Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Beijing - All Over II

The Olympic volunteer kids are quite incredible. I spent a good amount of time with them after my mammoth day out trying to get a car and driver for my second day. They wrangled and wrestled, haggled and hustled. Eventually, after trying various options we decided to just book a taxi in the morning. So that's exactly what I did...

My driver headed out into the empty freeways of north Beijing. About two hours out is the small town of Simatai, home to a gloriously unrestored section of the Great Wall. I headed out by a rickety cable car which traversed deep gorges and close by shrubbery. The cars held only two and most of them were empty. The creakiness was evident, as was the rusty two bolts holding the car hook to the cable. After the cable car is a small funicular train and then the hike. Goodness me, the hike. I arrived at the top of the great wall panting, sweating and suffering from the heat and humidity.

It was a hazy day but the wall snaked out into the distance. The Great Wall of China is something that most learn of as small children in school. It's not something I ever really thought I'd one day stand on. But there I was. It goes into the box with the Pyramids...

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Never one to pass up an opportunity to find places to add some more info to my book project, I found an air museum on the outskirts of Beijing. What a spectacular it one was too.

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A converted airbase with a spectacular collection MiG's and Shenyang made fighter aircraft. The first portion is inside of a hangar 'tunnel' dug out of a hillside. When you arrive on the other side of the tunnel there is a long row of MiG's, in the setting it is truly an atmospheric moment.

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I walked in the heat and stifling humidity - the air museum is located in a jungle like area - past rows of aircraft. Even Chairman Mao's transport aircraft...

Yet again I fell asleep in the car on the way back to Beijing.

More to come on my last few days in China...

Beijing - All Over

And so, just like that, I'm back in California. As I was packing in Beijing it seemed that I'd been there forever but now I'm back it feels like it was only yesterday that I was getting ready to go. Travel does odd things to time.

The last week started to stretch into a blur of activity with additional colleagues arriving and others leaving to return to the US. After about 20 straight days of work I could take a couple of days off. With only a fixed time in Beijing and only some of that to be used for personal time and shooting I wanted to make the most of it.

On my first day I visited Tiantan, the Temple of Heaven. It's an enormous complex of temples and gardens with a truly amazing place. A place where people dance, play cards, chinese chess, tai chi. You name it, people are doing it in the gardens of the Temple of Heaven.

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From there I moved on to lunch near Tiananmen Square and then on to the Military Museum. I wanted to visit the Museum for some research on my book but it proved to be more than I expected. Full of aircraft, tanks and other items of military memorabilia but also fascinating exhibits about the various battles fought by China over the centuries.

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After schlepping around the Temple of Heaven and the Museum my legs were sore. I sat outside the Museum and rearranged my camera gear, flagged a cab down and asked the driver to take me to the area of the Dongsi Hutongs. As soon as he set off I fell asleep. I woke up to find the driver shaking me and telling me that I had arrived - somewhere. I paid him and stepped out in to the street. I could barely open both my eyes I was so tired. It was late in the afternoon and I could see that the sun was heading down, that gave me a bearing as I headed into the little back alleys.

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It's official Beijing is huge. I walked for miles and miles, always in the right direction, getting ever closer to my hotel... and then I gave up and jumped into the subway. It was only two stations away but two stations in Beijing are not like two stations in New York.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Beijing - Week 1

It's been quite the week. Been working hard all week with little or no time to blog. Some colleagues came in as the week went on and we shifted hotels from the Sheraton to the Tibet, where we will stay, now, for the duration.

The highlights of this week have all revolved around the people. The young Chinese people that I have met have been absolutely outstanding. Beyond polite, outrageously helpful and seemingly delighted to have the world camping out in their back garden for a month. At times it's almost been overwhelming. On Thursday night two or three of us went for a walk along the fence on the outer perimeter fence of the Olympic park. Hundreds and hundreds of locals were out doing the same. We saw very few westerners. Just Chinese people looking at the sleeping spectacle that they knew, within 24hrs, would erupt into the international festival that is the Olympics. This girl was one of the hundreds snapping images of the scene.

Many of the people out there were carrying flags and sporting China gear everywhere

Everyone was happy to have their picture taken and many wanted to photograph us. This group plunked a Beijing sticker on my arm as they walked on.

Of course, last night, the games finally opened. I stepped out of the back door of the main press center to see President Bush's cavalcade scooting past towards the main National Stadium - the now famous Bird's Nest. I didn't have access to enter the Stadium for the ceremony itself but was totally happy to be outside with many of the performers for the ceremony - there were some outstanding costumes.

And then, of course, there were the fireworks. Lighting up the sky above the magnificent Birds Nest.

I pretty much limped back to the press center, after spending a full day working and six hours shooting out around the park.

A truly outstanding night.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

New Banner Image

If you're wondering about the new banner image... it was take at Lake Tahoe earlier this week.

Beijing - Day 1

Managed to sleep all through the night... which means I'm just about on TZ. Love that.

Got up and sent out some mails 'n' stuff, showered and headed down to get a cab to the Olympic Park. Hotter than heck by 11am this morning. Worked for a few hours then headed back to the hotel. The skies have turned seriously dark here which means I'm going to wait before going out for a walk. I think we have a storm headed in.

Something amusing about large 'western' style hotels in Asia. I'm at a hotel in Beijing, the capital of China and yet, Tuesday night is 'Mexican Night'!!! (I think Thursday night was 'Austrian Night'. There is a French Bistro downstairs and a little patisserie selling coffee's and croissants. I realise that this no weirder than one of my favourite Thai restaurants being in a hotel in Copenhagen or one of my favourite Mexican restaurants being in Paris.

I checked before I came as to what kinda power sockets they have here and I found out that alongside most Chinese sockets (three pin blade type, like Australia) is a socket that takes two pin US (blades) and two pin European (pins). So I came with a Chinese adapter and power cables of both US and European style. I walked into my hotel room last night and found... British square three pin sockets. The only plugs I NEVER thought of bringing. I managed to find two pin under the desk... so it's all good.

Have to say, the people here are super friendly. Always ready with a smile. Appreciate if you speak a little Mandarin.... so far I have 'nihao ma', 'xiexie ni' and 'tianqi re' down. That's 'How are you?', 'thanks' and 'I'm hot'. I hoping that that latter translation means literally not, figuratively. Otherwise all these people are going to think I'm an extremely confident Englishman.

This is the view from my hotel this morning... I've seen way smoggier days in Los Angeles.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Beijing - Just Arrived

And as usual my first taste of a country is from the back of a cab...

The flight was rammed with people from the US athletics team, some competitors from Costa Rica and tons of media people from NBC and various sponsor people. On arrival at Beijing Airport there were tons of media people, stills and video, shooting people getting off the planes. There are masses of 'helpers', young Chinese people that speak English and are very eager to assist. Made the passage through the airport painless.

Now, I have to go find the Main Press Center... shower and another taxi. Oh, it's hot here, did I mention that?