tell him!' and then you got more and more responses and I was like 'whoa this is exciting!' and then rydo agreed with Kenji - so in a way I had that right all along. And then Lucas said he wanted to have sex with you and I was like 'ew'
So that's what happened when I read your comments. And now whats happening is that I'm sitting here in my hot apartment wondering WHY DOES THE WOMEN'S GYMNASTICS ALWAYS START SO LATE AT NIGHT??!!

Jeff said...

Wait. They're letting women do gymnastics now?

Lucas said...

Jeff, it gets worse.

Are you sitting down? In some countries they can vote . . . while doing gymnastics.

Kirk said...

Hey when we go to World Cup in 2010 let's sneak in a sign about your blog, cuz that would be wicked meta.

Jeff said...

I'm just hoping we medal in the Women's 100m Parallel Park.

Lucas said...

. . . or the Women's 500m Making Decisions Not Based On Emotion. They show "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" to all the contestants and then ask them what they would do about Iraq.

thematically fickle said...

May I just say:
FUCK YEAH!

Save that map. Cuz unfortunately, you'll be able to use that sign again in 2010. And 2012. And so on, and so on...

Jeanne Lee said...

I think I need to make a few calls....

To a few moms......

Kate said...

Amidst all this controversy, may I just say - I love the eyes closed, makes you look smug.

Certainlia said...

1. You rock.

2. All I can think is that all that practice, um, borrowing things from home depot and costco really paid off...

3. How did you get 28 comments on your blog? My blog is officially jealous of your blog. I guess that's what happens when you write about yoga.

Cassie said...

Hey Mark,

I'm not sure if I sent my text in time before you left. I hope you had a safe trip back to Seattle. Stay in touch... and give me a shout if you're coming to Vancouver for the games.

oh, and tell "armando" that I say hi. haha