Politi and I decided to skip the Opening Ceremonies in Beijing. Instead, we went to the area where the big earthquake happened in May. We wanted to be able to tell the story of people from this area who despite losing everything, they would watch the ceremonies. We flew into a city called Chengdu. Steve arranged for a fixer and a driver, so along with a friend of his from the Baltimore Sun, we had a plan. I write this from room 2717 of the Shangri La Hotel. I am watching the end of the Ceremonies on TV, in Chinese. I’ve opened a bottle of wine out of the mini bar. This could get ugly!
Let’s start in Beijing. Had a cab waiting for us at 6:30am. The smog was just awful this morning. Couldn’t see 100 yards. Looking out the window at the airport, Politi asked if it was snowing. If it wasn’t 85 degeees, I’d think it was snowing. We copped out for breakfast at the airport, went to Starbucks. They really are everywhere. Food=awful, tea=awesome.
Then, we went through security.
This was memorable. All seemed normal… x-ray machine, metal detector, take your laptop out, etc. So I pass all my crap thru the x-ray and walk thru the metal detector, which does not beep, so I assume I’m home free.
Apparently everyone gets the cavity search. The pretty young chinese TSA agent wanded me, then started patting me down. Check that, feeling me up! Seriously. She touched parts of my body I’m not sure my wife has even touched. (honey, I didn’t enjoy it…) At one point, she looked at me, smiled, and said “I am just checking your belt,” then proceded to run her hands under my belt. All the way around. I could have just taken it off!
We’re married now.
In the end, I lost my toothpaste. The guard explained that it was too big to take on a plane. It wasn’t, I am guessing he just wanted lemony fresh breath.
Rick from the Baltimore Sun asked if I lost anything at the checkpoint, so I told him how pissed I was to lose my toothpaste. He said the only thing he lost was his virginity.
Flight was uneventful. They served breakfast. They shouldn’t have.
Politi made arrangements ahead of time, they assured us we’d have no problems seeing whatever we wanted to see. Even got cool credentials. So, we’re off to the earthquake area, a city called Dujiangyan, capital of the Sichuan province of China. We had a nice lunch at a local place. Despite the photos showing chicken on the bone, Politi really just wanted boneless chicken. After a couple minutes watching him try to explain this, I begged him, PLEASE JUST EAT IT OFF THE BONE! They don’t speak english. They don’t do boneless chicken here. Move on!
Long story, short… the afternoon was a nightmare. Our fixer, Alex, got spooked. We think he got threatened. We never made it to the site of the collapsed school. We had to be very forceful with him just to get the driver to pull over so I could shoot some photos. Clearly, there was no way any police were going to detain 3 American journalists on the day of the Opening Ceremonies, so we had no worries. What I guess we didn’t think about was what could happen to Alex after we leave.
We stopped for some food. A bowl of noodles with beef. I don’t want to tell you how cheap this huge bowl was, just in case the expense police are watching. Let’s just say, you can buy a can of coke in NJ for what we paid for dinner. The noodles were just awesome. Alex showed us how to roll the noodles with chopsticks. I think Politi went with the 2-handed method.
We’re staying in Chengdu tonight. The Shangri La Hotel is a step or 20 above the Super 8 in Beijing. I’m never leaving.