August 9, 2008

Fast Food Nation

My eating habits here are less than impressive. I have access to many of the bad things I crave, so that, plus sitting on my butt all day, will surely equal weight gain.

After seven-plus years in France I'm as big a food snob as anybody (ok, yeah, bigger I know). But I've always adored things with fat. That's my big weakness. And here in the land of eating on the go (in the press center, I mean, not in China) there are lots of things to satisfy.

This morning I OD'd on fried bumplings (OK, dumplings, but bumplings is so much more fun to say, and that's how it's spelled at the hotel buffet). They aren't really fried -- they're your typical potstickers, filled with yummy chopped mystery meat. I had a totally Chinese breakfast this morning: Too many bumplings, a hearty portion of Chinese broccoli, fried rice and won ton soup. Starch-o-rama!!

But my really shameful secret (till now) is the McDonald's, downstairs, at the Main Press Center. Now, it's not the only option; not by a long shot. There is a large cafeteria that serves several types of cuisine: Asian, Mediterranean, Grilled, International and Cold. The prices aren't bad; things seem to be subsidized for the journalists. Highlights, from my cruise through the other day: Curry chicken at Asian, pizza and pasta at Mediterranean, chicken pot pie at international (what?) and polish sausage and skewers at the grill.

I tried the Asian food the other night and it was, not to put too fine a point on it, gross. I think the chicken was particle chicken, and if I'm gonna eat particle chicken, it's gonna be in the form of a McNugget.

Which, second only to pizza rolls, are one of my favorite bad-for-me foods. And the McNuggets here (not to mention the fries) are awesome. The best McDonald's has to offer. And they've given us coupons, too. I imagine I will tire of McDonald's soon. (Oh, I hope so.)

I just called up the Wikipedia article on Morgan Spurlock's experiment "Super-Size Me" in which he eats nothing but McDonald's for 30 days.

It's thoroughly disgusting.

But I''ll see if I remember that come 4 p.m. when the bumplings wear off.

Even a Blind Squirrel Finds an Acorn*

As Paul may have mentioned in his blog, it is raining this morning. We have heard predictions of daily rain since before we got here, but haven't seen any. So, finally the reality matches the prediction. One out of six ain't bad.

He left early this morning, to get to the shooting venue. I slept in, since I couldn't get into the venue with him, and there was no point in sitting at the press center when I could be sleeping. And as I posted yesterday, I'm suddenly incredibly tired. So I got up this morning, showered and rushed off to breakfast because they close at a specific time. When I left the room, the ante-room that houses our rooms was humid, as it often is. And then I saw the spots on the ground.

Rain! I was at first rather pleased, then realized I had no umbrella and would probably be quite wet by the time I crossed the grounds to the restaurant. It actually wasn't too bad, and the rain certainly wasn't cold, so it's not like I was going to melt.

Coming from Southern California I have a misguided concept of rain. To me, it clears out the air and cools things down. As I discovered in college in Missouri, this isn't always the case. Here, it's a little bit true. The air is cooler, because there's a slight breeze with the rain. And this time the fog is really fog. (I know this because yesterday there was some blue sky, and something resembling sunshine.)

Last night coming back from the press center there was a little wind, the kind that presages a storm. And the cicadas were out in full force. This, from Missouri, too, makes me think of storms. But it's just a little rain.

*I just read in China Daily, the local English-language newspaper, that the Chinese shot more than 1,100 rockets into the skies over Beijing to ensure rain didn't mar the Opening Ceremonies. "We fired a total of 1,104 rain dispersal rockets from 21 sites in the city between 4 p.m. and 11:39 p.m. on Friday, which prevented a rain belt from moving toward the stadium," Guo Hu, the city's meterological bureau chief said.

Perhaps this is why it was so humid that night? All that rain holed up in the clouds??

Out and about

I actually left the MPC yesterday. Saw a little of Beijing from a taxi on the way to an interview with a 58-year-old American sailor at a 5-star hotel. It was kind of nice, sitting in the swanky hotel bar and listening to this guy explain how he got to be here, and how much he was enjoying himself.

The traffic both ways was pretty horrendous, and the drivers are seriously scary. I've driven in Europe, and I've tried to cross the street in New York City; I'm not a stranger to this sort of thing. Beijing puts them all to shame. On the other hand, I don't see any dented or scraped vehicles on the road, so maybe there's something I'm not getting.

It seems to take a long time to get anywhere. From our hotel, it's only about six kilometers to the MPC, but it takes nearly 20 minutes. This is because we are on the wrong side of the ring road, and we must go about a mile-plus in one direction, only to take a looped overpass to go back the other way. Many things are close, as the crow flies.

When we took the taxi, the route seemed quite circuitous, although I'm sure the taxi driver wasn't trying to cheat us. That happens to me in almost every foreign city I visit, so I know it when I see it. On the way back from the hotel to the press center, we had terrible traffic, and there seemed to be an exit that was little-used. I gave the driver my press credential, and he flashed it to the volunteer and we sailed on through. A small perk.

On the other hand, when you take a circuitous route from point A to point B, you get to see more stuff. In my case, I saw the Bird's Nest stadium and the Water Cube swim venue. Both were very cool, and I'm more determined now to see them up close.

(Jet?) Lagging

So the jet lag seems to have kicked in. Or I'm just generically tired and crabby today. Could go either way, I suppose.

I'd been adapting nicely to the time change. I like traveling west, because it usually means early to bed and early to rise, and when I'm on vacation or doing something like this, that's helpful. So since we got here we've been in bed, fast asleep, no later than 10 and up around 6.

Last night, I was up late for the Opening Ceremonies, and didn't get to sleep until midnight. Paul had to shake me awake this morning at 8:30, and I was none too keen to get up. That really isn't like me, at least not lately. And I've been dragging all day.

We're usually in the press center -- or away from the hotel -- for about 12 hours, minimum. Today it's been 14. This is pretty routine, I'm discovering. I'm also discovering that I don't think I'd have enjoyed being a reporter. Or at least, I've gotten very used to the routine of daily editing. Putting out a newspaper is a very disciplined thing: There are deadlines and tasks and all tasks must be completed by deadline. But reporting is a whole other animal (and I imagine being halfway around the world in a different time zone makes it even weirder). It seems to me there is lots of time spent waiting for things to happen and deciding what to do and how best to approach it -- all on another person's or organization's schedule. Ugh. Not for me at all.

I've also discovered (I guess I knew this, but hadn't really thought about it all that much) that there are a lot of really wretched writers out there, and while I may never have been a star, I wouldn't have sucked, either.

In hindsight, I think the lack of structure of reporting would have pushed me into editing, eventually. I never minded the bad and long hours, but I really did like the concept of making deadline and being done for the day.

August 8, 2008

MPC ramblings

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.


Eight is a lucky number in China, and as such the Chinese have decided to begin these Olympic Games on August 8, 2008, at 8 p.m. local time. A plethora of 8s.

I had read about the lucky 8s in advance and have a mobile phone number with two 8s. This is, apparently, a good thing. The guide book says that mobile numbers usually (I guess that means in non-Olympic times) are priced according to their desirability. What you really don't want is a 4.

We also noted in our hotel grouping, Courtyard No. 6, that the rooms all begin with 8 -- ours is 8606 -- but that there is not an 8604.

The most interesting thing about 8s that we saw today: When we arrived at the MPC (main press center) this morning there was a huge line at the post office. We finally divined that people (mostly Chinese, from the looks of it) wanted to send out cards and letters with the auspicious date postmarked on it. I passed by there a little while ago, about 3:30 p.m. local time, and there were people on the floor and on all the seats scrambling to fill out postcards. It seemed a little more than quirky.

But I suppose living in a country that routinely skips the 13th floor in hotels and office buildings, I'm not one to judge.

August 7, 2008

A Picture is Worth ....

I've been trying to take some photos, and I think I've got a few that are even decent. But I can't quite figure out how to post more than one on the blog.

If anyone knows how to do this, let me know, please. If you are really interested, let me know and I'll set up a flickr account.

I know you all want to see the back of Carmelo Anthony's head.

Walking the Grounds

This morning Paul suggested we go for a walk around the spacious grounds. Because we've been sitting for hours at a stretch since we've been here, and there is very little food of color available, (although I did have some Chinese broccoli for breakfast and a plum has found its way to my desk) we thought we should try to exercise.

Today it's hotter and muggier than it has been so far, and at 7 a.m., it was pretty miserable. Still, we wanted to check things out. At first glance the grounds appear to be well-manicured. I think this is because there are dozens of gardeners out sweeping and watering and tending. But on closer inspection, things grow pretty wild. I'm not sure if this is on purpose or not, but I tend to think not. The rose bushes are feeble and the grass has weeds in it. We did cross a pond-type thing and it had gorgeous lotus flowers and lily pads on it. That was really nice.

So we wandered around, and there weren't any signs or barriers keeping us from any one area and soon we found ourselves in yet another section of buildings (I think I mentioned there are nine of them, at least, at the conference center). It dawned on us too late that we were in the middle of some sort of staff area, and it was like walking into migrant farm housing. Where we, and all the other guests, have air conditioning running 24/7, these guys (and I only saw men) had the windows and doors open to get some air. They used a long, trough-like sink for washing up and there were clothes out on the lines. They stared at us, but I don't know if it was because we were where we shouldn't have been or because we were Western or both.

Which brings me back to the post about our accommodations, and how I had described them as austere. Maybe by three-star American standards, but they were clearly better than anything the staff would ever have.

I Can See Clearly Now (Not)

We get up pretty early, around 6:30, and when I go outside I always think, "Oh, this will burn off by lunch time."

But it never does.

I don't know if anyone is talking about the smog, especially since the US Olympic Committee put the kibosh on athletes speaking out. But it's kind of mind-boggling. Yes, I know, everyone was warned about it and yes, I know, I grew up in San Bernardino. But this is incredible.

I've been trying to think how to describe it for several days now. You wake up and it isn't cloudy, because you can see the sun. It's this burned-out disc in the sky. No danger of looking right at it, that's for sure. But it does give you the impression it's just a really foggy day. When we get to the Olympic Green, buildings that are only two blocks away are nearly hidden. It isn't that a pall hangs over the city, exactly.

The best way to describe it is to imagine Southern California in the midst of fire season and everything is burning. You can't see anything. That is what it makes me think of. There isn't a smell to it, and it doesn't hurt to breathe (although I'm only outside, so far, for about 5 minutes a day). I don't know if it's less noticeable in downtown Beijing ... that maybe it's more obvious out here where there aren't so many tall buildings. But it's something I've sort of fixated on.

New York Times reporter Ben Shpigel describes trying to watch a baseball game: "That we could even see the ball was somewhat of a miracle, right on par with finding this facility in the first place. It was downright disgusting outside. Hot, humid, hazy — I thought that was the basketball arena beyond the center-field fence, but I was not totally certain. More than a few outfielders seemed to lose, then find, balls in the air. Not because of the sun or the lights, but because of whatever particulate matter or other good stuff seemed to have shrouded the place."

We have seen TV photos of the venues with blue sky behind them. Of clouds in the sky. Of an actual contrast of color. But it's really impossible to imagine. I hope before we leave we will see the sky; then we can make our own assessment.

Brush With Greatness

Since I'm still not working (grrrr) I have a good, long day to explore and hang out and wish I had an internet connection.

Today, I went to to the U.S. Men's Basketball press conference, and it was pretty much a zoo. They introduced the players and then positioned them in various places around the auditorium, so journalists could do one-on-one (ok small group) interviews. I did something I'm really not supposed to do, as a journalist, and that is take fan-girl pictures. But this is the Olympics, and if you don't get in anyone's way, they really don't care so much.

But it comes down to this: My arms aren't long enough to get a photo of Kobe Bryant (above). I was able to get the back of Carmelo Anthony's head, I got a Where's Waldo-esque photo of Chris Bosch and I did one of those silly photos that puts me in the same shot as Dwyane Wade.

Next thing you know, I'll be in his Fave 5.

August 6, 2008

The Search for Affordable Technology

I had heard, all these years, that journalists get gouged at the Games.

Then I tried to get internet service. Getting a wireless password here does not come cheap. In fact, it is 3,500 Yuan, at about 6.7 yuan to the dollar. (This is where you gasp and I say, "Exactly.")

So for now, only Paul has access, and we share. I'm supposed to start doing some work for tomorrow, but we haven't managed to solve the internet issue. I had assumed I could work in their on-site office, which has broadband access, but there aren't enough connections. So will they pony up? Will I have to venture into Beijing to work at the bureau there?

Yesterday, I was able to get online with the free public wi-fi, but someone seems to have put a stop to that. There are several free access connections, but none actually goes to the web.

Then, today, we decided it would be beneficial to have a cell phone. I called ATT before we left, to make sure my phone would work. They assured me it would, and of course it doesn't. I get a signal, it just won't let me make a call.

So we went to the official cell phone site -- the same one that handles the internet, so that didn't bode well. Turns out for the meager sum of 1,200 Yuan (Exactly!) I could get a SIM card.
Just not gonna happen.

I had read in guide books that SIM cards were relatively cheap, and that there were mobile phone stores all over the city. But we're sort of isolated out here. Then I got the idea to try the concierge at the swanky hotel, ask him if he could get me a taxi and send me to a phone shop. Turns out he had a better idea. If all I wanted was a SIM card, he said, he'd take me to a phone shop. We just had to walk a bit.

It turns out that right outside the official Olympic Green area, about a 10 minute (max) walk away, there is a phone store. The concierge, whose name is Andy, walked me over, and told the girl at the shop what I wanted. I picked a phone number, waited until it was my turn and voila -- for 60 Yuan I got a SIM card and 50 Yuan worth of time. So that worked out.

But can you imagine?? Reporters would love to save their papers money, especially in this day and age, but there's some sort of corporate collusion out there. They know reporters don't have the time to do what I did (frankly, it took only a little longer, but required some work on my part) and so they charge for the privilege. But $180 more?



It feels like we've been here a long time, but it's been just two days. That means I have several weeks more to seek out the local cuisine.

Our hotel offers a buffet breakfast, and I think they are trying to appeal to all sorts of tastes. In addition to the usual Western fare of eggs and bacon, they have cold cuts and salads and assorted local items. Of course, I went for the local stuff. Yesterday I had pot sticker dumplings, and Chinese broccoli. Today, it was bao buns filled with chopped mushrooms, won ton soup (for breakfast? Paul asked) and a cold, marinated mushroom and chicken salad. There also was fried rice and lo mein, but I'm not such a big fan of lo mein.

Paul mentioned something about not eating chicken, because of the steroids (Early rumors were that the U.S. athletes would be brining in their own poultry because local chicken is loaded with steroids and nobody wanted to test positive). But I figure I'm not taking any drug tests, so no worries.

Last night, at about 7 p.m., a man walked through the the press room with a bullhorn announcing a cocktail party hosted by BOCOG, the Chinese organizing committee, in the lobby of the very swanky Hotel Intercontinental Beijing, which is attached to the press center. I talked Paul into going, just to check it out.

They had all sorts of hors d'oeuvres, and were serving fruit juice, wine and beer. There were servers everywhere, just like the volunteers, and they were eager to replenish a glass.

Somebody made a speech, but I don't know who it was (and someone at our standing table said, well, there's no free cocktail party). We heard someone ask one of the volunteers who was speaking; she had no idea, either.

Afterward, there was entertainment on the patio. Chinese acrobats and some Peking Opera (not very melifluous) and a kung fu demonstration. Nothing wrong with a little culture.

There aren't too many dining options, in terms of Chinese food, in the press center, and it looks like we'll be spending all the day here. So I'll take advantage of breakfast and maybe the bakery treats they put out in the afternoon. Eventually, we'll figure out how to actually go out, if we can stay awake.

Try Our Nursing Treatments

We're staying at a place called the Beijing Conference Center, and that's what it is: a compound of buildings for business people holding meetings.

The room we have is part of a suite of rooms in a courtyard; we're in Courtyard House No. 6. The room is austere, but not uncomfortable. There is an air conditioner, a television, a fair amount of closet space and two twin beds. I guess the Chinese tend to share rooms when attending a conference, because our beds are head-to-head, separated by a shelf of sorts, and there is no way to put them together. It offers privacy for two non-married people, certainly.

The hotel has a list of rules and regulations in a booklet, and some of them are amusing translations. I know it's not nice; I know I couldn't translate stuff into Chinese. But it's hard not to giggle at some of the instructions (and, below, some of the spa treatments).

To wit: It is strictly prohibit to conduct any criminal activities such as bustup, gambling, smuggle, drug, whoring. (Glad we cleared that one up!)

Please not to smear and post any propaganda material on the wall.

Prohibit to spit everywhere or leave about stump, pericarp or other wastes. Please keep the environment clean and take good care of green areas, flowers and trees.

There are lots of things available on the grounds, which are spacious. There appears to be lots of gardens and sculptures, and we walk over a bridge and some sort of water (a pond?) on our way to the restaurant and then the bus. There is a huge indoor swimming pool, some virtual reality games (archery and shooting) and a bowling alley. We've been so tired in the evening, that doing anything but sleeping isn't an option.

There also is a salon and some spa services. The treatments have me a bit wary, though.

Under the heading of Quanfushi fragrant therapy the spa menu offers:

  • Ovary nursing
  • Physiological accommodation
  • Lymph toxin expulsion
  • Kidney nursing

I don't know what these things are, and I don't want to find out. At the salon, you can have these treatments:

  • Eyebrow dressing
  • Ear cleaning
  • Neck nursing
  • Ocular region nursing
  • And this beauty treatment procedure: Cleaning face, removing horniness, ozon, needle cleaning, massage mask, shrinkage water and moisture cream.


August 5, 2008

Traveling 101

OK. I like to think of myself as a fairly experienced traveler. I've been places, done things. Hit my share of Third World -- and otherwise -- countries. But since I left, it's felt like a series of bonehead moves.

I went to extraordinary effort to make sure we had adapters, but I didn't bring an ATM card that works? What's up with that? Paul and I have credit union accounts, and we've known for a while that the ATM cards don't work outside the country. Fraud they said (and to that I say, so what's the point?) But we knew that when we signed up for it, and sort of had some contingency plans, but never got around to it.

I know, story of my life.

So anyway, I decided to use my French account. There's still some money in it, the exchange rate is good and the ATM works. As long as I remember the password, anyway, and I forgot it months ago. I don't know why; it's the same card/password I'd used for nearly 8 years. But I did. But Paul, too, had a French card on the same account. And I thought, without checking, that he had it with him. Because I remembered his password. But we get here and discover nope, wrong card.

Fortunately we came with a wad of cash, and we exchanged it at the bank the old-fashioned way. But who travels without a valid ATM card? And failing that, cash? Traveler's cheques (they're so old-school --I used to scoff at people who used them).

Guess the joke is on me.

And by the way -- the press center is set up for regular plugs. Good thing we spent $40 on adapters at Best Buy. We didn't want to have to "scramble" once we got here.

What's that about the forest for the trees?

Bubble Girl

It's funny. I can see how a journalist would come to the Olympics and not really see anything. You have to make an effort.

So far -- and I realize we just got here -- it's a bubble world. Various people with credentials doing their things. In the media press center (MPC) there is a shop and a bank and a gym and work stations. You take a bus to the venues and a bus to the hotel and aside from the freeway, there is not a whole lot of indication that you're in China. In the sense that you could be anywhere, at any Olympics. So I'm going to try to make a concerted effort to get out and about, although it's definitely daunting.

First Chinese experience: Dumplings for breakfast!! The sign said fried bumplings, but I knew what they meant. I mean, potstickers, come on! That's like offering me pizza rolls for breakfast. Where do I sign up?

Speaking in Tongues

We checked in to our hotel last night, and it was interesting. It's a huge complex, and even though we were warned to go to building 6, not building 9, after traveling all day of course I mixed them up.

It didn't help that we were trying to get into a hotel where we technically had no reservation. Paul bought the hotel room at a fire-sale price from the Tribune company, which had booked too many. Normally, a news organization books its Olympic hotels at least a year, sometimes more, in advance. Tribune clearly didn't see the apocalypse coming (and let's be frank; who did? slowdown, sure ... but mass layoffs?)

So we were tired and delirious upon arrival, but the volunteers were as helpful as could be. While Paul was checking in, one of the young Chinese students started to chat with me, presumably to try out her English. I told her I had a list of Chinese phrases I was practicing, and showed her the printout.

As it happens, my printout was French-t0-Chinese, because I had asked my French teacher, Yvonne Charron, who speaks French, German, English and Chinese, to offer some helpful phrases. The Chinese girl was stunned to see my instructions in French. She revealed that she spoke French, and so instead of practicing her English, she practiced her French.

En fin! (At Last!)

So, 22 hours of travel and we finally arrive in Beijing.

All things considered, it was a decent trip. The flight crew was exceptionally nice and attentive, and we got Haagen-Dazs for dessert. The food was more than edible.

We got seats together once we checked in at LAX and the agent was kind enough to let us have three seats. Paul's daughter, Drew, had warned us that the airline, ANA, had pretty tight quarters.

She wasn't kidding. But we had three seats, so no worries, right?

We slept for about five hours, watched some video. The time passed fairly quickly. I think because most of my long-haul travel has been solo the last few years.

The plane arrived a little bit late into Narita, which wouldn't have been a problem except for the 1 hour layover. A nice Japanese woman was waiting for us, and personally escorted us through security. We jumped the queue and hightailed it to our waiting plane. Mostly, we were stunned they held it for us. That never happens anymore.

We also had seats together from Tokyo to Beijing; an aisle and a window in a 2-3-2 configuration. The plane was pretty full -- the Canadian softball team and assorted tourists, mostly, so there weren't any empty seats. But the fat guy in front of me (in a bulkhead seat, mind you) decided that reclining all the way back was the way to go. Why shouldn't he be comfortable?

The main problem with that was when he was fully reclined (and my tray table was up) there wasn't even enough room for me to get out of my seat. Plus, there was some sort of blockage in the front, so I had no foot room, either.

Stewing turned into a claustrophobic panic attack and I had to get up and get some water and some air. And then I was fine. But I felt bad, because I'm supposed to be the calm one when we travel.

I was not a happy camper -- and that was a pretty long three hours.

But then we arrived in Beijing, and it was cool (okay, not literally). Everywhere we looked there were helpful people ushering us this way and that. We sailed through immigration and customs, went to get the credentials validated and were then personally escorted to the bus that would take us to our hotel.

I was taken by how eager everyone was to speak to us in English. How much of an effort was being made to make things easy, to make a good impression.

Paul says that in the beginning, everyone is friendly at the Olympics. The true test is how friendly they are at the end of the nearly three-week period.

We'll see.