Giant on the move
Remarkably we managed to get to our night stop, Tingri (4,300m), in time for lunch.
He was 63 but typically looked much older. The Tibetan environment is unforgiving and adds a decade or two to the complexion, especially if your work is on the land.
Crying off the afternoon excursion, photographer David Gray and I headed down to new Tingri so he could file some pictures at an Internet café.
After another round of negotiations with the organisers the next morning, we reached an agreement that we would get an extra day to acclimatize before we reached base camp.
That didn’t, of course, mean we would make the short journey to the next stop at Lhartse in short order and have the rest of the day to relax.
At last, 11 of us did get onto a plane to Lhasa last Friday. It was soon clear that while the Tibetan authorities were prepared to let us in, this was by no means going to be a free-ranging reporting assignment.
The hotel ‘near Lhasa airport’ that we had been promised turned out to be 300 kilometres away in Shigatse (3,900m).
We’re here, where’s the torch?
We arrived. For a long time it looked like we wouldn’t, but on Monday morning, four days after leaving Beijing, 11 foreign journalists arrived at the media centre on the lower slopes of Mount Everest to report on the torch relay.
It brought to an end two of weeks of uncertainty that started when a briefing was cancelled and we heard nothing more until we were summoned to the Beijing Olympic media centre on the morning of our scheduled departure. The party of foreign media, at this stage 20-strong, was informed that bad weather had caused a delay to our journey and the departure ceremony for the climb team and torch had been cancelled.
There is a common myth perpetrated about China — that everyone speaks “Chinese”.
There is in fact no single “Chinese” language.
There is an official language, Mandarin, taught at schools and used on the airwaves, yet even the government admits that only about half the country’s 1.3 billion population speak it fluently.
Until a few months ago, a few weeks in some cases, the Jingshun Highway, once one of the main arteries out of Beijing heading for skiing in the mountains and the Great Wall, was lined with scrappy auto-repair workshops, metal yards, tyre stores, manual car-wash services and other businesses.
I am talking about the stretch of highway northeast of the huge conurbation of Wanjing, beginning where the airport expressway veers off to the right and surrounded by the suburbs of grandiose villa compounds with names like Beijing Riviera and Grand Hills, temporary homes to CEOs and other rich expats.
The difference was that when I was stumbling through the debris in Greece, it was just a few days before the Games rather than the 114 days that remain before the Opening Ceremony here in China.
On Wednesday, reporters will have a first chance to get inside the completed Bird’s Nest National Stadium, where some dreams will come true but many more will be dashed at the Olympics.
It’s been two years since I set foot in the stadium, which was then just a concrete bowl surrounding a muddy oval all shrouded in a twisting, dull, steel mesh.
I spent six days in the bowels of a five-star hotel in central Beijing chasing comments from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge and his colleagues on events in London, Paris and San Francisco.
Some 5,000 VIPs, cheering workers and media gathered on Tiananmen Square on Monday to welcome the Beijing Olympic flame and launch the 137,000-km torch relay.
Predictably, security on the square was tight.
The 600 reporters, photographers and television crews were bused from the Olympic media centre some four hours before the flame made an appearance.