BEIJING—A good day to kick-off the Olympic Games it ain’t. The view from the CBC studio in Ling Long Pagoda, a tower overlooking the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube where I’ll be working for the next two weeks, is of one of those post-apocalyptic Beijing days you need to see to believe. The apartment blocks across from the man-made river snaking through the Olympic Green are barely visible. Through the clouds, the sun appears a “lurid red,” as an early Reuters report put it. For critics, Beijing hasn’t disappointed.
The weather may not be cooperating, but it won’t take away from today’s significance: the seven-year wait is over. “Welcome, World,” splashed today’s front page headline on the state-owned China Daily. China’s moment is here and it’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement.
Forgive the melodrama, but Beijing is electric.
Up here at the Olympic Green, high-energy volunteers, decked-out in matching teal shirts and grey cargo pants, number in the thousands. Security is everywhere. I saw girls in pink dresses and shirtless boys who look like ninjas rehearsing for the opening ceremonies on the practice track outside the Bird’s Nest. On my way to lunch I spotted the entire U.S. men’s basketball team leaving the Main Press Center—Kobe out front signing an autograph on a volunteer’s shirt, Lebron trailing behind listening to tunes on earmuff headphones.
And then there’s the journalists, over 21,000 of them (which, by my count, is way more journalists than should ever be allowed at one place at one time… anywhere… ever). I’m working with the CBC as a research assistant on two prime-time shows with Ron MacLean and Ian Hanomansing, from the ungodly hours of 4 a.m. until 3 p.m. The work is not glamorous (digging up data on athletes; keeping the hosts and writers happy; answering questions about Beijing), but it offers a unique chance to be in the middle of the action.
Part of my job is to monitor the international media for Olympics-related news. I’ve lived in Beijing for a year and a half, so I pay close attention to stories written about the city itself. While I’m tempted to go off on some of the parachute reporting—the Toronto Star lamenting Beijing’s lost hutongs—about five years too late; Christie Blatchford pointing out Beijing’s weird signage; the New York Times noting that food here is different from the the West—I promised myself I’d show restraint. (Last night my friend pointed out that Beijing-based journalists highlighting newbie journalists’ clichés has become the biggest cliché of all.)
It’s tough to blame reporters when they get it wrong: How does one wrap his head around Beijing 2008—the scale, the significance, the spectacle? It’s overwhelming simply being here—I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get the chills a few times today.
As I write from the CBC studio on the fourth floor of Ling Long Pagoda, hundreds of people are marching down a road toward the Bird’s Nest. They’re in costume, getting in order for the opening ceremonies beginning at 8:08 p.m. Hu Jintao will be there, and George W. Bush, and some of the most famous athletes in the world. It will be the most expensive opening ceremony in Olympics history, broadcast to a global audience of an estimated four billion.
These Olympics will be many things to many people. More than anything, they’re going to be one hell of a show.
Read Mitch Moxley’s reports from China at www.mitchmoxley.ca.