Wednesday, August 6. 2008
I had lunch today with Bob Bowman, Batmanís coach, and we were talking about being appreciative of the situation. He said: ďThe athletes from the larger countries may complain about this or that, but there are people here that are going to live better during these two weeks than they have ever lived before.Ē I thought about it for a moment, and even though I knew he wasnít talking about me I said: ďWell, I think I may be one of those people.Ē Iím a spoiled American, I know that, but Iím having an incredible time so far. I donít want to gush too much, but the following post (which covers the first two days here) is pretty much an advertisement for the Beijing Olympics.
First thoughts from Beijing. August 5th 2008
I donít know what youíve heard or read about this Olympics, but I can assure you that this place is about ready to burst with excitement. Everything is huge, everything is organized, everything is planned and prepared and just in case thereís a problem thereís 50 Chinese standing on every street corner willing to help. Iíve never been to the Olympics before, but from what I can tell, China wants this Olympics to dwarf everything that came before it.
The people are motivated, friendly and well-spoken. The facilities are state-of-the-art. The food is spectacular. Basically, if you read my last post, you can disregard the word substitution keyÖbecause this place is awesome.
Monday was travel day to the Olympics, and I decided to dress for the occasion. I donned the sweater vest again because itís so outrageous, but this time I wore the white shorts instead of the white pants to go along with the white shoes. Before departing Singapore Dara Torres noticed I was dressed for success and asked me: ďMark, why are you so dressed up?Ē and I responded ďDara, Iím going to the Olympic Games, I thought I should look nice.Ē
It was a good thing I did dress well because the flight to Beijing, onboard Singapore Airlines, was the nicest flight Iíve ever been on. I believe the plane was the largest commercial aircraft in the world, the service was incredible, and the food was worthy of a fine dining restaurant. I am not making up the next sentence: I could live in my seat on the Singapore Airlines plane for at least a month without a single complaint.
We arrived in Beijing in the afternoon, and hundreds of people were waiting for us at the airport. (Actually they were waiting for Batman, but everyone else got a lot of attention too.) We were hurried onto buses and taken by police escort through Beijing. In preparation for the Olympics, Beijing did a bit of an environmental makeover. Thousands of trees line the sides of the freeway from the airport, so much so that it felt like we were going away from a city rather than towards the city. A thick blanket of greenery was our only view until we were in the middle of Beijing.
The Olympics dominate every aspect of Beijing and for a tourist coming to the city youíd probably miss out on the typical cultural experience. The city in clean as a whistle and the streets are free of congestion. The planning for this event is obvious at every turn, and, with the barricades, high-tech name tags, and general security presence, Beijing has the feel of a post-apocalypse city.
On Monday night we went to the Water Cube, which is only a couple of hundred meters away from our dorms, but takes 20 minutes to get to because you have to walk to the bus depot and then drive around the village to get to the venue. Weíve all seen the Water Cube and gawked at it for the past 2 years, but finally seeing it was pretty special. It really is different than any other pool Iíve ever seen because the architecture of the building was given more planning and thought than any natatorium before it. (If youíre a Gene Hackman fan rest assured that the pool itself is regulation size.)
The interior of the Water Cube is beautiful, and the spectator seating goes up and up and up. I was however a bit disappointed to see that so many of the prime seats in the natatorium have been reserved for media. China wants these Games to be broadcast to the world, which is fine, but Olympic tickets for swimming are scarce, and many of the athlete families will have to watch their loved one swim from a television screen rather than in person because the journalist section takes up half the seating.
The dorm situation is great. Itís new, clean and organized. I think I canít tell you who my roommate is by name, but heís the world record holder in the 100 Butterfly and an incredibly cool guy. You figure it out. The dorm buildings are neatly organized into rows and each country has a group of rooms together in one building or, in a few cases, the entire building. (USA and China, the two largest delegations, have at least 2 full dorm buildings.) Every nation puts flags outside their windows and doors so that as one walks around the village you are aware of which building houses which country. Actually, thatís not entirely true: every nation displays the flag except for America. Because of security issues, America is absent from the dorm flag display. Finland is here, Australia, Switzerland, and Brazil are as well, but based upon flag representation America hasnít showed up yet. The funny thing is, because everyone knows that America IS here, and because thereís only 2 buildings in the entire village without any flags, itís certainly obvious which buildings house the American athletes.
I know this post is getting long so Iíll finish with a quick analysis of the Village cafeteria. Think of a room the size of Costco. Now, put about 5 buffet restaurants in there and add a McDonalds. Throw in a couple of thousand chairs and you have your Village cafeteria. The food is excellent and there are Chinese people everywhere interested in making the experience enjoyable. Six people, all doing different jobs, served me one piece of chicken and a scoop of rice, and when the sixth and final person handed me the plate they all looked at me, smiled and said ďEnjoy your lunch.Ē
Iím enjoying everything.
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