A few anxious moments, this morning – my first in Beijing. Bolt awake at 5 am, I went to the window, looked out and saw a giant panda. Now, since I arrived in daylight yesterday, and looked out the same window several times, you’d think I might have noticed an anthropomorphized bear, two-storeys high (a relic of the 1990 Asian Games) but jet lag will do that sort of thing to you.
So far, some pleasant surprises actually. After all the pollution hype the sky was even sort of blue, yesterday, or as blue as a summer’s day in Toronto. (Although today has dawned with the smelly, soupy haze we’ve all heard so much about. Visibility is probably about a kilometre and the sun looks like a flashlight behind a grimy bed sheet.) The less flavourful aspects of the weather, although hot and humid—33 C, 86 % humidity— are so far not as unspeakable as I had been led to believe. And for the always whiny hordes of international media, there is little to complain about. The path through the sparkling new airport was smooth. The Olympic bus system seems relatively efficient. The Media Villages downright posh compared to Athens and Turin. Although the extra bright florescent lighting in the bar is sure to prove problematic.
The Chinese government has spent $40 billion of venues and infrastructure (more than 4 times what the Greeks spent) and it shows. The “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium and Water Cube Aquatic Centre, which glow red and blue respectively at night, are landmarks. Every boulevard, corner and overpass seems to have freshly planted trees and flowers. And along with the 100,000 police and 300,000 security cameras there is an omnipresent, and far less intimidating, army of volunteers. Most of them seem to be university students, eager to try out their English and helpful to a fault. And there are way, way too may of them. Yesterday, one escorted me the 50 feet to my media bus at the airport. Two helped me carry my one and only piece of luggage to my room. A momentary looked of confusion or thoughtful pause anyway around the village or Olympic venues, immediately attracts a gaggle. My colleague Ken MacQueen and I, have already started to compile a list of their most absurd tasks (fodder for a future post.) The leader so far? The nice young lady in the cafeteria tasked with handing us an empty tray.
Still finding my sea legs, but I’ve already got one priceless Olympic memory—a squad of young army guys marching single file through our media village this morning, unarmed except for a single lucky soldier shouldering a broom and dust pan.