BOT promoting grass-roots tennis in Beijing

BOT: Beijing Oriental International Tennis Development Center
Director: Ms. Zhang Yaorong
Their website: (unfortunately, nothing in English)
I have been involved since the beginning with BOT, participating at several of their events, like the one on18 December in “Couleurs de vie” (Fortune Mall near Fortune Tower in CBD)(
BOT is fully supported by the Beijing Municipal Government.
The idea is to develop tennis as a sport for the general public, both old and young, and develop the tennis industry. There are specific activities and initiatives for different target groups. Every year BOT organizes the “Beijing International Veteran Tennis Tournament”, with seniors participating from all over the world.
The goals are different from the 6th Sense Potter’s Wheel International Tennis Center ( Initially there was the idea to work with Justine Henin but a commercial deal did not materialize.
The event of Saturday was held in the large French complex in Fortune Mall (Pierre Leduc, General Manager), the first time I made it there. There are totally 3 floors with cafés, Hong Kong Food, French food, a Curry restaurant and a European city themed corner complete with carousel. My first visit but for sure not the last one!
The event was also sponsored by Vandergeeten (the major importer of Belgian goodies such as Stella Artois, Hoegaarden, Leffe and Belle-Vue). Frederik Esbensen was on the spot to give me my liquid food. Hoegaarden beer flowed freely and even made the TV guys pretty happy.
Pictured giving speeches are Ms. Zhang and the new Director General of the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Sports, Mr. Li Yingchuan. Also pictured: Piere and Paul and Rowan Simons of Clubfootball and of course Sun & Valerie.

After the reception I joined the private dinner (great veal steak!) together with the organizers. An artist made some on the spot portraits, including of Ms. Zhang.
We also had some ballroom dancing. Cool… and classic music.
Later I will post some pics from earlier events.

Meeting tennis ace Justine Henin in Beijing

The Belgian former world No 1, who returned to professional tennis in January after a 19-month layoff from the sport, visited Beijing this month.
Henin set up her branch at the Potter’s Wheel International Tennis Center in February, shortly after Zheng Jie and Li Na created history for China by reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open.
The branch in Beijing is the third academy she has opened, after the first in Belgium (2007) and a second in the United States (2008).
Read the full story:

Thanks to Renaissance Beijing Capital Hotel (thank you Hans! great buffet!) we had the honor to meet the star on 14 December. Justine was really patient with the many demands for pictures and autographs. Thanks to Gérard who helped me to overcome my hesitation, I met Justine who signed for me the article I had cut out of China Daily 11 December, see the scan. Christine helped her daughter, a big fan of Justine, to get her notebook signed.
China Daily interviewed our star at the occasion, read here the full story:

Mongolia Sunrise to Sunset Ultra Marathon

Normally I don’t simply copy articles from China Daily, but here I do because I’m real happy the Mongolia Marathon got all this coverage. I just hope next year I can run it again. I mean, the 42k, not the 100k! I miss it…
See also:
8 October 2009 – Going the extra mile – and then some more
By Kathy Hirsch (China Daily)

click to read more

click to enlarge

Seven years ago my family flew a “goggles and scarf” flight into Hatgal, a northern Mongolian frontier town perched at the southern border of Lake Hovsgol.
We came to Mongolia for a week of camping and mountain biking and, though we didn’t know it yet, an introduction to a Mongolian ultra-marathon.
As we biked up the shore of Lake Hovsgol we saw dozens of fit runners with numbers on front and back. Not what you expect in a region full of mostly nomadic Mongol people who live in gers (Mongolian yurts) and tend herds of horses, camels, cattle and yaks.
The Mongolia Sunrise to Sunset, “the world’s most beautiful 100 km run” was started 11 years ago by a group of friends visiting northern Mongolia who were struck by the remarkable purity of the environment and wanted to help preserve both the park and the local cultural identity. They promote a zero-litter campaign, have bought the national park a garbage truck and contribute as much as possible to the local economy by engaging the local community in the event.
The organizers hire locally, employ horsemen and doctors to supervise aid stations and actively encourage locals to participate in the race. Almost every year Mongolians have placed 1st or 2nd in both the 42 km and 100 km runs for both men and women.
The 42 km and 100 km distances are run along Lake Hovsgol in the national park. It’s the second largest freshwater lake in Asia, at 1,645 m above sea level, and contains about 70 percent of the fresh water in Mongolia.
Looking north, if you squint on a clear day, you can see Siberia. In this absolutely pristine environment the air is clear, the clouds are unbelievable, wild flowers are everywhere and rainbows are a daily occurrence.
The course goes through the woods, over high passes, into marshes, up mossy hillsides, flowery fields and lakeside paths. Runners arrive about four days before the race and spend the time doing practice runs, walks up into the mountains, comparing running strategies and taking lots of photos. The race doctor interviews all the runners and decides who needs a horseman to stay close “just in case”.
At 3:15 am on race day, everyone is awakened by the sound of the Mongolian flute and drum, eats breakfast and dons their headlamps and backpacks. In the middle of summer Mongolia has a very long day, but the sun doesn’t come up until around 5, so the first leg of the race is run in the dark through the forest over roots and mud.
Even though there are aid stations every 12 km along the course, each runner must carry water, food and emergency gear in case of injury. For two years, I’ve gone out the night before to sleep at the second aid station at 25 km with the Mongolian translator, doctor and the horsemen.
This year I was at 76 km. At the 25 km mark the runners were pretty much blowing by with the aid station volunteers quickly filling their camelbacks. It’s a much better social scene at 76 km. We even borrowed a few upholstered dining room chairs from a local ger (we paid them back in cookies, fried donuts and dried bananas) to set up around our aid table. The runners, after 8 to 12 hours of running, were very happy to sit down for a few minutes.
It’s the job of the volunteers to assess the physical status of the runners. Not such a big deal at 25 km, but at 76 km there were blisters to bandage, blood pressures to be taken and the occasional nap. You could feel euphoria rolling off them.
On the trail, many runners seem to fall into a meditative trance that keeps them going. A few have their iPods; most are happy with their thoughts and the gorgeous scenery. Camaraderie also develops along the course, with runners encouraging and waiting for each other. Two British women three years ago seemed to spend the whole race laughing – a great way to wend your way through 42 km.
Every year I’m impressed with the fortitude and dedication of the runners. They range in age between teenagers and septuagenarians. Some are running their first marathon, some are running their 437th.
It’s a very special place with very special people. Maybe it’s a little crazy, but I’ve recently agreed to do the 42 km next year with one of the race organizers. I’m starting to surf the Net for training programs and jokes – we’ll walk it but still… it’s 42 km.

Get into shape!

Do your “pilates”!
Never quite understood this pilates stuff, I am conservative so I simply run (preferably marathons). My friend finally explained it to me and the Chinese New Year period will be a good opportunity to do it as my gym will be closed.

Health care in USA and China: personal experience

Tom Daschle has been appointed by Obama to try to pursue a goal that has not been reached after decades of efforts: “affordable, accessible health care for every single American”. As they said, 45 million Americans have no health insurance and face runaway costs in the sector.
The U.S. certainly has one of the most advanced health care facilities and specialists. But cost is exorbitant and even so service can be very soso (unless you spend a fortune). One of the main reasons I would never go and live there.
In China, the sector has some parallels with the U.S. Actually, health care over here can be excellent, if you have the right guanxi and your credit card ready. While sometimes expensive (in the foreign clinics), it can also be very cheap. But if one has no money, well, too bad, you’ll die at the doorsteps of the hospital or you ruin the whole family. Genuine health insurance is here still pretty rare. Chinese save so much because they know they have nobody to rely on for their retirement and health. Now China is trying hard to improve this but it will be a daunting task. China might learn from the U.S. – if – they succeed in their plan.
My experience here has been tested in 2008 with a couple of unpleasant problems. Chronic bronchitis, a result of the horrendous pollution, is now under good control thanks to all the good care and recommendations of Vista Clinic and, to a certain extent, Peking Union Medical College Hospital (“Xiehe”). Vista is rather expensive but service is great. Xiehe is typical Chinese: chaotic, a labyrinth of buildings and consultation offices, complicated paying methods, all often frustrating. But they have some real good doctors and costs are very low. For a foreigner going there without help, forget it.
My nasty back problem made me look for many opinions as I wanted to make sure that I got the right advise. Xiehe was pretty good (after all the frustrated waiting) and medication received deemed correct.
The first opinion was at Beijing Chaoyang Traditional Hospital, a less-known hospital in Gongti Nan Lu where I go most – it’s next door. The hospital is now renovated and though “very Chinese” it is rather easy and quick. Little or no waiting to get X-rays or laboratory tests done. Cheap. Their medication, after due verification, was not as bad as originally thought but their conclusion was depressing: “no more running for you”. OK…
They ordered an MRI, done in Beijing Dongzhimen Hospital. Very “Chinese”, confusing and complicated but with help, rather quick. In many countries you have to wait months to have an MRI, here I got it in 24 hours. Reasonable price too I guess.
Another opinion – and more medication – came from Beijing Jishuitan Hospital, a depressingly huge place where you better have a car to go around. And if you don’t have the “guanxi” you won’t have access to the top specialists like I had. So, for me it was OK as I was accompanied by a whole delegation of helpers, drivers, etc. The verdict there was again in line with all other Chinese doctors, though more focused: “no operation”, lots of rest, take it easy etc. Did not dare to ask if running was part of my future.
And no, I did not go and try Beijing United Family Hospital as those guys start having a rather poor reputation (extremely expensive and not always correct & efficient).
The final opinion came from SOS International Clinic (on recommendation from Vista!). The clinic is brand new and real large. Worked out well, expensive – yes. Received the most optimistic opinion: it ain’t so bad (for my age), no operation as for now, just physiotherapy. And: “you can still run some more marathons”! No further medication here as what I am taking right now seems OK. Verdict: “lumbar stenosis”, not exactly something to make you happy but considering I must have this since decades and I ran TWO marathons last year… We’ll see.
So, slowly recovering, no travel as for now as sitting in a plane for many hours and suffering in airports is NOT recommended…
Well, time to start writing my book.