(BEIJING) - Coming up tonight at ten on ABC7 Chicago, we profile the final of four cities competing to host the 2016 Olympics: Madrid. This is the second attempt for the Spanish city. The CEO of Madrid 2016 told me that her city's mass transit system is so developed they believe they can host a Games where the vast majority of athletes and spectators ride high speed rail, subway or bus lines to and from venues.
Another interesting facet to Madrid's bid is the fact that its leaders included Juan Antonio Samaranch, Jr. That name man not mean much to you, but in the Olympic movement, the Samaranch name is as good as gold. Juan Antonio's father is the immediate past-president of the International Olympic Committee. The senior Samaranch paid a visit to USA House this evening, a tip of the hat to another well-regarded man in the Olympic movement Peter Ueberroth. At 88 years old, Samaranch continues to command enormous respect in the highest ranks of the International Olympic Committee.
Also tonight on the news at 10 p.m., we'll catch-up with Lemont native Christan Vande Velde after the US Men's Cycling competition, which included a ride to the Great Wall. August 10, 6 p.m.
(USA House, BEIJING) - The mood has definitely changed among US Athletes, coaches and staff following the murder of Todd Bachman and stabbing of his wife Barbara and their Chinese tour guide. USOC Chairman Peter Ueberroth told us tonight that he has seen nothing to indicate the in-laws of the US Men's Volleyball coach were specifically targeted because they are from America. August 9, 12:10am
(BEIJING) - from what we could see Opening Ceremonies were spectacular. But, then again, we didn't see much. Beijing Police pulled the plug on three massive outdoor television screens set up in a pedestrian plaza fearing the size of the crowd could pose a security risk, according to what one officer told our translator.
Still the celebration at other outdoor venues continued with the red flag of China being waved by people everywhere. Every person we spoke with said "proud" is the word that best describes their feelings now that the Olympic Games have begun in their country.
August 7, 8:30pm
(BEIJING) - The one thing that's hard to miss about this city is the sheer number of people who live here: 17 million. To compare, the City of Chicago is home to roughly 3 million people. Sure the streets, subways and sidewalks are crowded but you really notice it in places like our hotel. We're at the Hilton. It's very nice, but it ain't the Ritz.
I just ran downstairs to print out a script in the business center. As I crossed the fairly small lobby I counted 14 guests sitting on chairs and sofas chatting about their day. But scattered nearby were 16 hotel staff members standing at attention. That doesn't include the dozen or so people manning the front desk and bell stand who were actually doing something. As near as I can tell the only purpose of the 16 standing staffers is to hold down the carpet.
Outside of the business center I watched as 8 workers set-up a 15 foot long display similar to the kind you'd see at a trade show or convention. That's not counting the two supervisors and the three hotel staff members standing by to make sure everything went according to plan. This place makes McCormick Place look understaffed.
August 6, 7:20am
Bus fare in Beijing: 14 cents
Subway fare in China: 28 cents
Telling a group of curious Chinese teenagers the man riding the subway is Chicago's "Chairman" Daley: Priceless.
August 5, 11:50pm (GUAMAO SUBWAY STATION) - Just rode one of the sparkling new subway lines with Mayor Daley. Two thoughts: It's clear he knows mass transit may be the Achilles heel of Chicago's Olympic bid. The Chinese will take pictures of ANYONE who looks the least bit important, especially if that person is American.
August 7, 11am
(Beijing) - The streets are more crowded. The air still thick with pollution ("healthy mist" if you believe the Chinese government). And security has stepped up to the highest level (they actually label it "code red").
We just drove past the hotel where President Bush will be staying when he arrives in a few hours. A huge Chinese police tank is parked in the driveway and Secret Service agents are swarming the grounds. Our hotel is located about 6 blocks from the President's place and 6 blocks from the new US Embassy. Getting around in the next 48 hours should be a breeze.
August 6, 11:00pm
Hey Roy 519, Ni hao from Beijing!
The opening ceremonies begin at 8:08 pm on August 8th here in China. As you've probably guessed, the number 8 is lucky here. That translates into 7:08 am on August 8th in Chicago. Hmm... that gives me an idea. Maybe we should do a story on the mystique surrounding the number 8. Thousands of locals plan to get married that day so their wedding will be blessed with good fortune.
August 6, 10:30pm
(BEIJING) - For the first time in five days I wasn't miserably hot. A cool breeze blew across Wang Fu Jin Street in the heart of one of Beijing's best shopping districts. Neon signs were buzzing brightly as thousands of Beijingers mixed with tourists on the wide pedestrian- only walkway (it's everything city planners had hoped for the State Street pedestrian mall). Olympic competition played on giant screens. People stopped to watch and cheer a goal. It was one of those moments you only get when you travel -- when the world actually seems small and you get the sense that despite our differences, we'll find a way to work things out.
Check out the video portion of the blog to see our visit to Beijing's famous "Night Market." Scorpion on a stick anyone??
August 6, 7am
(BEIJING) The Olympic torch has arrived in Beijing. As I type this blog, a runner is carrying the most recognized symbol of the Olympic Games through the Forbidden CIty and into TIananmen Square. On Friday morning Chicago-time, an as-yet-unnamed runner will bring the flame into the National Olympic Stadium -- better known as "The Bird's Nest" -- signifying the opening of the Games. There's been speculation that basketball superstar Yao Ming would get the honor once bestowed upon Muhammad Ali. But Ming, we're hearing, is taking an earlier leg through the city today -- and since no one person can carry the torch more than once -- apparently the honor will go to someone else.
August 5, 7pm
(Beijing) - Mayor Daley and Mayor McCheese are staying at the same hotel. Guess which one is nicer?
Mayor Daley had just arrived after a grueling 13-hour flight from Chicago when we ran into him in the lobby of his hotel as we waited on an interview with Chicago 2016 Chairman Pat Ryan. Despite obvious fatigue and fighting the remnants of the flu, Daley chatted Rich and me up about everything from the latest White Sox trade to the build-up to the Beijing Games.
A few minutes earlier I spotted McDonald's CEO Jim Skinner enter the lobby. McDonald's is one of the biggest Olympic sponsors and as an Oak Brook-based company who has at least one previous executive on the Chicago 2016 board I thought Skinner might like to say a few words about the bid. I was mistaken. He dispatched his security chief to say he had "no comment" - nor time - for his hometown television station.
I'm (not) lovin' it.
August 5, 4:10p
(Chao Yang Park) -- Traffic appears to be building in this city just three days ahead of the opening of the Olympic Games. . . but don't fret: anyone associated with the Olympic movement won't be stuck in traffic.
The International Olympic Committee requires all host cities to provide dedicated traffic lanes to zip its people around town. Imagine how much fun driving on the Edens or Ike would be with one fewer lane in each direction for a full month.
August 5, 1:00p
(Bird's Nest) - I will never again complain about Chicago's heat and humidity. The pollution masks the sun in this city but don't expect to find a cool shady spot anywhere in Beijing. The stale air creates a melting pot of hot sticky air that saps the life out of you. It will be one of many issues Olympic athletes battle when they take to the field in a few days.
Tonight at 10pm we'll be reporting from outside the Bird's Nest Olympic Stadium.
August 4, 9:20pm
(BEIJING) -- Imagine a politician without an opinion. I know, I know ... humor me.
I've been anxious to talk with members of Beijing's Olympic Organizing Committee to ask what lessons they've learned now that they are at the end of the seven-year long process of preparing to host the Games.
After all, I can't think of any other experience in life that could prepare a person for the enormous logistical, mental and emotional task of hosting the Olympic Games.
Rich and I dutifully went over to the Beijing International Media Center armed with our one question (you don't get to ask any more than that when you're competing with a few thousand other journalists). Surprisingly I was one of the first reporters called upon to ask a question of the Beijing Organizing Committee.
While other reporters were intent on asking about pollution, human rights and ticket scams? I had a softball.
"What words of wisdom can you share with Chicago and the other cities interested in hosting the 2016 Olympics," I asked.
A serious looking panel of eight government representatives looked down from the dais at me, and then each other. The wait for a response took forever. The translator must be broken, I thought. The question isn't that tough. You would have thought I had just asked for the codes to launch China's nuclear arsenal.
After a long pause Beijing Municipal Government Spokesman Li Wei looked down at me and said "You're question is not relevant to today's discussion." Uh, okay.
The look on my face must have been pathetic because the panelists looked back at each other, briefly conferred and then decided to release a one more precious thought: 'The city's plan must be true to the city.' Or words to that effect.
Thanks. I'm glad I traveled 12,000 miles for that gem.
August 4 10:30 a.m.
(Beijing International Media Center) - Has the pollution returned or is it just a cloudy day? The air is once again thick with humidity, and the roads seem a bit busier. But rush hour in Beijing is still much more manageable than Chicag, thanks to government orders banning driving for 1.5 million drivers a day.
August 4, 10:05 a.m.
(Diplomatic Compound, Beijing) - We've just visited with a Chicago-born attorney who moved to Beijing in the late 80's and became one of the first American attorneys allowed to run a law firm in this country. The Loyola Academy grad has seen his share of change in China and has an interesting perspective on the need for "shared sacrafice" among the citizens of an Olympic host city. Look for that in the coming days.
August 3, 1:45pm
(TIANANMEN SQUARE) -- Rich and I really didn't know what to expect as we approached Tiananmen Square with our camera, microphone and tripod in hand. For weeks we've been reading reports that the Chinese government would severely restrict broadcasters' access to the infamous gathering spot for fear it would become a rallying point for opposition groups anxious to steal the spotlight.
The reality was much different. While we were never far from the watchful eye of police and military personnel we were given free access to record images and interview Chinese citizens as we wished. Our government-issued press credentials are the free pass we need to operate in this country and, at least for now, everyone appears to be reading out of the same rulebook.
August 3, 7:00am
(BEIJING) -- The city of Beijing is bathed in brilliant sunshine under blue skies. Normally a weather report wouldn't warrant the lead sentence in the blog but these weather conditions are newsworthy, as they seem to validate the Chinese government's contention that they really can control the weather!
All it took to lift the thick coating of pollution that normally blankets this city was to remove 1.5 million cars, idle a few hundred factories and a good rain. As Mayor Daley joked to me before I left, "Now that's power!"
August 2, 10pm
(BEIJING) -- Censorship! It's a dirty word in a journalist's dictionary and I've finally encountered it! The freedom of the press was snuffed out like a bug on a rug at 9:12pm at a restaurant called "My Humble House." Oh sure the name is disarming enough. The decor makes you believe you're dining in some chic New York eatery free to frolic as you please? but the name betrays the true sinister nature of the staff.
Rich and I were dining with a few Chicago 2016 staff members when a waitress presented a tuna dish that was so elegantly put together it would have made Steve Dolinsky beg for the lead story on the 10pm news. When one of my dinner companions snapped a photo of the beautiful dish the staff descended on him like a pack of hungry wolves. "No picture! No picture!" they ordered. Apparently they were worried we would attempt to recreate the cuisine stateside. Dolinsky wouldn't last a second in this town.
BEN'S BLOG #3
August 2, 6:30pm
(BEIJING) -- Change your watches. I'm now 13 hours ahead of Chicago time. We arrived at the stunning new Beijing International Airport this afternoon and were immediately impressed by the money and manpower poured into these Games.
The main airport terminal is among the most beautiful I've seen anywhere in the world. It's bright and spacious and was only upstaged by the warmth of a small army of volunteer greeters that ushered everyone through Customs and into baggage claim. It took just four minutes to clear Customs - and we don't exactly travel light. We did not encounter the harsh eye of suspicion from government officials many had predicted. In fact, our 10 cases of equipment weren't even inspected.
Our translator for the trip is a bubbly college graduate student who goes by the American name "Beth." She and our driver, Mr. Li, will be our partners on this little adventure. Together we took a short walk to brand new parking garage with floors so clean you can practically see your reflection.
I fear Mayor Daley is going to have a serious case of "airport envy" when he arrives. Look out Bensenville!
Chicago 2016 Spokesman Patrick Sandusky happened to be on our flight. He is a veteran of several Olympic Games and he was blown away by the efficiency of everything we've seen so far. The real test, of course, is still to come.
BEN'S BLOG #2
(SOMEWHERE OVER SIBERIA) - I can't sleep. How is it that everyone on this plane seems to have no problem getting some rest, except me? I'd say it's just nervous excitement keeping me awake but there's an Olympic rower in seat 38E - he's been asleep since we flew over Racine, Wisconsin and he's about to participate in the most important competition of his career!
Olympic athletes, journalists and staff members of the Chicago 2016 are among the 347 passengers on board this Boeing 747. The pilot made a special mention wishing the Olympians well in the coming days.
There are a few empty seats on our flight - at first glance that's surprising since Opening Ceremonies are less than a week away. But the Chinese government stopped issuing visas for business travel a few weeks back and some people report difficulty in obtaining tourist visas. Last week wire reports said several Beijing hotels were expecting only slightly better than 50 percent occupancy during the Games. That's unheard of for an Olympics. But rest assured, the images you see on TV will show stadiums packed with cheering fans. The Beijing Olympic Committee has made it a priority that Chinese citizens fill the stands to celebrate their country's coming-out party.
Ben's Blog #1
(SOMEWHERE SOUTH OF THE NORTH POLE) - Which Beijing will greet us? Will we see the city with sparkling new sports stadiums and cosmopolitan culture or will we be met by smog and stone-faced security forces that view every visitor - let alone journalist - as a threat?
I've only been to China once before. It was March of 2006 and my brother Jon and I visited nearly a half dozen cities from Hong Kong in the south to Harbin in the north to learn about Chinese matchmaking practices. Before you get the wrong idea, ours was not a Cupid-like mission of romance. The year I was born my dad opened a match factory in southwest suburban Frankfort. If you've ever picked-up a book of matches at a restaurant or sifted through a collection at home there's a pretty good chance that matchbook was made in Frankfort. We went to China to learn about their production practices and get a sense of the growing market in that country.
On that visit Jon and I were constantly amazed when we would arrive in what had been described to us as a "small rural town" only to find bustling cities each with more than a million residents. These were cities most Americans have never heard of - yet there they were with their millions of residents. Many are people who are just now discovering their collective power as consumers.
Two years ago we found Beijing to be a frenetic but fun city. There were as many McDonald's as monuments to Mao. I'm told the pace of construction is changing the landscape of the city on an almost monthly basis. The purser on our United Airlines flight told me that when the airline first began flying non-stop from Chicago to Beijing in 2001 the number of bicycles on the street outnumbered cars 10 to 1. Today the Chinese are buying vehicles at the rate of more than 1,000 per day. There are so many cars on the streets of Beijing the government has ordered half-of-them parked to cut down on pollution during the Games.
It is that transformation that will be the consistent theme in our reporting from China. We'll look at how the Olympics impact a city and its people and try to give you some insight into what Chicagoans can expect if the Games come to town.
ABC 7 photographer Rich Hillengas and I look forward to sharing the sights and sounds of this Olympic city. Our reports being Sunday on ABC 7 News at 10pm. Please feel free to post a comment on the message board - I'd love to read your thoughts on our coverage. That is, of course, assuming abc7chicago.com is among the sites the Chinese government has approved for viewing!