First Impressions of Beijing: The Air is Too Thick, but Overall, Not So Bad!

Western journalists are beginning to flood Beijing in the run-up to the Olympics, which start on Friday. Many of them are beginning to tell us their first impressions of the city, and overall, everyone has been pretty friendly.

George Vecsey of the Times was impressed by the volume of volunteers to help shepherd him from Beijing’s airport to the Main Press Center in the Olympic village. One volunteer who didn’t know a word of English a few months ago, took him by the hand and helped him through. “My first hour ever in China could not have been nicer,” he wrote.

Juliet Macur of the Times isn’t one bit happy about the thick air–96 degrees on Monday, with 88 percent humidity–but things are smoother now than back in the spring when she first came for a reporting assignment. “[At media housing], just like everywhere else, volunteers outnumber the media 10 to 1. Eight volunteers greeted me as I stepped out of the bus. Three escorted me to the front door of the registration desk. Four lazily wiped down the doorknobs on a building no one was going into. At breakfast today, 12 volunteers stared as I entered the empty cafeteria at 6 a.m.”

Things still get lost in translation:

I was the only reporter on my flight, and two Olympics volunteers greeted me as soon I came out of baggage claim at the airport. “Media?” they asked, struggling in English. Tired, cranky and already sweating in the thick humidity, I was happy to see them. They asked me where I was staying and I answered, “North Star Media Village.” They looked confused.

Quickly, five more volunteers showed up. Then two more. Then, all of a sudden, I was surrounded by a sea of volunteers who were equally perplexed with my destination.

I pulled out the paperwork for my housing, and it took the group about 15 minutes of discussion before figuring out where I should go. Soon, I hopped in a waiting bus. We hit the highway and headed into smog. Sitting there alone, I grumbled.

CNN producer Steve Almasy isn’t a fan of the air quality either–he confused the air with the smell of jet engines–but hey, all those volunteers! And the nice bedrooms in the media village. “Everything has been first class,” he wrote.

Kevin Baxter at the L.A. Times writes about some of the, uh, challenges of reporting in China: “One colleague paused to take a picture of Chairman Mao’s portrait as he left the Forbidden City. That’s apparently a no-no, and when the guard’s terse warning went unheeded, he accented it with a stiff shove.”

After bitching about the air quality, he fairly concludes: “But it’s far too early to be critical.”

First Impressions of Beijing: The Air is Too Thick, but Overall, Not So Bad!