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Back In Beijing - 2008 Olympics Blog Report #1

Aug. 5, 2008

I hope to keep you fellow insomniacs sleeping well with a quick take on what's going on over here from time to time as the Games are almost here.

After an all-night effort to pack up, the travel day started at 4:30am Friday EDT and ended at about 3am Saturday EDT. That included a 5 hour layover at Dulles, where a whole troop of Chinese grade school students were audibly excited to be going home after touring the states in tee shirts proudly hailing the USA and Yale University.

Thumbs up for "Ironman" (awesome! GREAT ending that's begging for a sequel!) and "Maid of Honor" (chick flick, yeah, but still funny), adding to my temporary insomnia on the 13 hour flight from DC to Beijing. United Airlines treated its travelers like kings. That big 747 was smoooth!

Flying in for a landing, you notice the many sky-blue toned roofs near the airport -- and the blue skies above. An optical illusion? I don't remember seeing that color just 8 months ago. The air does seem cleaner! The new airport is a dreamy place -- louvered ceilings so high, that sound disappears above. So many college kids in Olympic greeter uniforms flood the airport with nothing to do this week. So few early arrivals!

Our baggage conveyor belt was shared with a flight from NYC. Nice of Matt Lauer to scope out the belt for my bags. There he is, sharp looking guy stylishly dressed with a Hamptons tan, blue blazer, white button-down shirt and blue jeans and boots. Dang! I think his nose might be longer than mine! He threw the shades on indoors when he felt the heat from fellow travelers, but he and his NBC entourage managed to stay separated from the other travelers, and made a fast exit. Guessing he'll host the Today show from here next week, or at least be giving live reports from a 12-hour difference in time zones.

I was greeted at the airport by one of the hard-charging university students that makes up our Sports Presentation team here. Maggie has worked her way up thru the ranks to a paid position after doing the impossible last winter. During the test event, she and several of her sophomore & junior colleages skipped class for more than a month, manned the production positions for the gymnastics test event (10 hr days minimum), and returned to classes with one week to prepare for final exams. And yes, they had to make up for all of the work that they missed -- after commuting to-and-from the arena each day from the dorms, a 3-hour round trip commute in some cases.

One of Maggie's classmates told her professor that she had run away from college to be an Olympic mascot.

Somewhere between the airport and hotel, Maggie scolded me for not responding to an e-card she had sent at Christmas time, and then announced that I had been immediately removed from her address book. Not angrilly, mind you. Just factually. I told her my daughter Michelle (junior at UVa this fall) probably would have had the same reaction.

It feels like the calm before the storm here as the international media and foreign worker bees are filling up the commuter hotels that are within a half-hour taxi ride from the Olympic venues.

I caught up with my French-speaking colleague from the Athens Games, Michel, who was recently re-elected Mayor of his town outside of Toulouse by a 95% margin. He's staying just down the hall on the 10th floor of the Beijing Grand Hotel #2. No, it's not the B.G.H. that has an interactive website -- that place has panache. This place has -- air conditioning, to a certain extent. Very much like the Sardonyx (last winter's gymnastics test event hotel) with rooms as small as steerage cabins on cargo ships, but a high-speed connection in each room. Yuh!

Michel, like I, was originally summoned to be here last week. He complied. It wasn't until yesterday that his credential was finally accepted at the check point and he was allowed access to the arena by the security force. Sacrebleu!

He and I feel a little lost here without our fearless leader, Mike M. of Colorado, who's talent at organizing and running major events (Athens 2004 and other Olympics and World Championships) resonates with us all. He'll be pleased to know that both Maggie and Michel asked about him shortly after "hello."

I walked the block to check out the possible supper sites. There were, sadly, no diners, McDonalds or Starters. I wound up back at the hotel for a delicious meal of "Chicken and Fungus" (mushrooms). Didn't know that the chicken would be chopped up chicken necks, bones included. Thankfully, the beer here comes in 500 ml bottles, smoothing over most any palate problem.

Couldn't find anything made in the USA to hand out to our young team tomorrow, so I'm going with flourescent glow sticks and finger-sized rock-em-sock-em robots. Take a wild guess where they were made...

That's all for now. Tomorrow (Sun) it's an Eastern breakfast buffet at 7 (believe it or not, I've been craving scrambled eggs and white rice), taxi at 7:25 and try to get into National Indoor Stadium at 8. Our all-day dress rehearsal starts at 8:30am.

I'll believe it when I make it past security and have the final script in hand!

All the best from Beijing,

-- Dan