Saturday, September 18, 2010

Center Opening 2, or, Chaos

The staff briefing on Tuesday started at 9am, which meant I got to sleep in a little bit, which was very much welcomed. Again, there was free coffee and food , though all I had a chance to eat was a muffin and cookie, we where so busy. When I first offered to help on Monday, I was told that I wouldn't be able to go to the Great Hall of the People – the venue was capped at 600, and they already had a waiting list that included a lot of donors and other important people. I was disappointed of course, but still excited to be working on the Center opening – I guess I felt in some way that it was “my project”, since I'll be in the first group of students to study there. Besides, knowing my all around loyalty to the U of C, I wanted to make sure that anything regarding the University gave people a very good impression. :)

After the staff briefing, we went down to 'command center' to start stuffing programs and nametags with seating assignments. There was a slight delay on the nametags, because someone realized that morning that we couldn't use the number four at any of the tables. In Chinese, four , or si , is synonymous with death – if you change the tone, it can change the meaning from 4 to death, so because of that, four is unlucky in Chinese culture, and any number with it shouldn't be used at auspicious events (except 48, where I guess the luckiness of the 8 balances it out). In fact, for a long time, buildings would not have fourth floors, instead jumping from 3 to 5. Most new buildings don't do that, though, from what I've seen – I was disappointed my first night here when I saw that my building does have a fourth floor. :)

So anyway, on Tuesday morning, I helped out with envelopes for the VIP ticket delivery, and then helped staff the registration desk, where I stayed until 5pm. While Monday had been fairly slow, Tuesday picked up quite a bit, and we were swamped with requests for tickets for the media and dignitaries that someone had previously forgotten to invite – all this despite the fact that we had a waiting list already being kept. At about 2pm, though, I was told that someone had managed to get me a ticket, and I would be going to the Great Hall of the People that night! That made the afternoon more exciting, even as from 3pm to 5pm I was absolutely swamped, manning the registration table by myself. I did, however, get to meet a lovely alumni of the college who offered me advice on what to see in Beijing, and even helped staff the table when I had to run and get someone. Overall, the day was insanely busy, and fell somewhere along the lines of controlled chaos, although none of the guests could tell. By 4:30, things had quieted down, as all the guests had left for the Great Hall, and we just finished up a few last minute things/problems. The last shuttle left for the Great Hall of the People at 5 pm, and I was on it! :)

Walking into the building was incredible, knowing that so very few people ever get a chance to, and knowing that a couple of hours ago, I wouldn't have even got to. The building is absolutely huge, with massive pillars on the inside and outside. We went up to the third floor, where the Nobel Laureate forum had already started, being held in a large auditorium that likely fits 700 – 800 people (with 600 people, the place didn't look full). I sat in on a little bit of the forum, and then left to help out with seating assignments and nametags. The dinner took place in a hall right outside the auditorium, that had beautiful paintings of China landscapes on the walls and humongous pillars, with three glistening chandeliers hanging from the very high ceiling. (there is a picture on facebook). The scale of the building is immense, and the overall effect was awe inspiring. After everyone was seated for dinner, I got to join a table and talk with alumni, which is always a fantastic experience. We enjoyed a seven course meal, including Kung Pao chicken, steak, lamb, shrimp, and concluded with ice cream. Everything was delicious, and getting to have some more Western style food – as well as eat with a fork – was delightful (they had both chopsticks and silverware at the table, and I wasn't certain which to use ). After the dinner concluded, with remarks from President Zimmer and a member of the Board of Trustees, I got back on the bus, and took the subway back to Renmin, becoming just another American studying in Beijing again. :)

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