Olympics Diary: On the Ground in Beijing

Aug 11, 2008  •  Post A Comment

The first clue I got at how technologically plugged in the Chinese are was within minutes of landing, when I was waiting for my suitcase to emerge from the baggage carousel. At the bottom of the chute was a young airport employee whose job it was to organize the masses of suitcases crashing down to the bottom. He did his job, but only when he could tear himself away from furious texting on his mobile. Youth, apparently, may not speak an international language, but do use an international means of communication.
Beijing Olympics
As promised, the skies are white but, surprising to me at least, I didn’t find myself gasping or wheezing (I was later told that the pollution effect is cumulative). What I hadn’t read about in the news that is striking are the absolutely spotless streets. Although I’ve only seen a handful of street cleaners, the streets are amazingly free of litter. And, contrary to warnings of friends who have been to China, spitting is no longer a national pastime. At least in this regard, the Chinese have cleaned up their act.
The Beijing Olympics have clearly imbued the locals with a tremendous sense of pride and patriotism. I visited Tieneman Square in the evening on Saturday, thinking I might catch sight of a protest. Instead, I found it thronged with Chinese families. Children and adults were wearing red cloth headbands and waving Chinese flags; teens decorated their faces with red stickers. There was a police outpost, marked “press” (no, I didn’t check in), but no other sign of a military presence. On the other hand, there were no protestors.
I do not know how many foreigners are in Beijing, what the hotel occupancy rate is or any other statistic showing how successful this Olympics will prove to be. But I was one of only two or three Western faces that I saw in my couple of hours there, when I saw hundreds of people.
The planning for this Olympics is evident, not just in the careful greening of every public space, and the ability of taxi drivers to tell you what your fare is in English. But there are apparently thousands of volunteers throughout the city standing ready to help foreigners who get lost. I did meet one of these volunteers when I first arrived in the Square; she wore an official badge and was standing with two policemen.
When I left the Square, I was the beneficiary of a spontaneous volunteer. I had asked a policeman where to catch a taxi, and, he vaguely gestured in one direction. As I vaguely walked in said direction, a breathless young woman ran up to me and asked if I needed help. And she stayed with me until we found a street where taxis were allowed to stop and she saw me safely in the taxi.
My world edition Blackberry, which has stood me in good stead wherever I’ve traveled, is working nicely in the city; I’ve made phone calls in Beijing and outside Beijing at the Great Wall, to the USA, and read all my email. On the flip side, I got a message saying that texting wasn’t supported.
I’ll make my first visit to the International Broadcast Center and NBC’s center of operations tomorrow mid-day. Stay tuned for my first report.


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