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Hacker wraps-up the Cup of China

Skater describes last days in Beijing

Some of the members of Team USA who competed at the Cup of China.
Some of the members of Team USA who competed at the Cup of China. (courtesy of Katrina Hacker)

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By Katrina Hacker, special to icenetwork.com
(11/05/2008) - U.S. skater Katrina Hacker, who finished sixth at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships and the 2008 Four Continents Championships, made her Senior Grand Prix debut this week at the Cup of China in Beijing. She wraps up her athlete diary for icenetwork.com by describing the final days at CoC.

Wrap-up

I apologize for the blogging delay. I've been busy...skating!

On Thursday morning, not wanting to exhaust ourselves before competing, but also not wanting to waste precious sightseeing time, Peter Johansson, Stephen Carriere and I walked down the street from our hotel to the Beijing Zoo. Housed inside the zoo are China's famous Giant Pandas. An endangered species, Pandas inhabit the mountains in central China, but as few as 1,600 actually live in the wild. A low birthrate and habitat destruction has caused the decline in Panda population.

The Sichuan earthquake further damaged Panda preserves. We saw about 10 Pandas -- eating bamboo, sleeping, playing. They are so adorable! While we were at the Zoo, a Chinese mother -- a complete stranger -- tapped my shoulder after we smiled at her baby. She held out the baby and showed me her camera. She wanted me to hold her baby and pose for a picture!!! I complied. Maybe it's the blonde(ish) hair, I don't know, but it is fun to stand out, at least for a few days!!!

After the Zoo, Ashley Wagner and I practiced and then competed our short programs that evening. The fans in China are so enthusiastic. Banners for the skaters (especially for superstar Yu-Na Kim) hang around the stadium. They cheer and clap for every jump and spin.

On Friday morning, we didn't have enough time before practice to go very far, so we walked to a nearby park. The park looked quite small on our map, but we were pleasantly surprised walking though the gates. Despite the pollution in Beijing, the park was lush and vast and filled with people at 11:00 a.m. in the morning. Everyone seemed to enjoy his or her time in the outdoors. The park is host to a symbiotic relationship between old and new Beijing.

Here is a list of just a few of the activities we observed in the park: the ancient art of Tai Chi, Waltz and Tango classes, a jazzercise-like aerobics class set to Chinese pop music, badminton, Jianzi (a very cool version of hacky sack played with a feathered shuttlecock), Taiji Bailong ball (a cross between badminton and Tai Chi), sword dancing, acapella groups, weddings etc, etc.

Children cavorted about a playground (that even included a trampoline!) and enjoyed miniature rides in a small amusement park. We walked around a beautiful lake (a sign warned not to swim, fish or skate! outside the allotted boundaries). The men, the pairs and the dancers were all terrific on Friday evening.

On Saturday, I didn't skate a very good long program, but once I (very quickly) got over being upset mad at myself, I realized how amazing the experience was. The Chinese (and many Korean) fans really loved watching us. Their appreciation for skating is truly remarkable. After every single skater, the fans threw down masses of stuffed animals and gifts. I was so glad to have the opportunity to perform for them.

Later on, we went to watch the men's free skate. Both of my teammates were spectacular. Stephen and Jeremy were nearly perfect. I am so happy to have witnessed their electrifying performances.

On Sunday, Debbie Currie took us out shopping again! We hit all the markets and received some jewelry advice from Debbie. It was very, very fun, and quite exhausting too! I had to take a nap before the Banquet. Everyone was dressed to the nines for the banquet -- black seemed to be the color of choice. Team USA was quite disheartened that not a single member won anything during Bingo at the Banquet. I've heard that many prizes are awarded at the NHK Banquet, so we still have our hopes up!

Monday was my last day in Beijing. Before heading to the airport, we made a quick trip to the Temple of Heaven. The Temple is surrounded by a vast park, where we observed the same activities we'd seen at the local park, only on a much, much larger scale! A few more random people asked me to pose for pictures -- at least I didn't have to hold any crying babies! (I spoke to Canadian ice dancer Kaitlyn Weaver, and she had been asked for hundreds of photos, evidence that supports my hypothesis about blonde-ness-or semi-blonde-ness, on my part).

Hundreds upon hundreds of people were out and about exercising on Monday morning. Yongle, the same Emperor who commissioned the Forbidden City, constructed the Temple of Heaven between 1406 and 1420. Within the Temple complex is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, the Imperial Vault of Heaven and the Circular Mound Alter. I learned that the Temple is rich with symbolism. In ancient China, a circle represented Heaven, and a square, the Earth. The two shapes make up many aspects of the Temple Structures. The number 9 represented the Emperor and was considered lucky in China, and as a result, the Circular Mound Alter is crafted in stone in groups of nine. The blue roof tiles on all of the buildings inside the complex represent Heaven. The Temple of Heaven is a perfect representation of traditional Ming Chinese and was a wonderful way to end my whirlwind trip to China.

The opportunity to see Beijing was amazing and I will never forget my experience at Cup of China. Again, I am so incredibly sorry for the late blog. I hope you all have enjoyed it!

More from Tokyo in two weeks!!!

Wednesday

All of the skaters have arrived! This morning, I awoke to election returns on TV. Before practice, we ventured out to visit some more of Beijing's historical sights -- Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. I love visiting places that I've learned about in school. Both were incredible!

Tiananmen Square is simply massive. In fact, it is the largest public square in the world. In the 1970s, the Square played host to many parades and Communist Party rallies, but in 1989, Tiananmen Square was the backdrop of the famous clash between students and soldiers. The Square leads to the Forbidden City, so named because commoners were not permitted to visit the area for 500 years. The Yongle Emperor constructed the palace during the early 1400s, but most of the buildings now seen at the Forbidden City were built after the 1700s, as the early buildings were susceptible to fire. The Forbidden City is enormous. We walked through gate after gate, only to see more gates and pagodas in the distance! Near the edge of the Forbidden City is the Imperial Garden, which even in November is stunning. The intricately twisted cypress trees and the colossal carvings and statues are wonderful. The Forbidden City is unlike any other imperial court in the world.

Everyone had great official practices this afternoon. The Beijing Capital Gymnasium is beautiful. During the Olympics, indoor volleyball matches were played here. The seats are the colors of the Olympic rings -- green, red, yellow and blue, but no black. Skating there was very exciting!

Tonight we had a very fun team dinner. The competition begins tomorrow! Zhu ni haoyun (good luck) everyone!!!!

We have all picked up some more Mandarin. Here's what we've learned:

Numbers:
ling (0)
yi (1)
er (2)
san (3)
si (4)
wu (5)
liu (6)
qi (7)
ba (8)
jiu (9)
shi (10)

Skate: liu bing (literally, slide ice)
Please: qing
I don't understand: wo tingbudong
Rice: baifan
Broccoli: xilanhua

Tuesday

Finally -- more skaters have appeared! Americans Ashley Wagner and Stephen Carriere arrived last night, and I saw many international skaters this afternoon.

Our tour of Beijing continued this morning. A large group -- U.S. team leader Debbie Currie, Canadian judges Leslie Keen and Karen Howard, Wagner, her mother Melissa, coaches Priscilla Hill and Peter Johansson, Carriere and I -- started at the Drum Tower and then rode in rickshaws through hutongs (neighborhoods comprised of narrow streets and alleys, lined by siheyuan or other types of houses), where we visited a home and a local market and learned about traditional Chinese tea.

The Drum Tower was first erected in 1272 as the center of the Mongol capital Dadu and has been rebuilt numerous times since then. Later, during the Ming dynasty, drums announced the time of day. The Drum Tower is an imposing structure representing old Beijing.

Later, on the way to our unofficial practice this afternoon, we spotted the new CCTV headquarters, designed by famed architect Rem Koolhaas. This spectacular, five-sided, arched and twisted building is a perfect juxtaposition to the hutong, further demonstrating the contrast between new and old Beijing.

Stephen, Ashley and I practiced again at the Beijing Century Star Skating Club. We greatly appreciate the club members' kindness in welcoming us to their rink. We enjoyed watching Chinese pair and dance teams. Thank you again, Misha, for being a wonderful translator!

Monday

Ni hao from Beijing! I arrived in China Sunday afternoon and have already had an amazing trip. China is a fascinating country.

My mother and I came to China a day early to get acclimated and to be able to sightsee. So far, I'm the only skater to have arrived. Within two hours of landing at the airport, we were already at the Silk Market with our adventurous team leader, Debbie Currie; Becky Calvin, Jeremy Abbott's coach; and Canadian judge Leslie Keen.

Debbie is a gemologist and has been to Beijing many times, so she introduced us to her friend Julie, who sells pearls and gave us a crash course in the art of bargaining. One can buy absolutely anything at the Silk Market -- from faux designer sunglasses to traditional Chinese crafts, and everything in between, including children's toys, fleece jackets, watches, pearls ... I could go on forever. The bargaining that occurs is simply amazing. If a vendor declares the price of an item as 400 yuan, offer 20 and be relentless. As you walk away, declining the sale, they will finally give in, and you will buy the item for 30! After a 20-hour voyage from Boston, this was more activity than we have ever done before on the first day of a trip!

Early this morning, I headed out to the Great Wall of China with my mom and Leslie Keen. Our taxi driver, Tiger, spoke a little bit of English, and he helped expand my Mandarin vocabulary from two words to about five. The trip to the Mutianyu section of the Wall took about an hour and a half of harrowing driving. No one obeys any traffic rules here, passing on both the left (using the lane intended for oncoming traffic) and the right (using the breakdown/bicycle lane)! I'm glad my seatbelt worked!

When we finally arrived at the Wall, Tiger helped us pay for our tickets, and we rode up the mountain in an old-fashioned chairlift. We walked endlessly along the wall, to Badaling and back, and were offered beer about 12 times along the way!!! The wall was truly amazing. The vista from the top of the wall is simply breathtaking. It is difficult to believe that the earliest sections of the Wall were built in the 6th century B.C.! Did you know that it is 10,000 Li (about 5,000 kilometers) long?! I admire anyone who tries to complete the Great Wall Marathon, 26.2 miles and 3,700 steps, because all of our legs were tired from walking up all the stairs in the small section that we walked! Instead of walking all the way down the mountain, which would have added another hour and a half of walking, the three of us rode toboggans down a long winding slide.

I have determined from this experience that I am not cut out to be a competitive luger, since quite a line of more intrepid racers were backed up behind me. On the drive back from the Great Wall, we stopped at the Olympic Village and saw the Bird's Nest Stadium and the Water Cube -- representing the most modern China in sharp contrast to the ancient China of the Wall.

And finally, on to the reason why I came to China -- skating! In the afternoon, I traversed the entire city of Beijing in dense traffic -- past glossy skyscrapers, ancient structures, thousands of people walking and biking, and even a donkey -- to a different rink, since official practice does not begin until Wednesday. Everyone welcomed me graciously onto the ice. It was a wonderful session. I would like to thank everyone at the Beijing Century Star Club, especially Sarah and Misha, for translating for me, and Maisy, for helping to play my music.

What a day!!! More from China soon!
Xiexie for reading!
Katrina

Useful words:
Zaijian: good bye
Duibuqi: sorry (used when apologizing, not to be sorry)
Wo dei zou le: I have to go now
Qu nar a: Where are you going?
Ni hao: hello
Xiexie: thank you