the five friendlies

A few weeks ago, my mom showed me some articles in the Chinese newspaper about the colorful mascots for the 2008 olympics. They are all over keychains, bracelets, watches, cell phone covers, and other assorted knick-knacks. Now, you, too, can see them in all their glory: overview and details!

A little panda doing archery! A little Tibetian Antelope on a bike! And pole-vaulting! A little flame-creature playing soccer! Little water-guys doing synchronized swimming! WHAT MORE COULD YOU ASK FOR????1

These little guys are so well-thought-out, it’s almost sickening. Each has a name that is one word repeated twice (in the manner of nicknames for kids). The words by themselves mean… other stuff.2 If you take each of the words, they “sound out” the phrase “bei jing huan ying ni”–beijing welcomes you!!!! (And by “sound out,” I mean–each of them are homonyms for the actual words “bei jing huan ying ni.” Their names are not the actual words in this phrase and are even different tones; it’s all a big huge whomping pun. WHOMPING I say to you.) GAHHH it’s so perfectly cute it’s bothersome. Not only that, each Friendly corresponds to one color of the Olympic rings, one “animal” or “ancient idea” that China thinks is important, has certain “design influences,” and is the “embodying element” of certain sports–their “patron saints,” if you will. GAHHHH it’s too cute and perfect to exist. Things like this shouldn’t be ALLOWED.

I mean, just the individual names spelling out “beijing welcomes you!!!” bit is hard enough to swallow. I love it and feel saccharine overdose at the same time.

You should REALLY take a gander at the website. Some of those descriptions are AMAZING. Ok I will even bring some of it to you. Check it: “Dedicated to helping Beijing 2008 spread its theme of One World, One Dream to every continent, the Five Friendlies reflect the deep desire of the Chinese people to reach out to the world in friendship through the Games–and to invite every man, woman and child to take part in the great celebration of human solidarity that China will host in the light of the flame in 2008.” I mean, gosh. Like, omg. My eyes, they glaze over, as my heart feels this massive overpouring of goodwill and happiness. Everybody sing with me now… ERRR LINGG LIIIINGGG BAAAAA…

1I have to say, the red guy doing the modern pentathlon is the strangest stylized-rendition-of-a-weird-sport I have ever seen. Or awesomest. Take your pick.

2My mom told me about the individual names.
Bei = fourth tone, and literally means “shell,” as in “treasure.” Hahahaha. You say “bao bei” to mean “treasure” and “dearest.” My mom’s family called her “xiao bei,” literally “little shell,” “littlest treasure,” “littlest darling.”
Uh, I’ve forgotten all the rest. Maybe I’ll look them up later?

3I know there isn’t a 3rd footnote, but I just wanted to add that the Chinese are REALLY FOND of puns. Like, REALLY, REALLY fond of them. There are puns for everything. It is the nature of the language to set up near-homonyms, I think because every phrase is made up of a limited number of “phonetic” building blocks in the form of one-syllable words (unlike our words, which have multiple syllables, and many different combinations of sounds)… It’s like rhyming the entirety of sentences… When we do it in English we call it “internal rhyme,” I guess, but it’s much harder in English to come up with two phrases where every single syllable of the first rhymes with a corresponding syllable in the second. I guess because Chinese has tones to create different words from the same sounds, and there are just way more homonyms anyway. etc, etc) … People are always coming up with clever phrases whose words, individually, sound like other words whose meanings are different or funny or unexpectedly related to the meaning of the phrase as a whole, about whatever current events or trends are going on. My mom gave me an example of a kind-of-suggestive one that’s currently popular in the media, but I’ve totally forgotten it… ummm…


    1. There’ve been some pretty bad Olympic Mascots, althought Izzy scares me the most. Take a look at the ’68 Winter Olympics mascot…. yikes! Or the ’76 Montreal Olympics mascot “The Bleeding Black Blob.”

      I have fond memories of the 88 Olympics Tiger, because I actually had a statuette of it that was battery operated; when you turned it on, an attachment on its head would spin around to make the ribbon go flowing around and around. It was also good for poking out kids eyes.

        1. With a monkey too, right?

          The next summer Olympics after Beijing would be London… I’m just not seeing them using a squid. Nor do I see Vancouver using a squid either.

          Ooh ooh, Olympic mascot speculation! Vancouver 2010 = Moose and Squirrel. London 2012 = The Olympic Dentist. (Given that it’s Britain, they’ll figure out some way to make the queen (who will still be alive in 2012) into the official Olympic mascot.)

          1. Gack! This is what happens when I change from one thought (Gee the Brits have really bad teeth) to another thought (Gee the Brits really love their queen) mid paragraph….

            Although I’m now having mental images of the queen holding a dental drill and ordering someone to swallow…

  1. That reminds me of that Chinese dessert I like a lot… is it ba bei or something? I just remember it means 8-treasure rice. Mmm… 8-treasures…

    1. Yes! ba1 bao3 … literally, eight treasures! Eight even if there aren’t actually “eight” ingredients because eight is lucky, and that treasure is the same “bao” in “bao bei” (which means baby, honey, treasure, etc). I guess “bao” is the adjective-like part that means “most dearest” and “bei” is the noun-like part that means “treasure-thing/shell.” Yes yes…

      There is also “eight treasure tea” from Schezhuan (shechuan? shezuan? sechuan?), famous not only for having all kinds of stuff in it–whole chrystanthemum flower heads and longan and weird orange herbs that look like beans and rock sugar!!–but for the way it is served: each person gets their own herb concoction in one of those little cups with a saucer and a lid, and then the waiter (who has to practice, btw, it’s very difficult) holds this GIGANTIC teapot with an INCREDIBLY long spout… like, seriously four feet long, and swirls the hot water into your cup with extreme force. Then you wait a while (and the longer you wait the more sugar dissolves!), and sip it holding the little cover at a slanty angle like a seive for the herby stuff. They say the 2nd cup is the best because the stuff has had a chance to get undried out.

      You could order it in this one restaurant San Jose, and my family actually went there the month before it burned down =O

      And then we had it in China and Ryan became obsessed with it and bought a bunch of premade packets to bring home =) But it’s just not the same without the giant teapot =( I must find a restaurant with this service and take you all

      1. whoa! dude that sounds totally awesome!! I really love tea, especially interesting combinations and lots of fanfare (maybe why I did tea ceremony for a while… the fanfare part). If you find a place that serves that, definitely I would love to go!!

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