Amazing Race 14, recap 10: Swimming like Michael Phelps isn’t easy

If there was one episode of Amazing Race14 that could get your sympathy genes going, this was it. Certain parts were downright pitiful. “You poor, poor thing,” I kept saying to Jen. I could have cried myself. I was even rooting for Jaime in this episode, even though she has not been my fave from the beginning. And Victor and Tammy, well, they are just stellar people.

Kisha & Jen did have me turning a little against them at the beginning of the airport episode by the way they were acting towards the ticket folks at the Guilin airport and how they talked about people in China as having dumb looks.

After last week’s episode, I didn’t feel that harshly towards them after their run in with Luke and Margie, but their attitude had me changing my mind a little.

But, the truth is, I’ve felt that way about people when I’ve tried to get help and I have been unable to easily–particularly when I’ve been road hashed. I think that the teams have probably used up a lot of their good humor and have arrived at the place where patience is wearing thin. Plus, they can taste that million dollars. At the beginning of the race when people were still yukking it up, a win was possibly a pipe dream.

The episode started out with all four of the remaining teams heading out on the same flight to Beijing from Guilin, and dashing off in taxis lickety split to find the Liangzi Jian Guo Men Dian foot massage spa, the worst foot massage in the planet. If they knew the pain that was to come, perhaps they wouldn’t have been in such a hurry.

Tammy and Victor, of course, were feeling downright pleased that they’d be able to speak Chinese all the live long day which they felt would give them an edge. Plus, they’ve been to Beijing. They know Beijing. They’re comfortable in Beijing. Keep that in mind, because Chinese is not the skill you need most in the Amazing Race–at least not in Beijing. Plus, not all places in Beijing are comfortable.

Jaime and Cara arrived first at the torture chamber, also known as a foot massage parlor. I’ve had a Thai foot massage and it’s heavenly. The Chinese version, like Victor said, won’t “kill you,” but it can make you cry in pain and bite your lips so you don’t scream. The faces on the Chinese women who dug their fingers into the bottoms of the feet of the team members who agreed to the procedure looked almost maniacal. If I were to end up at this foot massage parlor, I wouldn’t be fooled by the soft lighting and I’d be mighty careful what type of massage I ordered up. There’s definitely a difference between the Chinese to the bone foot massage and the Thai version that makes a person feel like purring.

During this part, I felt very warm towards Tammy who held Luke’s hand while he was writhing. You have to like a person who can feel empathetic and reach out to a rival.

After the foot massage, the teams were off to the Guangcai Natatorium for what turned out to be a true test of mettle for two of the teams. Margie & Luke and Cara & Jaime were not daunted by the task of jumping in an Olympic size pool to swim freestyle, or whatever way they could in a relay race. In the swimming task, team members were to take turns swimming 200 meters (up and back the length of the pool) in a medley until each swam two times for a total of 400 meters, one right after the other. The idea of the race was to match Michael Phelps’s individual medley–kind of- when he tore through the water to add to his neck bling.

Although swimming wasn’t a problem for those two teams, no one was thrilled to swim in the Speedo laser suit that was the kind Phelps wore.

Tammy, not the best swimmer, turned out to not be the best high diving board jumper either. She & Victor opted to try the second option which was to do a synchronized jump off two high diving boards. To get a score of 5 which would allow them to move on to the Pit Stop, they had to enter the water at exactly the same time. They almost got it once, but couldn’t manage to come close the rest of their attempts. I’m not sure why they didn’t yell “one, two, three JUMP” and figure out their strategy beforehand. Instead, they jumped willy nilly until they were wiped out and decided to do the Michael Phelp’s swim which turned out to not be all that bad after all.

Then there was poor Jennifer who doesn’t know how to swim at all. First, she decided to try jumping, but found out that she couldn’t make herself jump. Then it was a try at swimming. After she watched Kisha struggle to swim down the lane and back, she decided this was a no go too. So it was back to the diving board. The two sisters did jump in a couple of times which traumatized Jen so much she was in the hall sitting on her haunches crying and saying she wanted to go home. Sister, I’ve had that feeling and it stinks big time.

Finally, in a huge fit of resolve and due to Kisha’s stellar behavior as the best sister in the whole-wide-world EVER, Jen pulled on that skin tight laser suit, slipped on the orange life jacket and headed off into the pool matching Michael Phelp’s style. Let’s say matching Michael Phelp’s style when he as a toddler, perhaps. Still, go Jen go was my reaction. It was almost as good as watching Susan Boyle sing “I Had a Dream.” Imagine if that song would have been playing when Jen swam. I would have been bawling for sure.

In the meantime, while Victor & Tammy and Jen & Kisha were struggling to find the right combination for what would get them out of the water, Jaime and Cara and Luke & Margie were heading for the gorgeous Drum Tower, the site of the Pit Stop. The Drum Tower, built in the 12th century is one more indication of emperor glory days in China. Every hour, on the hour, 24 drums were beat to announce the time of day during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties.

Luke needs to heed the adage, “Pride cometh before a fall,” because he is way too involved in the idea of Kisha and Jen’s life being a living hell. I’m hoping that his heart would have melted a bit if he saw Jen crying, paralyzed in fear and Kisha telling her, “Let’s finish this strong.” Seriously, how can someone not feel moved by that?

The taxi rides across Beijing took awhile which did give the impression that Beijing has a massive sprawl. It is huge and it does sprawl. Other than that, there were shots of the Bird’s Nest, the main stadium of the Olympics and neon. What I noticed missing were the throngs of people on bicycles that I saw in the 1990s. Perhaps this was because most of this episode happened at night.

As for the end of the episode, Jaime and Cara were so wanting to come in first that I wanted them to come in first for a change myself. Jaime didn’t act mean, Cara put up with that foot massage, and the two of them swam their hearts out. But, there was Phil all by his lonesome at the Pit Stop mat. There weren’t any cute older Chinese people eating noodles this time. There wasn’t a congratulations and you’ve won a trip for two to the vacation of your dreams message.

Nope, there was none of that. Instead, there was Phil with a serious face holding out a yellow envelope saying, “Here’s your next clue.”

That was cold. Very cold. And the episode, as it turns out, is “To be continued.” Let’s see next week if Jaime and Cara will ever get a break and if Luke has to eat some humble pie.

As Victor has learned already, the Amazing Race does humble a person.

Humorous round up of 2008 and 10 Gadling posts connected to this year’s news

Here’s a humorous round-up of news stories that made it big in 2008. Uncle Jay, whoever he is, sings a medley of carols with the words changed to offer a unique twist in the explanation of some of this year’s major events. His cast of characters and happenings include Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, gas prices, the economy , the Olympics and more. While watching the video, I thought of Gadling posts that also made reference to the themes of these stories.

Here are 10 Gadling posts by 10 different bloggers that have related to the news. There are scads of other posts. This is merely a sampling.

Swan Lake, Chinese acrobatics style!

If you thought the Chinese acrobatics feats during the Olympics were something to behold, check out this video of the The Guangdong Acrobatics Troupe of China. This is an edited version of the performance of the ballet Swan Lake that was taken on a world tour a couple of years ago. As someone who can’t even touch her toes, I find this truly stunning and amazing.

There are sections where the video is a bit dark, but stay with it. Sections of the performance are edited together. The variety of dancers and acrobatics is like a kaleidoscope. Here is an article about the performance from China Daily in 2005.

The Olympics finale: A great big Beijing inspired hugfest and might

Hugs all around. If you’re near someone give him or her a hug. If you’re by yourself, just wrap your arms around yourself and squeeze. MMMMmmmm.

By the end of the closing ceremony of the Olympics in Beijing, when the credits rolled in the U.S.’s broadcast version, I was once more feeling warm and fuzzy, just like I did at the end of the opening of the games. Again, I’m a real Pollyanna sometimes.

The shots of athletes hugging each other, even if they were not on the same team, (like this photo posted on AOL) or with their hands thrown upwards in triumph–or in tears–either from joy or abject disappointment, revved up emotions–at least mine. As one of the commentators said during the closing, the games do give a sense that there is hope. Yes, we can all get along. The hugs seem to prove it.

Hugs, if you noticed, were given out by EVERYBODY–it didn’t matter the nationality of the hugger or hugee, whether it was for a feeling of triumph or in comfort. If not a hug, at least a pat on the back or a rub on the shoulders was offered and accepted.

While I watched the closing, I also thought about how the performance arts of a country can reflect the cultural values of the people who live there and influence the emphasis on how the art is used.

Once again, China demonstrated the inspiration and sense of wonder that happens when people work together. The Memory Tower, the 5-story metal sculpture that scads of dancers performed on and around just like a swarm of precision bees, replicate the look of the Olympic flame and other visual wonders. Surely this was a great showing of the umph and creativity of China’s people. Get people in China organized, and there’s nothing they can’t do.

The cultural value of such performances seems to be precision and working closely together. Each performer’s moves tied to the other performers, although the performances around the sculpture, like the pop culture singers and the rock music drummers, also showed an openness to change. Women dressed in western style clothes while playing traditional Chinese instruments is an example of what I mean.

The British, from my observations, reflect something else. Britain emphasized the individuality and diversity of the people who are British citizens. The dancers around the double-decker bus were of different backgrounds. I noticed both black and white people straight off. Also, instead of the precision of the Chinese performers, the British performers took a more modern dance angle. Dancers each did their own movements, not in sync with each other, but in relationship to each other.

The result was interesting, but not fluid. The British offering was clever, like when the bus turned into the London skyline, but it looked like it was designed to illustrate what represents Britain, like soccer (football) and Mary Poppins, (the umbrellas made me think of Burt, Mary and the chimney sweeps) , more than show off Britain’s might. Although, the precision performances of the Chinese must be easier to capture on camera. The shots of the British performances were from a variety of angles and only a few dancers were captured in any particular frame. I kept thinking that seeing it live would have had a much different impact.

Britain showed off its might the most during the shots of London where Micheal Phelps was introduced to the cheering crowd there. The finale of this clip was when precision fighter planes streamed across the sky in a V-formation leaving a trail of red, white and blue smoke. People may dance to their own beat, but airplanes are synchronized. (Of course, go to Buckingham Palace during the changing of the guards and you’ll see precision.)

If the Olympics does give the host country a chance to show off its finest, I’m hoping that Monty Python and other British humor gets worked into the summer games’ broadcast in 2012.

As for the broadcasts over the last two weeks, I’ll miss the trips to China through my television screen and think that I want to go back there soon. Until then, there’s the Travel Channel, books, the Chinese grocery stores I go to from time to time, and my Chinese friends to tide me over. Fireworks will never look as good though. The Chinese know their fireworks. They invented them and have certainly perfected the art over the years.

And for the next two years, until the hugfest at the Olympics’ winter games in Canada begins, give people hugs or a comforting, or congratulatory pat on the back whenever you can. From the looks of what’s on TV, they work wonders.

For an analysis of the impact on the Olympics in Beijing, check out Time magazine’s article, “The Lessons of the Beijing Olympics.”

By the way, I am aware that the polo team guys are not actually hugging each other, but are competing. Do you know how hard it is to find an image to use of people hugging at the Olympics, even though they did it constantly?

Olympics inspired gift idea. Children’s art is a big hit

When Meredith Vieria from the Today Show was given a tour of the Olympic Village, specifically the housing of the Americans, trap shooter bronze medalist Corey Cogdell showed Vieria a painting in her room that was created by a child in China.

A framed picture of a child’s artwork was given to each Olympic athlete as a room decoration. It’s theirs to keep whether they medal or not.

Vieira was quite moved by the gesture of a child-produced gift. I thought about the excitement that the children must have felt when they were making their paintings knowing their creations would be going to athletes from around the world and how they were contributing to their country’s mega, unforgetable, international event.

It can make a heart feel warm and fuzzy for sure.

Seeing the painting reminded me of the items to buy when traveling that offer more meaning than a production piece souvenir. Any work made by a child has been favorably received whenever I have given them as gifts.

I once bought three drawings by children that were sold in a fundraiser art show for a refugee center that houses families in India who were displaced by strife. I have forgotten the specifics of who received the funding, but I I can see the art clearly. I was touched by its hope and sweetness. The show was at the India International Center in New Delhi, a place that hosts high quality events, mostly centered on the arts. This is where I saw the writer Pico Iyer at a symposium of Indian authors who write in English.

Granted, framed paintings are cumbersome. Another option is handmade greeting cards that can be framed once you get home. Often these cards are used to make money for organizations that are searching for dollars.

Keep your eyes open. Thailand, Vietnam and India are wonderful places to look for such items. I still have cards I bought to give away. Even if the cards aren’t made by kids, or go to charity. handmade cards are helping to support someone.