After nearly 24 hours in airports and airplanes, we arrived in Beijing at something like 3AM San Francisco time. That was after being up at 5AM to catch our early flight. I’m still trying to figure out what happened over the International Date Line. I can’t remember if going to Asia is when you have a 48 hour day or that’s coming back. I remember there is one day where you completely lose a day. As in leave Monday, arrive Wednesday and officially never have Tuesday. As you can see, I am clearly rambling, so don’t expect much from this post. I can barely focus my eyes, let alone my camera and half the time I’m just snapping with my iPhone because I can’t get my mind around how to turn on my DSLR at this point.
Luckily, our sponsors, UPS, realized the state we’d be in and had loads of cute girls in UPS T-shirts holding UPS signs running around Beijing airport to round us up as we wandered aimlessly near the baggage claim. (As an aside, check out the new UPS “gang colors”. Is Teal the New Brown?)
I found that the impressive Beijing Airport can get downright hallucinatory if you haven’t slept for 24 hours. I can’t tell you how long I stared at this exit trying to figure it out before the UPS “Tourist Wrangler” herded me into the mini-van.
First thing I noticed from the window of the mini-van is that Beijing skies do look a lot cleaner than when I was here two years ago. That said, I haven’t seen smog like this since the seventies in LA! But today qualified as a “Blue Sky Day”. I also noticed that the forest of construction cranes from two years ago are gone. Not completely. But mostly. And the traffic? The Government here wasn’t kidding when they said they were going to ensure traffic moved smoothly. The shot above was taken at afternoon rush hour. They even have designated “Olympic Lanes” which our mini-van driver used, so I guess they are ways to get us tourists into the inner city and between venues as fast as possible.
The best news once we reached the Beijing News Plaza Hotel was that we really scored on tickets. Our hosts had warned us that tickets were handed out for their sponsored groups somewhat at random. Well, we scored!
Tomorrow (Wednesday), we’re going to Women’s Gymnastics Team Finals in the morning. In the afternoon, it’s the Men’s Swimming Heats. (I hope that includes Michael Phelps!) Thursday is a tourist/sightseeing day until evening when we see Men’s Basketball. We’re scheduled for USA vs. Greece and Argentina vs. Croatia. Friday is the Women’s Individual All-Round Gymnastics Final in the morning. At night, it’s Women’s 1000 Meter Final and the Men’s Shot Put Final. What a result! Although I did double-check those Women’s Gymnastics tickets and they say “Artistic Gymnastics”. Is that “real” gymnastics or that weird one where they dance around with ribbons and hoops? Who cares! OLYMPICS! The only addition I would have made — although it’s mean to even have a wish with this haul — but I would have liked to see the Chinese compete. It’s always fun to cheer for the Home Team. (Although I expect we’ll see them in Gymnastics.)
The only strange note is that security has been ramped right up after the tragic incident at the Drum Tower. The Chinese Government has sent over some soldiers to be stationed outside our hotel and we’re told to walk around with our UPS Guest Badges at all time, even in the hotel. It’s a shame, because two years ago, I went all over Beijing by taxi and street car with a student translator from the local University. Of course, I stuck out at that time as practically the only Western face on the street. But I felt completely safe and welcomed. I’ll never forget the taxi driver who chased me across Tiananmen Square to return a tip that I’d given him. Even when I insisted, he refused to keep it. He seemed to speak only a few words of English, but those words were “Welcome to Beijing” delivered with a big smile.
Just about at the end of Day One’s Report here — which has somehow merged into Day Two. I’m not sure where Monday ended and what happened to Tuesday which I don’t think I ever had.
So it’s a wonder that I only embarrassed myself a little in this completely loopy state. UPS had scheduled a cocktail reception and proper Chinese Banquet with former Olympic Gold Medalists as speakers and guests. Even though Andy and I were in no condition to mingle in polite society, we went. Matt Biondi, who was the Michael Phelps of his day (I think he holds more Golds than any other US Male swimmer), was our featured speaker. He was inspirational and funny although I can’t for the life of me remember much of what he said.
My embarrassing moment happened at the cocktail party when I found myself next to a tall, slim, elegant Black man who was very clearly an athlete. I gushed, “You must be one of the Kenyan Marathoners!” Ooops. Turns out he was a former American Swim Team member. Before I could spill my drink on him, I muttered something about how you could always pick an athlete out of the crowd and backed into the steamed dumpling tray.
So tomorrow, hopefully I’ll be in better shape for my early morning wake-up call for Women’s Gymnastics, Rhythmic or Otherwise! I could even enjoy it. Especially if they’re doing that baton twirling thing. (Go ahead and see the few pictures I was able to take today, but don’t expect much: Flickr Day One Set.)
And in a side note: I can cross one thing off my Bucket List (find it in the right had column of this blog.)