More than Five Friendlies

We’ve been in Beijing for 24 hours now and one thing’s for certain; if anything goes wrong with the Olympics it won’t be caused by lack of man power.

From arriving at the airport to getting into the hotel to finding your way around, there’s always someone – in many cases quite a few people – to help you. There are 70 thousand Olympic volunteers and another 400 thousand city volunteers. I wouldn’t say we’ve met all of them but it feels like it.

This morning there were three people to greet me as I came out of the lift, several more to guide me to the breakfast room and even a volunteer to put my toast in the machine. My colleague James wondered if, for the lady who was doing my toast, this represented the “Olympic Dream”.

When you head into the city there are community volunteers staioned at street corners, sheltering from the sun in little tents and, it has to be said at this early stage, a little under worked. They are all- to a man and a woman as far as we can tell- friendly, smiley, courteous and smart.

They are determined to give a positive and friendly image and fair play to them, it seems to be working. I remember England football fans emerging from a stadium in Saitama after a match during the 2002 World Cup to hundreds of Japanese locals applauding them; not the team, the fans. They were neutered with kindness and courtesy. There’s a similar charm offensive going on here.

The mascots, “the Five Friendlies”, (their names make up the Chinese for “Beijing welcomes you”) are being more than backed up on the streets of Beijing. But it has to be said, that James and I – as the accredited members of the team (and therefore members of the “Olympic Family”), may be getting a different flavour to Rebecca, who is one of the great unwashed, or unaccredited journalists as they are known.

The stadium, “the Bird’s Nest “, is, as millions of bloggers have already said, spectacular. Our media hotel is right next to it, and I can see the end of it from my room. We’re staying in what was the athletes’ village for the Asian Games in 1990.

It is of course a good place to stay but we came up against the issue of Internet access. Bearing in mind we are staying at a media hotel, i.e full of people wanting to file, it came as a surprise that they wanted one thousand pounds for us to be able to access it in our rooms.

We declined, so I’m writing this from one of our broadcast venues, Book Worm, which has wireless. That said, we have been unable to access WordPress for this blog, the World Service site, or James Reynolds’s (our Beijing correspondent) dispatches on the BBC site. At our media village news stand we can get copies of western papers, but they won’t be available on the streets.

Which is a shame. The smog isn’t that bad, the massive building work seems to have stopped, the traffic is heavy but not gridlocked, and everyone is smiling – not a bad story for people here to be able to read in the foreign press or on foreign sites.

Finally, thanks for your response to my last post- we’re pretty confident we’ll be able to do a WHYS from our other venue, Fish Nation, on Thursday. So what do you want to ask our guests?

10 Responses to “More than Five Friendlies”

  1. 1 nelsoni
    August 4, 2008 at 10:02

    Hi Mark, Good to hear from you . (I hope I am right). Well about the five friendlies? What would you have expected? As hosts they have to put up a good smiling face for the world. This brings me to my question. It has being alleged that China has made progress in different areas such as human rights, freedom of the press etc. What happens when the world takes her eyes off China after the Olympics? Can we expect further progress or it will be back to the same old ways from China? I’m looking forward to Thursday’s WHYS.

  2. 2 Bob in Queensland
    August 4, 2008 at 10:18

    Too bad the webmaster isn’t one of the 470,005 (by my count) “friendlies”.

    I’m not sure how to phrase this as a catchy question, but I’d be curious to know how much the average “man on the Beijing omnibus” realises his view of the outside world is filtered (and for that matter whether he knows the outside world’s view of China is being filtered).

  3. 3 selena
    August 4, 2008 at 10:32

    Hi Mark,

    Looks like you are having a fabulous time. Your report is great!

    And it seems pretty much like I remember it from three(?) (time flies) years ago… except for the volunteers.

    The average person was friendly, kind and always ready to help.

  4. August 4, 2008 at 11:27

    Mark, good to hear this about China. The question how long will this hospitally last and is it extended to everyone? Just got my chinese visa and very anxious to post my first post on WHYS from China if possible.

  5. 5 Brett
    August 4, 2008 at 11:49

    Your quite lucky! Enjoy it, I know I would!

  6. 6 Jack Hughes
    August 4, 2008 at 11:50

    Ask loads of chinese people what their capital city is called.

    Then ask yourself if “beijing” is closer to the sound than “peking” is.

    I don’t think it is – in fact I would say “peking” is better – based on a sample of 4. Is there a 3rd spelling that is closer ?

  7. 7 Lubna
    August 4, 2008 at 12:04

    My dearest Mark : Hi… I’m really so glad that you have arrived to Beijing safe and sound, and I’m even more glad that you’re enjoying your time down there… A WHYS episode from Beijing on Thursday ??? That almost sounds like a dream coming true ! :-)… I’d love to hear Chinese native citizens criticising their own regime on Thursday’s eddition of WHYS without fear of having to leave China after the Olympic period ends !! With my love… Yours forever, Lubna…

  8. 8 Angela in Washington D.C.
    August 4, 2008 at 12:42

    I think it is amazing that so many people have come out to show their support for the Olympics. It gives people a different impression of China. As Lubna stated, I would like to hear citizens discuss the state of the government freely. However, I am not sure if it will happen, since most Chinese individuals want to give westerners a postive view of China.

  9. 9 Dennis
    August 4, 2008 at 19:58

    I think you should be proud of yourselves
    that you found a place to do your homework!

    Syracuse, New York

  10. 10 parth guragain
    August 5, 2008 at 07:07

    China have been eyes of world since it was given chance to organize olympics.First it was said that IOC have done great mistake by awarding olympics to china.then came issue of TIBET.after that it was the internet issue and human rights issue .what i think that western media is obessed with china and want to potray dark and bad image of China.We all know that western media is the strongest media in the world and play a very important role in forming views of millions people around the world and people get convinced by their dirty tricks.what we have to see is that asia was ruled for long time by these wewstern countries.For these countries to come in todays state took so long .SO china is in the path of reforms.we should not expect things to change overnight.what we should see is that how china have progressed in recent days and inspiring countries of asia to uplift standard of life of their people.so look in this issues from both sides .we have been boombarded with western views about CHINA.there sould be balanced reporting i think.

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