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Student bloggers weigh in on China’s bureaucratic policies — and public displays of affection

BEIJING — From time to time during these Games, we’re going to have a quartet of other Minnesotans chime in with their Olympic and Chinese observations.

We introduced the first two last week. Here are the other two MinnPost Olympic bloggers:

Erica Patterson: It’s China
Without getting into an entire sociological analysis of how the United States and China differ, keep in mind that we are polar opposites on the individualist-collectivist scale.  A fellow ex-pat I met at a restaurant did a great job of putting this into layman’s terms: When you ask an American what he or she likes about his or her job, it’s typically something like, “Opportunities for advancement,” or “Freedom to self-motivate.”

The Chinese respond, “I love the people I work with; it’s like a family.”

This is the Chinese mentality that makes communism thrive.  Everything is done for the greater good, with little regard for the individual.  I volunteer as a Help Desk Assistant at the 2008 Beijing Olympics International Broadcast Center, where everything operates according to categorically inflexible regulations and bureaucratic procedures.  In short, simple things become complicated for the sake of order and assurance that the first-ever Chinese Olympics go off without a hitch.  Arguing against the system gets you nowhere.

Erica Patterson
Erica Patterson

You’d think this major cultural difference would cause friction between our Chinese hosts and foreign journalists. But to my surprise and relief, most of the IBC personnel have adapted quickly and gracefully.

To get things done, people have to bust out a whole new brand of problem-solving skills.  For some journalists I’ve encountered, getting things accomplished at the IBC can be a true test of patience. Adapting to Chinese culture in the Olympic context sometimes calls for minor adjustments to the way we’re used to working.  But sometimes, all you can do is shrug and say, “It’s China…”

Without further ado, a few of my favorite IBC “It’s China…” moments:

• Opening week for the IBC:
An Australian Seven Network journalist needed a Sim Card for his phone. That’s what gives your mobile phone a local Chinese phone number.  I pointed him to the IBC Rate Card Office, where I knew Sim Cards were available.  He returned a few minutes later, saying he was told you were only allowed to purchase a minimum of 15 Sim Cards at a time. They sent him to a different outlet at the Main Press Center, which directed him back to the IBC Rate Card office.  Fortunately, the journalist was able to round up at least 14 colleagues to get Sim Cards together.  Later that week, individual Sim Cards were available in the IBC.

• Having worked as a news intern,
I cringed at this one.  A Brazilian ESPN reporter who was filming in another part of Beijing had an interview with an athlete at the Olympic Village at 6 p.m.  He took a taxi to his interview.  Olympic Village security told him that even though his credentials allowed him access to the Village, he could not enter unless he came on the IBC shuttle bus.  He returned to the IBC at 6:05 to find that the shuttle bus left at 6 and would not return until 7.  The reporter asked if we could arrange for one of the half-dozen idle shuttle buses to make an exception and take him to the Village, which is located just around the corner from the IBC.  I directed him to my supervisor, who told him, “You should have taken the 6 o’clock bus.”  He patiently responded, “I was not aware of that rule, but I am now. It’s an emergency, and I need to do my job.”  She began to call the transportation managers, who only said, “He must wait until 7.  It is the policy.”

• As a reward for our patience and understanding, the six IBC volunteers landed jobs as Olympic News Service flash-quote reporters for basketball.  To prepare for this new responsibility, we began to compile data and information about all of the Olympic teams.  One volunteer asked a manager for a folder to put the documents in.  To obtain a folder, he had to locate a form, get it signed by two people and bring it to an office, which was closed.  Three hours later,  he got a folder.

It’s China.  If you can’t change it, go with it.

Erica Patterson, 22, of Bloomington, is an International Broadcast Center assistant for the Beijing 2008 Olympics. Patterson is a journalism and sociology major at the University of Iowa, where she just completed her junior year.  Erica interned at NBC affiliate KWWL-TV in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and now works as a producer, anchor and reporter for Daily Iowan TV.  You can contact her at

Elizabeth Tuttle
Elizabeth Tuttle

Elizabeth Tuttle: Making out in China
Americans are under the impression that Chinese people are shy and conservative, but those who believe that must have never visited Beijing.  The young China, the new China, surprisingly embraces extravagant Public Displays of Affection (aka PDA). After 8 p.m. on the soccer field at Tsinghua University, where I live, there is no longer enough light to play soccer, but there is the perfect amount of twilight for young lovers.

The soccer field is covered in couples lying down on blankets or standing. They whisper and giggle at each other and make out.  It’s strange to see on a college campus in the United States, but it is what I saw back in high school: kids making out near the football field on game nights back in Minnetonka.

But my favorite story of PDA accompanies a picture taken by my friend Ann Frisk (a fellow University of Iowa student).  The girls and I were ordering kiwi smoothies at a bakery in Beijing when Nicole Mason (pictured below) went to find a table.

MinnPost photo by Elizabeth Tuttle

Then I hear Nicole say my name almost laughing, but I didn’t turn until she said my name again, and when I looked over, I saw them in the bakery’s seating area. Two Chinese kids were making out, the girl sitting in the guy’s lap, her arms around his neck, devouring his face. We all sat a couple of tables away and watched in surprise. 

I don’t even see this in the United States.  The couple continued on like this for at least 30 minutes, and they were still there even as we left the place.

But this picture and story just show stereotypes are not always true and that Chinese people, especially the youth, are not as modest and shy as many Americans think.

Elizabeth Tuttle, 20, of Minnetonka, is a reporter for the official Beijing Olympic News Service.  Tuttle is a journalism and international studies major in her senior year at the University of Iowa.  She covered Olympic test events for the Beijing Olympic News Service in October and is currently working on a documentary about China and the Olympics. Tuttle can be reached at

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