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Thursday, Aug. 21, 2008

BEIJING POSTCARD

Visit to Tiananmen Square evokes memories


BEIJING — What did a visit to Tiananmen Square feel like?

I really can't answer that yet. It's been three hours since I left the area, hopped on Beijing's Line 1 subway and went to Peking University Gymnasium to watch four table tennis matches simultaneously and four more after that.

I think I'll start seeing double images soon. Ping pong, table tennis' more exotic-sounding synonym, can do that to anyone who watches the action for more than an hour.

It was late afternoon at Tiananmen Square and the place was jam-packed with tourists and locals and a sizable force of police and soldiers.

Everyone, it appeared, stopped to have their picture taken in front of the big portrait of Mao Zedong. I did the same thing and then returned the favor to a Chinese father and his young daughter.

Tiananmen Square is surrounded by gigantic government buildings, a subway station, lots of walkways and wide, busy avenues.

It holds symbolic importance for millions, a reminder of a dark day in China's history, in the summer of 1989, when TV images showed giant tanks putting an end to prodemocracy demonstrations.

Subconsciously, from time to time, I find myself starting to think of the China I knew of when I was a child and the rapidly changing China of the 21st century.

China's most powerful form of protest these days takes place over the Internet, in chat rooms (a growing from of public debate) and especially on Web sites like YouTube where people post their own videos and home movies, many of which take stances that differ from China's official Communist Party perspective.

But as long as Tiananmen Square isn't transformed into a big shopping mall, the place will still be remembered for what it was — what it's become is still open to debate.

* * * * *

I ate something called aloe-kiwi yogurt today at lunchtime — puzzling name, great taste.

By the way, I don't recall not hearing the words "Enjoy your meal, sir," even once after paying the bill for a few dozen meals in the media food court during the Olympics. I can get used to this common courtesy.

* * * * *

Today's parting thoughts: Why do table tennis highlights always look twice as difficult on the televised replays?

Is it just me or is it fun to chant "Miao Miao" (pronounced like the cat's action, but more quickly) during a table tennis match?

Miao, who was born in China, plays for the Australian Olympic team.

Her cheering section didn't help too much on Tuesday night, however, as she lost a five-game match to Dang Ye Seo of South Korea.



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