Since I arrived in Beijing four days ago, my friends, family and co-workers have asked me one question repeatedly: Are you having fun?
It has been a difficult question to answer. Yes, I am having an experience. Yes, I am excited and grateful to be here. Yes, I am enjoying the events and the infinity symbol on my credential that allows me inside all the venues. I am experiencing a new country and culture and the people are wonderful. But I wouldn’t exactly express this as, “fun.”Until today, I hadn’t seen much of Beijing, hadn’t tried the local cuisine, hadn’t learned a single phrase in Mandaran aside from “hello” and “thank you.” Those things, to me, are fun.
Well friends, today, I had fun. I didn’t attend a single sports event, but I caught up on my Olympic reading, and then, this afternoon, Alison and I went to the Speedo Sports House in Chayong Park to interview the parents of the U.S. swim team. It was interesting to see how many members of the media turned out to interview a bunch of moms and dads. But these moms and dads created special kids, so everyone is looking for their special formula for raising Olympic phenoms. Check out the piece I did on Debbie Phelps.
After a few hours at Speedo, we headed over to the Oakley house at Beijing hotspot Block 8, where Oakley-sponsored athletes can pick up customized shades, play Rock Band on a big-screen, watch DVDs and relax away from all the chaos. Hurldler Lolo Jones came by while we were there, as did sprinter Walter Dix and Yahoo! Sports’ newest online on-air personality Gretchen Bleiler, who is learning life isn’t so easy on this side of the microphone. She said she has a new perspective on the reporters she used to get so easily annoyed with for not having an intimate knowledge of the sport of snowboarding and asking dumb questions. Now she is that reporter. She realized the dumb questions came less from a lack of interest and research than from the fact that it’s plain tough to cram an entire Olympic lineup into a few weeks of preparation. So she said she studies as much as she can, and then remembers that she, too, is an Olympic athlete with a unique perspective and conducts her interviews based on her own experiences. And she’s doing really well.
After Oakley, Alison and I headed to a new area of town, Ritan Park, to check out the designer mart (We liked what we saw, and oh, we will be back!) and eat authentic dim sum at La Galerie. (Well, sort of authentic. We’re pretty sure we were forced to order from the American menu.) Over the past week, Alison’s Mandarin has been slowly coming back to her, and what a help it was at dinner and on the cab ride home. I am not going to allow her to leave.