Changing China

Giant on the move

Does my body double really drink more than me?

August 8, 2008

rtr20qll.jpgI’m at the Olympics in my role as Editor-in-Chief — that means I’m doing some journalism and some “representational” work as the senior person from Reuters News and Thomson Reuters in Beijing for the Games.

In the representational role, I was invited to Chinese President Hu Jintao’s state banquet along with a score of other media leaders — among them News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch, the BBC’s Mark Thompson, AP’s Tom Curley, Russia’s Rianovosti’s Chief Editor Svetlana Mironyuk and Dr. Dinh The Huynh, member of Vietnam’s Communist Party Central Committee and Editor-in-Chief of the Nhan Dan newspaper.

Held in the vast and imposing Great Hall of the People off Tiananmen Square, the banquet was an amazing opportunity to see Chinese leaders in a rare informal pose and to chat with a variety of current and former world leaders.

“Reuters? I have no problem with Reuters, but of course I’m out of all that now,” former U.S. President George H.W. Bush said to me.

Singapore’s Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew asked me sharply if we’d report the Olympics fairly. I replied that China’s Xinhua news agency had already quoted my assertion that we would! (I think if you read all our coverage you’ll see that we are applying our usual, global standards of good journalism to everything we do here).

The banquet itself — each large round table graced with a pair of huge peacocks carved out of radishes — went off with military precision, plates presented and then whisked away to make sure that everyone would get out in good time to do some business in the afternoon before the grand opening ceremony.

I was told that two practice banquets had been held, one five days before and oneĀ 10 days before, to get the timing and the presentation exactly right.

“Doubles” from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs played the part of every guest.

In the event, the real guests seemed to eat faster than expected — or perhaps the diplomatic doubles simply relaxed and drank more than we felt like doing on a hot, sticky summer’s afternoon.

For the record, we ate:

  • Lantern-shaped Assorted Delicacies as starters
  • Pine mushroom Chicken Soup in a White Gourd Cup
  • Beefsteak Wrapped in Lotus Leaf
  • Seasonal Greens in Bird’s Nest
  • Peking Duck
  • Cod with Soy Sauce
  • Cheesecake
  • Fruit
  • Ice Cream

What I really want to know is: in the rehearsals did my body double also spill ice cream down his tie, just like I did?

Photo: Chinese President Hu Jintao (at podium) delivers a speech during a banquet at the Great Hall of people in Beijing August 8, 2008. REUTERS/Minoru Iwasaki/Pool

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