Category Archives: 2008 Olympics

Biking to the Great Wall

On our last full day in China, Will and I took a 50-mile bike ride — and again saw the Great Wall. It was a spectacularly beautiful day — clear, sunny, about 80 degrees. Will was a good sport about it, indulging my biking habit, and we really had fun. We saw a lot of the countryside — farms and small villages.

Our trip to China has been wonderful. It has taught us a lot about this huge country, which is so old, and so new, at the same time. UNC is already doing a lot in China, in global health and other areas. The potential is for much, much more.

And the Beijing Olympics were just fabulous!

Will and me having just biked to the Great Wall, 50 miles round trip!
roper and will biking


We have just been to the most amazing sporting event I have ever seen (with the exception of the Men’s Basketball National Championship in St. Louis in 2005).

This morning we went to swimming finals. We saw lots of great events, and a number of new world records were set.

The high point, though, was seeing Michael Phelps. He won the gold in the 200 fly, and the U.S. team, of which he was the first leg, won the gold in the 4×200 free. It was wonderful getting to stand and sing the “Star Spangled Banner” twice!

As of right now, Phelps has won five gold medals in the Beijing Olympics, which, when added to his six from Sydney, means that he has won more gold medals than anyone else in history! And he is not done yet. He is predicted to win three more while here.

It turns out that his mother was sitting just a few rows away from us, and we got to see her reaction to all of this, and see him throw his bouquets of roses up to her in the stands.


The USA men’s 4×200 free relay team with their gold medals.
mens 4x200

Visit with PKU leadership and then gymnastics final

This morning we met with Professor Min Weifang, the chairman of the University Council of Peking University. Under the Chinese system of university governance, he is the party chairman, and, as such, he is the highest ranking official at PKU. Even the university president reports to him.

Prof. Min has his doctorate from Stanford, and he is an urbane, polished leader. He has been involved with UNC for some time — and he visited Chapel Hill about a year ago. Chancellor Moeser and he met several times.

He talked about PKU and their vision for the future, especially as it relates to international partnerships with other universities.

I was impressed with many things about him, but especially about the depth of his knowledge of U.S. higher education. For example, he talked about the role of “the three universities” in the development of Research Triangle Park and the wider economic development of the Triangle. Then he enumerated them, “UNC, North Carolina State University, and …” When he paused, I filled in the blank with “that other university nearby.” He said he has recently met with Duke President Richard Broadhead.

We talked about the health sciences at UNC and at PKU, and their plans for the future. I had met with Prof. Ke, the EVP for health sciences a few days ago, and Prof. Min said he knows that heads of medical schools are very powerful and always get their way within a university. I laughed and said that is not always true at UNC, but maybe it is often true.

There will be a joint UNC-PKU conference in Beijing in November, which will feature a number of senior UNC leaders. It will offer additional opportunities to explore partnerships with PKU, the top ranked Chinese institution of higher education.

Meeting with Prof. Min Weifang, the chairman of the University Council of PKU.

Following our meeting, we headed off to the Olympics.

Today we saw the finals of men’s team gymnastics.

It was the first time I have ever seen gymnastics in person. I’ve watched it on TV often but it was really great to be there. It is amazing the feats of strength, balance, and coordination!

We saw a vigorous competition — and ultimately the medal ceremony. China won the gold, Japan the silver, and the USA the bronze medal.

Beach volleyball and swimming

Today was a fun day — just Olympics.

In the morning we went to beach volleyball and saw several matches.

The best was between the Chinese and Belgian women. The China team won but it was a closely fought game (19-21, 21-18, 15-13).

Tonight we went to the “Water Cube” (the natatorium) and saw great swimming. We saw a new world’s record set in the women’s 200 freestyle, and Michael Phelps set a new Olympic record in the men’s 200 fly.

The facilities for the Olympics here are just magnificent — and the hospitality we are receiving from the Chinese people is really heart-warming. I often have noticed people looking intently at me on the street — staring really — and I have taken to waving and smiling at them — and they just beam back at me. Tom has taught me to say — “knee how,” which means hello — and they love it when I try to say it to them.

This trip is really a joy — and an opportunity to learn and build relationships for UNC.

Will holding a real Olympic torch.
Will torch

FDA, Women’s Basketball, Church and UNC Alumni

Yesterday Peter Coclanis, Tom Martineau and I had lunch with Dr. Yan Jiangying (or Jenny Yan, to use her “English name”).

She is a senior official of the State Food and Drug Administration for China. She is a pediatrician and she was a Fogarty Fellow at UNC with Dr. Gail Henderson in 2005.

We went to a very nice restaurant which has recreated the elegant old style of entertaining. It was a very pleasant meal, made all the more so by Dr. Yan’s recounting of her very positive memories of her year in Chapel Hill.

We discussed future possibilities for partnerships between the SFDA and UNC.

Dr. Jenny Yan from the SFDA.
bill and jenny

Last evening we went to see the USA women’s basketball team play the Czech Republic. In addition to Peter, Tom and Will, Mark Little joined us. He is Provost Bernadette Gray-Little’s son. Mark has spent the past year in Beijing as a Luce Fellow, teaching environmental science at PKU.

The USA team was slow to get started, but after Candace Parker went in they caught up and really blew the other team away. The final score was 97-57. At the end I was yelling “we want biscuits,” but I am not sure the local crowd got the point.

This morning I went to church at the Beijing International Christian Fellowship. It is a large congregation, planted in 1980. It began with British and American Embassy expatriates. They have grown to be now several congregations — meeting in multiple locations with services in several languages in addition to English and Chinese.

I went to the main location and the 9:30 a.m. service had perhaps 1000 people — seated in a modern theatre-style auditorium located in an office building.

The 90-minute service contained both English and Chinese songs, with the words projected on an overhead screen. The sermon was in English, with simultaneous translation available in Chinese. The relatively informal service reminded me of the Chapel Hill Bible Church.

Current government regulations mean that BCIF (and other churches like it) are open to foreign photo ID holders only. I had to show my passport to get in.

By the way, last Sunday I went to church in Shanghai at a Chinese church. The service I attended was entirely in Chinese. I was able to sing the hymns, though, as they were familiar tunes — including “Blessed Assurance.” My English blended right in with the hundreds of Chinese-singing worshipers.

We had a very nice luncheon today with several UNC alums who live here in Beijing. Elyse Ribbons, ’03, organized it. We ate at a great French restaurant and had a very good brunch. I confess that after a week and a half of wonderful Chinese food, I really enjoyed bacon, eggs, rolls, and crepes for dessert.

Tonight we are going to men’s basketball — USA vs. China. It should be a real show! Everyone here is excited about the game. It is like UNC vs. Duke back home. Only here I am cheering for the team led by Coach K!

President Bush at the USA-China men’s basketball game.

Quintiles, Tsinghua University and the Opening Ceremony

We had an amazing day on Friday, August 8 —

It began with an early morning meeting at the office and lab of Quintiles here in Beijing.

Quintiles was founded by Dennis Gillings when he was a UNC School of Public Health faculty member. It is now the largest contract research organization in the world, with people and facilities around the globe, and is based in Research Triangle Park, N.C. Dennis and his wife, Joan, have also endowed the UNC School of Public Health and dramatically enhanced the School's capabilities — especially in global health.

Peter Coclanis, associate provost for international affairs, Tom Martineau and I met with Lai-Lee Tan, the head of the China office; Claire Tan, director of biostatistics; and Susan Sun, the lab manager.


We learned about their extensive clinical trials work in China and other countries of this region. What they showed us was really impressive — and we surely appreciated their coming into the office to host us on this day, August 8, 2008, which was a national holiday in China and the opening day for the Olympic Games.

Then we went to Tsinghua University, which is located right next to the campus of Peking University where we are staying. Tsinghua has a long tradition of excellence in science and engineering, and is sometimes described as the MIT of China. It and PKU are rivals for being seen as the top ranked university in the country — and the parallels to the MIT – Harvard relationship are evident.

Tsinghua now has a business school, law school and medical school. We met with Professor Chen Jining, the executive vice president of TU. With him were Xia Guangzhi, the deputy director of the office of international cooperation and exchange, and Dr. Fang-Lin Sun, head of research for their medical school.

We had wide ranging conversations about the opportunities for partnership and exchange between UNC and Tsinghua University. They already have relationships with several U.S. universities and seemed quite interested in exploring faculty and student interactions with us. We will be organizing a follow-up meeting right away.

Topics of interest include information science, nanoscience, environmental science and many areas of medicine.

Then last evening we went to the Olympic Opening Ceremony. Will and I were guests of Lenovo, the Beijing-based computer and information technology company.

Will and me at the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics.
Will and me at the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics.

Lenovo has its U.S. operations headquartered in Research Triangle Park, N.C. They bought the IBM personal computer operations there a few years ago. I met the Chairman of Lenovo with Chancellor Moeser several months ago.

It would take me hours to write an adequate description of what we saw. But I have a few observations:

The Olympic Stadium and other facilities are magnificent.

The artistic performance in the Opening Ceremony was like the grandest Super Bowl halftime show — times ten!

The athletes — all 10,000 of them — were fun and lively, but there were so many of them!!!

The Chinese people are hugely proud to be hosting the Games.

A runner bringing the flame in to light the big torch at the end of the Opening Ceremony.
Torch Runner

Opening Ceremony performance — a large globe that came up from the floor of the stadium.

We got back to our lodging at around 2 a.m. — a very full and rewarding day!