- Listening to:You are my everything by 森田剛
Last week I had the opportunity to spend 4 nights in Beijing. As with many of my travels in life, the reason for my trip was debate related. Beijing Foreign Studies University was playing host to the 5th annual Northeast Asian Open Debate Championships (NEAO for short). The trip was a first for me in many respects, but there was a lot of familiarity as well.
It all started when I attended a BP training seminar here in Tokyo. Despite BP debating's growing popularity, the style has not caught on in Japan. There are only two major domestic tournaments in the style, and beyond a small cadre of schools that travel to foreign tournaments, the only other time Japanese debate teams compete in BP is if the attend Worlds. As such my BP debate experience is quite valuable here, as there are very few people in the country that can match my BP resume. As it so happened the Japanese DCA for NEAO was at the seminar and he offered me a spot as an invited judge. I was being offered meals and accommodations, so all I had to do was find a cheap flight to/from Beijing and clear my work schedule for a few days. I managed to do both, and I found myself agreeing to go to Beijing in less than two weeks time. I saw this as a good opportunity to travel to China (obviously) and to get to know some Japanese debaters better.
It was at this point I realized that I hadn't judged at a competitive BP tournament in over a year (Guindon 2008 having been my BP swan song). In an effort to get back into shape I was able to join the ICU team's BP training seminars. Over two days I judged and debated in a whole bunch of BP debates, and managed to strengthen some relationships along the way. However, even though ICU was fun and rewarding, it didn't change the fact that I hadn't judged seriously with a proper briefing and scoring range. My judgement was deferred to, and I was a bit concerned that my judging standards were not up to snuff. But I figured any questions/concerns I had could be dealt with in the briefings and the judging package.
With those questions still in my mind, I made my way to Narita Airport on Thursday afternoon. I took the cheapest possible route from my house, taking a couple of local trains to get to Terminal 1. I sailed through check-in and security and got into my gate. If there's anything my 20+ trans-pacific flights have taught me, is how to get through security quickly and painlessly. I met up with the ICU guys near their gate (they were flying out at the same time, but on a different flight), and arranged to meet up again at the Beijing Airport. The flight itself was uneventful, I watched Up! on the personal video system, and ate an OK chicken dinner (for airline standards). I was flying United which meant the crew was mostly American which meant I could stick with English through the whole flight. My secret to uneventful flying is to have low expectations and not to piss off the flight attendants. These simple rules keep me quite content on flights and stop me from wasting time complaining about flights.
Our flight arrived ahead of time, and we were greeted by a near empty shiny new airport. I was fearing going through customs more than usual since I had no idea what to expect. I generally fear customs officials since, as one comedian put it succinctly, they have the power to look up your butt. This fear, coupled with the distrust I had for the Chinese government, meant I was going through the various scenarios that may befall me, and had me wondering whether I had the means to pay for a flight back home to Japan if I was refused entry in the country. I was slightly worried that the purpose of my visit, NEAO, would be classified as an "event" which would've required me to get a visa beforehand. As is usual with me and customs, I sailed through without any problem. Looking back on it now I'm not even sure if I ever exchanged words with the customs officer. After I cleared customs I made my way to the baggage claim, and in a moment of perfect timing I saw my suitcase turning the corner of the carousel just as I was approaching it. I managed to grab my suitcase without breaking a stride, and I made my way out to the arrival lobby.
After a 20-30 minute wait, the team from Seikei University came out. Apparently we were on the same flight. I had seen them briefly when they peeked in the back of the plane, where I was sitting, when we boarded in Tokyo but they disappeared back front before I could say a word. I had assumed they'd got out before me and I wasn't expecting to see them. We then proceeded to wait for the guys from ICU. Little did we know we were waiting for people who would never appear. It turns out the ICU guys arrived in a different terminal and when I didn't appear they headed out to the hotel. Those of us in the other terminal only realized our mistake when I realized that each party had a cellphone that functioned in China, and we were able to send an email message. So after 40-50 minutes of Waiting for Godot, which took us close to midnight, we were on our way.
Luckily my intrepid friends from Seikei had the foresight to ask the organizing committee for directions to the hotel, and they were armed with a map to the hotel. This little revaluation was a big relief for me, as I was armed with only the English name of the hotel, which based on my Google search for the name, I was fairly sure was useless. Lo and behold, once we got into a cab my hunch was correct, our taxi driver spoke not a lick on English and we managed to make our way to the hotel by giving the driver Seikei's map and letting him make sense of it.
I'm going to leave it here for now, keep your eyes peeled for part 2 and beyond soon!