August 8, 2008
I've mentioned that we are working (ok, Paul is working and I'm just hanging out still ... but may yet work soon. Right.) in the Main Press Center.
I thought I'd try to describe it to you. The photo you see at right shows the place nearly empty, because the Opening Ceremonies are slated to begin in about 90 minutes.
It's the central workplace, according to the official website of the Beijing Olympics, for 5,600 accredited writers, photographers and editors. The official capacity is 7,000 and I saw a sign today noting that because of the Opening Ceremonies, organizers expected a more-than-full house.
It is open 24 hours, covers 64,000 square meters of floor space and has a work area for 970 journalists. There is a separate area for photographers, and many news organizations have their own offices.
There is a general store, a pharamacy, two phone shops, an internet cafe of sorts, a post office, information desks, tech support, press conference venues, a McDonald's and a full-service cafeteria. Adjacent to the journalists' work space there also is a small gym, a hair salon, lockers, a library (for research?) and a room where they offer 15-minute massages.
Adjacent to this building is the IBC -- the International Broadcast Center. The IBC reportedly houses 16,000 broadcasters from around the world.
Add to that a gaggle of volunteers: Xinhua news agency estimates 500 paid staffers are involved media operations and there are 2,000 volunteers.
All of this makes the environment like a little United Nations. While it seems to me there are a disproportionate number of Germans around, today I have been surrounded by Russians. There is a strong British contingent and assorted others. Many foreign journalists are not shy about showing their allegiance to their countries. The Russians are wearing specially designed clothing -- almost like the athletes' uniforms -- that designates their nationality. This way, it is easy to pick out the Brazilians, the Cubans (especially) the Croatians, Serbians and Poles. I saw a journalist from Angola yesterday and a Japanese journalist was sitting next to me (I saw him typing -- and how does that even work??)
I don't notice so much, though, the cacophony of different languages. I wonder if it's because I've lived abroad and it doesn't seem at all odd to me. After all, I just tune it out if I don't understand it. Sometimes Paul and I will play "guess that language" when it isn't obvious where someone is from. We have come to the conclusion that Portuguese often is the answer for the mystery language. A little Romance language thrown in with some Eastern European sounds. It's funny, too, how you use cultural clues. Like shoes. The Americans look a little different from the Brits, but the Canadians can go either way. And I saw several Indians today, and wondered what sports they might be here to see. If Paul were here, and not at the Opening Ceremonies, I'd ask him and he'd probably know. All I can think of is cricket, and that's not an Olympic sports. At least not yet.
We haven't seen a lot of Italians, which seems odd. But the three major Italian sports newspapers have their own offices, so that could be where they're hanging out. And I've only seen a handful of French reporters. Again, we attribute that to the fact L'Equipe, the national French sports daily, has its own office. I'm not sure the major papers in Paris have sports sections -- not enough to justify sending people here to cover the Olympics.
The other cool thing about the MPC is all the televisions. Every other half row has a large (42-inch?) flat screen TV at one end or another. And at several places there are giant nine-panel TVs. This is how i'm planning to see the Opening Ceremonies, which the Chinese have been counting down on their state-run network forever. Right now it's 1:15:19 away.
The room was so full just two or three hours ago. Packed, in fact. But now it's really clearing out. My plan is to find the volunteers who will be watching the ceremonies. They'll be really gung-ho, and I think it will be fun.