Several regional press journalists were lucky enough to experience the Beijing Olympic Games in person. One such reporter was the Lancashire Telegraph’s Samrana Hussain who travelled to China to cover the wrestling competition. Here, she gives the inside track on the Games, from odd security checks to even odder food.
Beijing came alive with people of all races, backgrounds and beliefs in a way that could never have been envisaged ten years ago.
The Games did what they set out to achieve, to open China up to the world. In a country where westerners are still so rare they are asked for pictures, things have changed.
The Beijing Olympic Games Organisation Committee (BOCOG) has looked after the needs of 10,000 athletes at the Olympic Village and the same number of journalists at the two media villages.
I was stationed at the impressive North Star Media Village, along with the majority of the international journalists, which was completed with fake trees and grass verges only days before the Games started.
Breakfast catered for everyone with food like noodles, omelettes, French pastries and halal meat which was handy for a Muslim like myself. But outside the village eating was more problematic.
Without the help of a Mandarin speaker I was once given beef when I ordered noodles. The worse incident was where my Italian friend ordered chicken skewers by pointing at the English menu and the waitress brought out marinated chicken bones!
She then came out with grilled chicken fat after we complained, at which point we started laughing out of frustration and gave up on getting anything edible.
Even when I attempted using the Mandarin word no-one understood me as I did not know which of the four distinctive tones to use, each one completely changes the meaning of the word.
Food at my venue ranged from bland and tasteless to horrid. But they did have halal meals, although the mysterious looking meat was rarely appetising enough to tempt me.
Supermarket shopping was a strange experience too. They had glass boxes which had turtles for sale. You pick the turtle and they kill it for you to take home and cook.
After my daily security check and frisking, I had to take a sip from any bottles of liquid I had in case it contained a lethal substance. This was always followed by a ‘thank you for your cooperation’ by the Chinese security staff.
The accommodation could not have been better, with separate rooms for everyone and three people to an apartment. We had cleaning ladies everyday who made our beds and tidied the bathrooms.
The biggest frustration for me and the other journalists was the lack of internet access, as highlighted by the international media. At the media village the only way to access the World Wide Web was to buy an expensive £350 card for cable access.
Only after international journalists, in particular host broadcaster NBC, arrived and kicked up a fuss was wireless made available.
Similarly, the venues had only one internet point making research and contact with the outside world difficult. Internet cafes, which were not that easy to find, first asked for passports for identification and a week later said this identification was no longer sufficient.
But there were instances where the cafés accepted out-of-date university identification and library cards. The consensus was, if it didn’t make sense, it would work in China.
This was an unsuccessful attempt by the authorities to control when and where foreigners had access to the web. Work-wise the hours were long and stressful with two to three gold medals being awarded every night.
On my first day at the venue I returned from lunch to find the lights in the office off and all the Chinese staff slumped over their desks asleep – it was like a scene from the twilight zone!
Apparently, sleeping in the day time is something they are taught at school and it continues into the work place. Overall it was an amazing experience which taught me about the country and its people.
But I found the controls on the media to be too restrictive and was glad to return to East Lancashire and have my first mature cheddar cheese sandwich in what seemed like an eternity.