Sunday, May 18, 2008

ING Bay to Breakers 12K Race, San Francisco

Over 60,000 people, mostly in fancy dress, ran or walked across San Francisco in the ING Bay to Breakers race this morning.

'It's the Mardi Gras of San Francisco,' said one man of the historic annual 12K race that is now in it's 97th year.

An elite core of professional athletes led the pack from the Embarcadero, up and over hills and down through the expansive Golden Gate Park to the Pacific Ocean. But behind them came a throng for whom the heart of the race is participation and carnival.

From well before the start of the race at 8 am, people in all styles of imaginative and multi-coloured costumes poured off Caltrain, south of the city, to make their way along the Bay. 'They were slamming beer and wild turkey!!!!!' said one lady, eyes popping in amusement. She had sat on the top of the double-decker train looking down at the early-start revellers. Other race-goers as they disembarked were diving into the Panera Bread bakery and Safeway supermarket to stock up on essentials. Further along men in nappies walked on the pavement and others towed a decorated supermarket trolley loaded with beer.

The 12K race is just under seven miles, the width of the city, with the four-mile marker at the entrance to the Golden Gate Park. First into the park were the athletes for whom the race is a serious event. Next came the fit and regular runners. These included mums and dads jogging with babies in strollers, and those in a costume that was easy to run in - apart perhaps from the Roman Centurion who somehow, though, managed to keep pace!

Overhead, a thin fog hovered. Rock bands, music stalls and a Chinese drum band lined the park road to cheer the runners on. And as the serious runners gave way to the party-goers there was plenty of hand-waving and dancing in appreciation of the music. One group with boatsails on their heads circled in front of rockers The Attack Plan.

The costumes were myriad with some creative and lively presentations. Hot-air balloons floated in the air, their baskets entwined around runners' waists, picnic tables rested over shoulders, the contentious Olympic Torch relay was re-enacted, and an orange bug of a girl skipped along to make her wings flap. Children making good time ran together as a blue centipede, there were at least two Father Christmas', and two ladies symbolised San Francisco in hats topped with models of the Golden Gate Bridge and cable cars. A popular choice of costume was grass skirts.

There were also the colourfully abstract and outrageous. And those with no costumes at all. Despite race rulings on 'no nudity' there were a few groups of men and the occasional woman who chose to go in the buff.

But possibly the two most popular costumed characters of the day were not even in the race! Pirates Douglas and Jim strolled alongside the route in the park causing momentary distraction. Runners, including a gorilla, stopped in their tracks to photo and be photo-ed with them and Douglas and Jim generously pantomimed for the cameras.

Douglas, in green outfit, said he had dressed up for the event to 'add to the merriment of it and to show support for those running in and out of costume.' While Jim in magnificent purple said: 'I lived here 25 years ago and ran in the race, so now that I'm back living here we decided to act out our support for the race.' As for running, he added that his knees would no longer make it!

A few people made a political point. 'Save me from landfill' said a girl dressed as a plastic bottle while a campaign group for teachers facing budgetry cuts stood on the side with placards that read: 'Yes an 'A'. Every Child Deserves a Great Teacher.'

Neither did everyone in the race run or walk. One man rode his monocycle while others were towed on a float bearing a crafted telephone box.

The race officially ended at midday to allow for the reopening of the Pacific Coast road with a diversionary end for stragglers. While some people made their way back, there were others for whom the end of the race marked the start of 'party in the park'!

The city appears to effortlessly roll out mega public events. Roads were closed, police and firefighters were there to ensure safety, Muni trains ran a non-stop free service and of course there were water-stops for the runners. To compound the logistics, as the race ended on the Pacific side, on the bay side the 45,000-capacity Giants baseball park was opening for a high-profile game against the Chicago White Sox. In total, there were somewhere around 100,000 people in one day!

In three years time, though, this event will be marking it's centenary with presumably great celebration as the oldest race in the city and one of the oldest in America. Those who make an 'artistic' display might like to ponder that others see it as limiting the attraction as a family event. And that two of the most popular people of the day were pirates Douglas and Jim - costumed from head to toe!

Click for pictures - click each picture to enlarge

Friday, May 16, 2008

Fire at Giants' Ballpark

Smoke billowed out of the side of the Giants ballpark just before 10.30 pm last night occasioning an enormous emergency response. Within minutes the side street and edge of McCovey Cove were filled with emergency response vehicles with flashing lights and crews.

The fire was in a food kiosk high up on one of the levels near to the corner of the street and cove. It was quickly extinguished by firefighters using a long ladder positioned from the cove to gain access.

Battalion Chief Kirk Richardson said, 'It was a large fire in a food kiosk. It burnt real fast. Our firefighters put it out with in-house equipment.' He added that they were now trying to determine the cause of the fire.

A Giants' game against the Astros had been played earlier in the evening but was over when the fire started.

Jade, who works nearby, was sitting in her car when she saw the start of the fire.

'I noticed that there was a small fire on the top floor of the ballpark and I was telling my sister that I noticed it was getting bigger. Then I saw a guy and it seemed like he was trying to put it out but it was getting bigger and bigger.

I noticed that it started spreading towards the back (by the cove). Then the lights went out and it all started happening.'

The emergency response was huge. Battalion Chief Richardson said there were two fire trucks, four engines, one medical ambulance, a Paramedic Captain whose role is to supervise medical emergencies, a heavy rescue squad, a Division Chief and his operator, two Battalion Chiefs, one of whom was still up by the kiosk as we spoke, and four police units.

But he also said he knew the ballpark well and so had not been worried about the possibility of people being trapped there.

'It's my first response area. I wasn't concerned about people being trapped in the fire because I know it well and knew the fire was in an open area,' he said. 'But we were prepared anyway.'

Many of the emergency units, sirens blaring and lights flashing, tore down 4th Street and turned up King Street to reach the ballpark and fill the side street with crews and equipment. It was a hugely impressive response.

On behalf of all Giants fans...thank you, guys!

For pics click here. Click to enlarge.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Tribute to Young Giants' Fan

A moving memorial to a young Giants' fan killed in a fight has already been set up in the plaza outside the ballpark.

Facing the beauty of San Francisco Bay with a glorious sunset behind him on one of the warmest nights of the year, a good-looking young man in baseball kit smiles out from a photo pinned to a tree. Next to him is a wreath garlanded with this tribute: 'In memory of Anthony Giraudo. A Giants Fan Forever.'

'He was an American lad. An all-American boy,' said a lady standing there with a friend in quiet reflection as a ballgame continued into the night. 'An all-American boy,' her friend echoed in agreement.

The lady wished to remain anonymous as she knows the family well and her daughter was a friend of Anthony's. Describing Anthony, who was 18-years old, as a natural sportsman, she added, 'He loved sports. He never got into trouble. He was a good lad.'

She continued to pay tribute to his family whom she said were a very good, close family, and also Catholics. Anthony had an older brother and sister.

'He was the baby...his mum and dad loved him so much,' she said sadly.

Anthony died in hospital on Mother's Day after being punched by another 18-year-old, Taylor Buckley, outside of the ballpark on Friday near where the memorial has been set up. He fell and hit his head on concrete. A full report of the incident is in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Interviewed on NBC11's evening news, Anthony's father spoke without rancour and said that Taylor Buckley was going to have to live with what he had done for the rest of his life.

Buckley is also generally known amongst the youngsters. The lady by the memorial did not know much about him but said that some of her daughter's friends knew him in the networking manner of kids through things like school sports.

'Who would have thought that a punch to the head would kill someone,' she said.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Chinese Doctor Persecuted in China

It was fitting for Shu Min Shin to stand in the shadow of the bronze statue of Victory in Union Square on Saturday, for she has sculptured herself into the history books for a victorious stand in China against human rights abuses.

Persecuted for her refusal to stop practicing Falun Dafa meditation, she finally fled to Thailand where she became the first person there to be granted asylum as a Falun Dafa practitioner. Today she lives in San Francisco and on Saturday was in Union Square participating in World Falun Dafa Day. (see previous blog)

Three times Min Shin - Shu is her surname - who is a medical doctor, was kidnapped by Chinese police. Her crime was to refuse to sign an official letter promising that she would no longer engage in Falun Dafa, or Falun Gong as it is also known, meditation. A promise not simply to stop meditating in public places, for followers often gather in small groups in parks or squares, but also in the privacy of her own home.

Min Shin, who was first a doctor of Internal Medicine and then a psychiatrist who also taught her subject, told her story through a translator. She was in the square for the World Falun Dafa Day that sought to publicise the meditation and raise support against the terrible abuses of it's followers by the Chinese Communist Party: abuses that include imprisonment, torture, killing and the harvesting of organs for transplant from people while they still alive.

Her real troubles began on New Year's Eve of the Chinese New Year in January 2000. Chinese officials, expecting a high number of Falun Dafa protesters in Tiananmen Square to mark the New Year, had planned an ambush. But very few people attended. Followers had been in the habit of silently unfurling banners in Tiananmen Square ever since the government had begun a crackdown in the previous year. Faced that night though, with a near-empty square, officials turned instead to people's homes. Min Shin was one of the unlucky ones.

A group of police hammered on her door. She refused to open, so they broke down two doors. Min Shin then locked herself in her bedroom and shouted through the door that she was willing to risk her life to defend her rights and the rights of others for freedom to practise Falun Dafa. She also warned them that they would be held responsible if anything happened to her. So for seven days and nights, in freezing temperatures and with snow falling, police surrounded her home and broke every window. It was so cold, she said, that even the flowers in the house died.

Over the next few months, she was followed every time she left her house and her phone calls and letters were monitored. Once she was kidnapped when she just stepped out of her home. But the last kidnapping was the worst for, physically weak, she almost died. She believes that the only reason she was released was because her son was already in America and had anything worse happened to her, the news would have been published in the USA.

However, in August of that year, she managed to escape to Thailand and gain political asylum. Helped by US congressmen, with a delay caused by events of 9/11, she was able to settle in San Francisco where her son was living and still lives today. Her face lights up with delight at the memory of that precious date of her arrival in the city: June 25, 2003.

However, there is a cost to her exile. Separated from her remaining family in China, she has limited contact with them and has only a sketchy knowledge of how they are. She is afraid to communicate too much in case it provokes reprisals from Chinese officials. What she does know is that her father - her parents are elderly and in their eighties - has had a heart attack caused by the stress of everything. Also, because of her, her sisters' children are not allowed to leave China for travel or education.

Due to the language barrier here in America and her age, Min Shin is in her sixties, she has not worked again as a doctor. But is active, as she was on Saturday, in supporting campaigns to free her people from the terrible human rights abuses that they continue to endure in China, with particular urgency to do so before the Beijing Olympics.

***Since interviewing Min Shin, the catastrophic earthquake has occurred in China but I have not been able to contact her to ask if any of her family are affected. I'm sure when Min Shin or others known to her read this, a comment on this would be appreciated by other readers. Thank you, Liz.

Pics show Shu Min Shin in Union Square, and one of the paintings on exhibition there depicting torture in China

Sunday, May 11, 2008

World Falun Dafa Day

Union Square on Saturday was once again the focus for exposing human rights abuses in China.

It was the World Falun Dafa Day celebration for practitioners of the meditation - also known as Falun Gong - that is banned in China. A day to explain the tenets of the meditation, whose key words are 'Truthfulness, Compassion, Forbearance.' A day to appeal to the world to help stop China's persecutions, torture and murderous harvesting of organs for transplant from Falun Dafa followers. The horror of the organ removal is that 41,000 people have been killed in the last six years. Many of those had their organs extracted while they were still alive, people in Union Square heard.

Kip, a Chinese American living north of San Francisco, repeated a quote when he said, 'It's a new kind of evil on this planet. They (China) are good at dangling the economic carrot. We've forgotten about 1936.'

With a countdown to the Beijing Olympics in mind, petitions were in the square for people to register a protest. Around the square were pictures and posters of torture victims, and an exhibition of paintings that reflected both Falun Dafa practice and persecution from the Chinese government. There was also a programme of short speeches, dancing displays, music, singing and a demonstration of the Falun Dafa exercises.

China, explained one of the speakers, was against anything spiritual and Christians incurred some of the same problems as Falun Dafa followers. But the government stepped in to eradicate Falun Dafa because of it's rapid growth. Although it only started in public in 1992, by late 1998 it had attracted between 70 and 100 million practitioners. Opposition began in 1996, said the speaker, by government officials who specialise in propoganda: they create a problem in order to be seen solving it. But 10,000 petitioners took action in Beijing in 1999 and so the real crackdown started. Since then people have continued to stage peaceful protests in Tiananmen Square and so are arrested, imprisoned, tortured and have their organs harvested.

Another speaker was a medical doctor who spoke about the benefits of Falun Gong that he had experienced himself and seen in others, including stress reduction, health improvements and freedom from addictions. He went on to talk about the abuse of harvesting organs. Whilst he described organ donation as 'noble,' he expressed repugnance both at the practice of forcefully removing organs and the fact that it is being carried out by fellow doctors working for the Chinese government. Tests for tissue and blood types are carried out on thousands of prisoners in the labour camps, he said.

However, he also conveyed a small piece of more optimistic news that only last week the UN had confirmed that due to political action fewer people are travelling to China to purchase organs. 'So we ask for your help to stop the persecution and torture before the Olympics begin,' he said.

After the speeches and stage performances, watched by a small and ever-changing crowd of people winding across the square, the musicians, dancers and protesters formed a colourful parade and wound their way around Chinatown and back again.

An interview with a doctor persecuted in China as a Falun Dafa practitioner and who now lives in San Francisco will be posted later.

For further info on the campaign and news updates see

Click for pics. Click to enlarge.