Changing China

Giant on the move

Zen, Tao and the art of accessing an Olympic venue

August 5, 2008

Hiromi Miyake trainsAsian negotiation techniques have brought Westerners to their knees ever since Taoist sage Laozi said that soft and fluid water wears away the hardest rock. The deadliest weapon in the boardrooms of companies from Tokyo to Beijing: a long, inscrutable silence.

So who wins in a stand-off between Chinese Olympic volunteers (“nothing is as soft and yielding as water, and yet it conquers that which is hard and unyielding” – Laozi) and Japanese reporters (“my heart burns like fire but my eyes are as cold as dead ashes” – Zen monk Soyen Shaku)?

The burning issue at hand: media access to the Olympic weightlifting training centre.

Japanese reporters have been crowding around the gym for days, trying to get inside and shoot pictures of weightlifter Hiromi Miyake, one of Japan’s main medal hopes. Chinese volunteers, on the other hand, have been trying to keep them out.

On Saturday, about a dozen journalists infiltrated the gym. Photographers skulked around the mats and weights, looking for the best angle, while text reporters huddled in a corner next to the area where Miyake was training, watched by her coach and father.

A Chinese volunteer approached the group and announced that according to Olympic rules, journalists were not allowed to enter the gym.

The Japanese reporters nodded, smiled, and stayed put.

The volunteer took a deep breath and said: “So please, cooperate.”

The reporters nodded, smiled, and stayed put.

Volunteer: “See, the rules…”

And so on.

Eventually, one Japanese reporter broke the silence and said: “Can you please stop. This is annoying me.”

The next day, the main entrance to the gym was guarded by a dozen Chinese volunteers, photographers were barred from entering and Japanese reporters were squashed into a small media box at the far end of the gym.

Looks like all the zen proverbs in the world won’t help you if the other party owns the venue.

PHOTO: Hiromi Miyake takes part in a weightlifting training session ahead of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 2, 2008. REUTERS/Issei Kato

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