Sunny Wu
The Olympic Green, the main gathering area for fans in Beijing, features several corporate-sponsored building, including one from the China National Petroleum Corporation that showcases the company’s green policies.
By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 8/9/2008 9:24:05 AM ET 2008-08-09T13:24:05
THE OLYMPICS BUZZ

This is an ongoing series of Olympics cultural reports Sunny Wu is filing from Beijing. Check back twice a day for 'The Buzz' and 'Nightlife.'

So this is what it means to stage a green Olympics — a building made out of grass.

The China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) was one of the dozen global sponsors that set up shop on the main thoroughfare of the Olympic Green. The building's exterior was installed with a lawn that should be mowed by the Marquis de Sod. Inside, the company had exhibitions on its green policies, an interactive game where people biked (to save the environment) and a gigantic map of all its drilling sites in China, complete with moving oil tankers.

There was no hint of irony.

This was just one of the buildings that greeted Olympic spectators on Saturday, the first full day of competition. Samsung was next door, inviting guests to play with their newest phones and computers. And to show how advanced cell phones had become, they displayed phones from the Neolithic Period of electronics — 1996 — in display cases.

Omega showcased their high-end timepieces, Adidas their shoes and track gear, McDonad's their, well, Big Macs.

Bank of China featured a historical tour of China's economy — a walk through time to remind everyone how much a Yuan has changed. Visitors could also play the foreign exchange market game on one of the computers, buying and selling currencies to profit as much as possible. The high scores were listed on the TVs. No one was buying the U.S. dollar.

The Olympic Green will be the main gathering area for fans, a place to meet, eat, drink, watch performances and experience the Olympics through the eyes of sponsors who shelled out millions to become officially linked with the Games.

The Green was mostly empty in the morning, as Beijing recovered from Friday night's glitzy — and four-hour long — Opening Ceremony. But by the afternoon fans started to trickle in, many coming from the National Indoor Stadium, home of the day's gymnastics events.

Debbie Wohler of Tahoe City, Calif. was one of the few walking the square at noon but she knew that would change soon.

"This place will be happening," said Wohler, who was a torch bearer herself during the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. "There's a lot of stuff to do here."

And how was her Olympic experience so far?

"What's nice is that you don't even have to speak the language," said Wohler, a veteran of 10 Olympic games. "You just trade pins."

While trading pins will be a way for people to connect at the Olympics, more fans will flock to the food and beverage tents to make a connection. Especially once every one discovers that beers are only 5 RMB — not even 75 cents at the current Bank of China exchange rate.

Forget Sanlitun and Houhai, two of the most popular bar districts in Beijing. The place to party will be the Olympic Green, one 5 RMB cup at a time. The pro teams back in the U.S. could learn a thing or two from the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee.

But what brought the most joy Saturday was Coca-Cola's Shuang Experience Center, a celebration of all things China — and of course, Coke.

There was a grand entrance — visitors entered to a round of applause and high-fives — a historical exhibit (yes, another one) through Coke's Olympic history, a short film on the joys of shuang (it means invigorating in Chinese), local artwork on large Coke bottles, a chance to hold the torch and, at the end of the "experience," a free bottle of Coke. It was corporate marketing on steroids.

Visitors were drinking it up. They were more than happy to fill out the customer satisfaction survey afterward, which asked how they would perceive Coke if Coke was going "come to life as a person."

"Someone I'd like and would have a lot in common with," was one of the five choices.

Perhaps the only person not enjoying themselves Saturday was the poor soul who was dressed up as one of the Olympic mascots, the Fuwa. He had to endure photo after photo, baking in the 90-degree heat and 55 percent humidity.

Hopefully he got a free Coke.

Sunny Wu will be writing for msnbc.com throughout the Beijing Olympics. He can be reached at sunny.k.wu@gmail.com. You can follow more of his exploits at http://meiguoren.wordpress.com/.

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