That was a pretty painless 12 hour flight. A little bumpy now and then, but straight up over the pole and into the grey skies of what will become the centre of the universe come August 8. Ron MacLean of the CBC was on board, but I don't think he was in steerage with the rest of us plain folk. I assume the sniffer dogs had a go at him, however, just as they gave me the once-over as I went down the gangway at Pearson. A little unnerving, but guess better to be safe and all that.
Everyone knows about globalization, but it's a little weird when the first store you see when you land at the airport in Beijing is a Starbucks.
The Olympic centre, or Olympic Green as it's called, is in the north end of Beijing and is surrounded by some pretty drab high-rise neighbourhoods. It's not that dissimilar from Downsview or parts of north Etobicoke or Scarborough. But they've done a lot to dress things up. The airport has some lovely landscaping, and the freeway into town had two-foot-long window boxes on top of the guard rail for several miles. There had to be 10,000 boxes, each filled with bright-yellow and pink flowers.
Closer to the Hui Yuan media village, immediately across a busy road from the Olympic Green, was a bunch of spiral-shaped bougainvillea with bright fuschia blossoms, surrounded by brilliant yellow marigolds. Quite striking.
The freeway passes your usual non-descript towers, but there also are what appear to be newer condos sprinkled here and there. And some of the stores are pretty upscale: a large Kohler bath products shop, a FIAT dealership, a lovely-looking Japanese department store and other signs of an increasingly wealthy populace. Near the airport there were a bunch of billboards; one for a Volkswagen Lavida, another for fireworks and a third that simply said, "Deliver clean energy towards a harmonious world." And who can argue with that?
Not that many journalists here can write in Chinese letters or speak Mandarin, but you still have to smile at some of the translations. There's a small sign above the tap in my media village washroom that says "Please heat up before drinking." And a map of the media village showed that I'm only a short walk from the Ming Tien Coffee Language.
Don't know what the government had to say about Thursday's air pollution levels. But it was pretty smoggy. Visibility might have been a couple miles around 4 p.m., but by 6 it was hard to see more than a quarter of a mile. This could get interesting.
All that talk about censorship on the Internet rings true. Chinese officials are promising full access come the start of the Games, but it still could be impossible to log onto sites the government doesnt' approve of. A test on Thursday revealed that thestar.com and cnn.com and the Guardian in the UK were fine and dandy. But a computer in the main press centre didn't allow its user to access Amnesty International's website.