While China is all in the news – and my Anthrax series completed – it’s about time I made good on a promise to TPTB to provide some fresh new content for Ye Glibertariat. I’ve struggled with this in large part because I find it well-nigh impossible to outline my adventures and what I learned into some concise, pithy narrative, or travelogue, or political/economic treatise. This is also (in small part) because I continue to travel there for business and each time I go I learn more and occasionally have to adjust what I think I know. Notwithstanding the above, my fear of a nighttime knock from either Steve Smith or ZARDOZ demanding I keep my word compels me to just write and hope for the best.
My first trip to the Middle Kingdom arose out of my boss’ trip there in October of 2016. Upon his return, he asked a handful of senior staff to pack their bags to go “see what he saw” and either verify or refute his impressions. As a longtime advisor and friend, he called me personally to tell me his own impressions. He spent a week or so between Beijing and Shanghai, the culmination of the trip being his reception at Beijing Sports University (BSU), the Chinese equivalent to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, with the added bonus that BSU is also a degree-granting institution. On the campus are some of the facilities that were used to host the 2008 Olympic Games.
I had two major concerns about going, but I shut my mouth because I was not going to miss the opportunity to travel to mainland China. The first concern was physical: I had ankle surgery to repair a cracked medial malleolus, along with some other incidental damage; a November 30, 2016, fly date put me exactly four weeks from surgery, and inside the window of being off of crutches. I lied and said I would be fine when asked.
The second concern was perhaps the more serious one: with 20+ years in the Marine Corps, including time as an intelligence officer, in the summer of 2016 I learned I was one of the
4.2 19.1 million people whose background security clearances were hacked from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) by the Chinese. (Your tax dollars hard at work, people!) Would I suffer an accident while I was there? Would I disappear? Would any self-respecting 中国人 really want my organs??
As it turns out, my concerns were for naught. The flight to Beijing from SFO was long, but not unbearable, and the accommodations were first class, thanks to the generosity of my boss. We stayed at the Four Seasons in Beijing and I have never been disappointed at any of their properties, anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, even the Four Seasons can’t control the pollution in Beijing.
After our tours around BSU, which included hanging out with and watching the Olympic weightlifting team training. China’s oly team is a point of pride in China. Yes, yes, we all know about the doping, but I can assure you, the same joke is made about our team. I know people at the highest levels of the sport and the refrain among US oly lifters is that you go to the OTC to learn how to “cycle” and beat testing, not to learn how to lift.
I can’t recall what it says on the wall, though the gist of it has to do with hard work and success. Go figure.
Our tour completed, we adjourned for the more important part of the evening: breaking bre- okay, unfortunately, there was no bread, but I was the designated drinker for the American side and boy, did we put away some baijiu. Somehow, I managed to hold my own and American honor, but I barely made it back to my room before collapsing on the floor between my bed and the bathroom. I believe they call that – Success!
Diabetes in China: Another open secret
The most interesting exchange of the night occurred in the bathroom when one of the Chinese lawyers present, and also acting as a translator, told me that “the Chinese government is very open to… market-based solutions… around the problem of diabetes in China.” Wait? Did a Chinese lawyer just tell me that the Chinese were open to letting CrossFit open gyms in China and help them with their unfathomably large diabetes problem? Yes. I believe he did.
The International Diabetes Federation estimates when I was there were: 114 million diagnosed Type 2 diabetics, and 498 million pre-diabetics. You read those numbers correctly. Updated numbers in 2017 by the IDF were over 500 million pre-diabetics. My boss had been a voice crying in the night about Type 2 diabetes for years – decades even – here in the U.S. When he was given the chance to speak in China, that is all he discussed and it landed on receptive ears. There is no public health solution for that many people with diabetes. It is already crippling the U.S. medical system; it will result in unprecedented death in China that would make the coronavirus look quaint by comparison.
The second most interesting exchange of the evening was with Coach Xie, the legendary head of China’s weightlifting program. As it turns out, he can understand a lot more In-grish than he lets on, and he has a son attending a very prestigious west coast U.S. university on a swimming scholarship. He and Mrs. Coach Xie – who also happens to be the coach of the Chinese women’s national swim team – own property in Redmond, CA, if I remember correctly. In a discussion with me about what CrossFit could do in China, he looked me in the eye and said: “Jobs. Jobs for my sport.” He was so earnest it was heartbreaking.
The pipeline for olympic lifters in China narrows at the top to one spot per weight class. What that means in practical terms is that a young man or woman may spend a significant chunk of their young life to become the best lifter in their village, then city, then entire province. Given China’s population, anywhere else in the world, that young man or woman would be the best lifter in their country, but in China, all it takes is a missed lift and you go home… with nothing. Bupkus. Zero. It didn’t take much imagination to see that Coach Xie had probably shattered the dreams of hundreds of world-class lifters as a simple matter of mathematics. CrossFit gyms, however, and their incorporation of the oly lifts into workouts for everyday schlubs, instantly created a market for the technical expertise of the oly lifter. Add in some gymnastics work and now a failed national or regional lifter could open a gym and put that knowledge to use in the marketplace.
I knew I would have to come back to China after that conversation.