The ferry building as seen from my office
My office is on the 14th floor overlooking the San Francisco Bay, with a bird's eye view of the Ferry Building, Embarcadero, Bay Bridge, and Market St. Today that location served as the center of the torch relay ceremonies and all associated protests. It was a gorgeous day in the city, and people from all sides of the argument were out early in the morning. Officially, San Francisco was a no-fly zone, but those restrictions must have started in the afternoon. Because there were several airplanes towing messages including the following:
"San Francisco supports Tibet"
"Tibet will always be part of China"
"Go Beijing China! Go Olympics!"
"Geico can save you 15% or more on car insurance"
Not kidding about that last one.
It was the easiest to read of all of them. I saw Chinese flags, American flags, Tibetan flags, marching bands, protest signs, and lots of TV trucks. By lunchtime, I decided I needed to head downstairs and experience it all for myself. After all, how often will the Olympic torch pass in front of your office? When I got outside an into Justin Herman Plaza (site of the closing ceremony), the Chinese consulate had bought out the entire space for their own celebration. They had dragon dances, martial arts performers, and a live band all performing at once. Hey, I'm easy to please. I like a dragon dance as much as the next guy. I used to love seeing those things in Hong Kong, especially when I just happened upon one by chance. On the other hand, they had damn near blocked the entrance of my favorite sandwich place, Burley's.
Now, I was angry. Nothing gets between me and the BBQ chicken portobello panini on a nice day. Who were all these people and why were they standing between me and lunch? Have they no courtesy? I decided to get a closer look.
On the pro-Chinese side, there were a lot of older locals. San Francisco is one of the most Chinese cities outside of Asia. There are people from all over China here, and most of them are proud of their heritage. There were also a number of Chinese students providing some of the noise and energy. The Pro-Tibet side was much younger overall. I'd say most of them were in their 20's and 30's. They were definitely the angrier of the two groups, many of them screaming into megaphones. The chants weren't too hard to learn "China Lies, People Die!" and "Shame on you, Hu Jintao" seemed to be repeated over and over.
The biggest surprise to me was an enormous group of people protesting China's close relations with Sudan. The "Save Darfur" contingent was out in full-force, wearing their customary green t-shirts.
If the pro-Tibetan side was angrier, the Chinese side was far more organized. They had purchased the demonstration permits for the plaza, which allowed them to build a soundstage and amplify their performances to deafening levels. They had a cheesy cover band playing such traditional Chinese hits as "Play that funky music white boy" and "Disco Inferno". Get it? Olympic torch.....burn baby burn. I got the reference. Not sure the Chinese did.
The whole scene seemed ridiculous to me. There is a Chinese Consulate in SF which people could protest in front of every day if they wanted to.
The Free Darfur crowd
Why interrupt the torch relay for a sporting event? Were they expecting China to cancel the Olympics? Anybody who knows ANYTHING about the Chinese knows they don't bow to pressure. It's a huge loss of face. Having lived in China (well...Hong Kong) I don't look at the country as being synonymous with the regime. It has thousands of years of history, 1.3 billion people, dozens of cultures within it. They've sent countless athletes to The Olympics over the years, why can't they host the games? It's just a sporting event. Besides, some poor javelin thrower in Finland has been training his whole life for those games. Let the guy compete, no matter where it is. It'll be 4am here anyway and I'll be watching reruns of South Park. Go Tibet!!!
Anyway, it was fun for a while, and I snapped a few pictures.
But at the end of the day, I really like my view from the 14th floor. I'm glad I went back up, because I was able to check the internet and find out that they had actually changed the route to not come by the office at all. That was the only smart thinking I saw all day. They ran the torch through undisclosed streets of the city and just went back to the airport. Now on to Buenos Aires. Now........the Argentines.....those people know how to protest. Should be quite interesting.