Giant on the move
The foreign media contingent was moved from the huts to rooms inside the media centre late on Saturday evening, due to to the extreme weather. It was welcome, and much warmer. It seems it was by way of compensation for not taking us back to a hotel for a shower and a night in a proper bed, as we had requested. After the recent snow, the roads were apparently too dangerous.
One man who did get away was Joerg Brase of German television. Joerg had been suffering with high blood pressure ever since our arrival at the foot of Everest.
The altitude effects nearly all of us. A slow walk up stairs will have all but the Tibetans puffing and wheezing like 20-a-day smokers.
You’ll never guess who I met at Base Camp.
After a quick stop to watch the monks and nuns at the Rongpo monastery at prayer this morning, we finally got up to Base Camp proper this afternoon.
It was pretty bleak. Basically, a cluster of tents on an exposed rocky flat. It made us feel almost grateful for our humble cabins back at the media centre.
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.
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.
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.
Jonathon Newton, a Reuters account manager in Australia, has been a competitive swimmer for over 20 years. Last weekend, clad in one of Speedo’s newly released LZR racing suits that take at least 15 minutes to peel on, he came third in the 50 metre freestyle at the Australian Swimming Championships, but his time of 22.15 seconds was 0.13 seconds short of taking him to the Beijing Olympics. Newton, 27, talks about getting into his suit, how it affects his swimming and the debate around swimwear that boasts to improve times by up to 3 percent.
“You really need to wear socks or plastic bags over your feet to get the suit on as there is a kind of sticky rubber on the inside leg. If you’re even slightly wet it is impossible. They are not comfortable but you get used it. You don’t put the suit on until just before you go to the marshalling area and take it off straight after the race so it is on for maybe 30 minutes. You need two people to help with the zip on the back. They pack up very small — about the size of a bag of sugar — and people can’t believe you will fit into the suit when they see it packed.
All the tourists, athletes, journalists and other hangers-on flooding to Beijing for the Games need a place to stay, and with hotels already filling up fast, some landlords are more than just rubbing their hands at the prospect of a little extra cash.
One friend is desperately hunting for a new apartment after her landlord said her rent would jump nine times if she wanted to renew her contract this summer.
Beijing promised to turn itself into a model city after winning its bid for the 2008 Olympics almost seven years ago. I lived in the city then and thought, yay, go team. Beijing, afterall, could use some work.
Infamous traffic gridlocks would be sorted out, the waiting world was promised. Working-class taxi drivers who love to chatter in Chinese would speak English. City-dwellers would quit spitting on the sidewalks. The polluted grey skies that aggravated my head colds would turn blue. Order would be enforced at the capital’s chaotic international airport.