by | Feb 25, 2009 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

DAY 16: Bruce Jenner, ha!

BEIJING – They finished the Olympic decathlon Friday, opening with the 100 meters, then the long jump, then yada, yada, yada.

I had my own decathlon to run. Before leaving Beijing, there were 10 events I needed in order to complete my experience. I woke up early. I pulled on my USA jersey. And I plunged into …

•1. The Forbidden City 1,500 Meters: I had to see this before I left. The Forbidden City was the private home to many Chinese emperors, who lived there with their families, staff and, as the earpiece voice reminds you, “many concubines.” Behind a giant wall, protected by a moat, the Forbidden City is a beautiful collection of palaces, most of which carry names like Palace of Meditation, Palace of Inspiration, Palace of Contemplation. You get the idea the emperors had lots of time on their hands. Also concubines. Since I have neither, I employ the “Wow, cool, let’s keep going” tourist technique. I cover the Forbidden City in 52 minutes, a personal best.

•2. The 5K Subway Ride: Having enjoyed cabs to this point (if you call near-death experiences enjoyable), it is time to try the subway. Beijing’s is clean and efficient, I am told. All I saw of it was the armpit of a woman and the chest of a man. I don’t want to say there is no personal space at rush hour, but I could count other riders’ molars, OK? I finish in 4 minutes, 18 seconds, when the doors open and we tumble out like rice from a sack.

•3. The Short-track Cycling Event: Next, I take a bicycle into Beijing traffic. As far as survival, I could have jumped from a plane and had better odds. During my 9-minute lap of the neighborhood, I was cut off by two busses, four cabs, eight pedestrians and another cyclist who had – and I’m dead serious here – a ladder on the back of his bike. I finish and proceed to …

•4. The 76-pound Wrestling Match: You may recall last week I ventured into Yashow Market, where you are expected to negotiate, and got laughed at when I only reduced the given price by 25%. This time I returned with weapons. Two boys, Sam and Nick Ross, 12 and 15, who come from New Zealand but live in China and have that whole teenaged derring-do thing going. Their approach was to hear a price and then say to the salespeople, essentially, “Are you nuts?” And I’m proud to say, we got belts reduced from $14 to $4 and a piece of luggage for about 12 bucks. Not only that, but when we were done, a salesman said to Nick, “You my friend, come back.” I’d say we got the gold in that one.

•5. The Peking Duck Individual Medley: Everyone says you can’t leave Beijing without trying the Peking Duck. At the last minute, a restaurant was arranged and duck was ordered – along with a bunch of other things I pointed to on the picture menu. Always go by the pictures in China, as the translation often reads “riveted codfish and eel cake in fried leek and garlic crab nooshi noodle, pineapple sauce, plus butter.”

•6. The 10-meter Platform Dive: Figuring to try one actual Olympic event, I went to the Water Cube. I looked up at the 10-meter platform. You know, I have to say, that’s really, really high. And this 15-year-old Chinese champion named Chen Ruolin is really good, even if she is too young to be a gymnast, which in China means diapers. So I watched Chen instead. You’d have to say I no-heighted in this event.

•7. The 100-meter Starbucks Dash: I made up for it in this event, using my indigenous advantage over the locals in being able to pronounce “Frappuccino.”

•8. The 25K Walk: I did this trying to find a ride home from the track and field venue in the rain.

•9. The 4xStore Souvenir Relay: Having waited until the last days, I frantically flipped through T-shirts trying to find anything bigger than a “men’s medium,” which in China is a tight fit on a Chihuahua. I found two black “Trampoline” shirts. Not my best event.

•10. The 26-mile Protest Marathon: OK. I got lost, or something, but I couldn’t find any protests. I just ran around the city aimlessly. Official word from the government is that “paperwork” was not correctly filed by the protesters. Once again, as so often happens at the Olympics, we have a judging controversy.

•Final score: 2,918 points. Don’t be impressed. Once you convert, it’s around four bucks. Or one belt.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@ For his China columns, go to


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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