August 8, 2008

The gang is almost all here! I was the first of what will eventually be ten of us. We are staying at the apartment of Steve and Cindy Chapman, parents of Nathaniel ('06). The only one not here is actually Nathaniel who is stuck home for a day after losing his passport.

Once Chip and Henry arrived we ventured out to explore the Olympic grounds. Beach volleyball will be taking place just a few blocks from here in Beijing's largest park. After several mis-steps and being pointed in the right direction, we purchased some tickets to something akin to a Fan-Fest. The 500 RMB tickets (about eighty cents) proved a fortuitous purchase as they enabled us to ride the subway for free.

The tickets were also helpful because they looked awfully close to the tickets for the opening ceremonies (which are amazing). We didn't get into the stadium but we did manage to act like we knew where we were going and breeze through about four different checkpoints (well, Chip and I did - Henry had trouble pulling it off until about the third try).

Beijing has proven an interesting contrast between desolation and massive crowds. The entire city has essentially shut down. Restaurants are closed. Streets are barracaded. The airport this morning was empty. But as we got closer to the arenas, the crowds were vast.

The only thing out-numbering the tourists were the soldiers, volunteers and other helpers. They are everywhere, even standing on the side of the highway. It is clear that everyone is very conscious of the world's impression of China. Everyone is eager to try out their English when they see us coming.
As if that wasn't enough to make you feel like a celebrity, how about getting interviewed - in the middle of an eight-lane street? That's what happened when we were stopped and told to turn around by one of the many officers. Then, just 30' after being turned around, we were told to turn back around. That's when members of the state media came forward to interview me and ask me about the games. They seemingly couldn't believe that I'd arrived just that morning and had already ventured out to explore.
So now, we're sitting back enjoy a thouroughly-American dinner of hamburgers, watermelon, baked beans and "Coke Light" while watching the opening ceremonies.

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