Ni hao. Cycling Weekly has arrived in Beijing. And we?re never going to complain about following the Tour de France being difficult ever again.
The first rule of covering these Olympics seems to be that if you don?t speak Mandarin, you don?t know what is going on. Nor can you get a taxi back to your accommodation. And your dinner will be pigs? ears, seaweed and kidney. Surprisingly delicious, by the way.
Still, our trip started well. The plane over was a ligger?s dream. Andy Murray was there, desperately needing a shave. Darren Campbell, too, although he?s a real person now, not one of the athletes. And who?s this familiar face walking towards me on the plane? It looks like James Cracknell. It is. It?s Cracknell. And, poor so-and-so, his seat is next to mine.
Cracknell might have an Olympic gold medal for rowing, but he?s got a thing or two to learn about logistics and organisation. I?d checked in on the internet hours before, making sure that I got an aisle seat so I could at least stretch my legs out. Cracknell had obviously left it too late, and I winced with sympathy as he concertina-ed himself into the seat. He?s seven foot eight, for pity?s sake.
To be fair, he dealt with it stoically. And dealt with a nosy hack asking him pesky questions all the way through takeoff even more stoically. I was just going to ask him what his favourite colour was when the cabin staff intervened and offered him a place up at the front of the plane, and ruined my chances of ever rowing across the Atlantic with him on television.
Now we?re in Beijing, the communication breakdown has continued, only this time it?s not a former gold medallist getting cheesed off with my questions, it?s the taxi drivers of Beijing.
The problem is not only that I can?t speak a lick of Chinese. Half the taxi drivers appear to have been drafted in from the countryside, taken away from their families and told to carry hapless foreigners around Beijing for the glory of China. This means that if you?re not travelling from one Olympic venue to another, they essentially don?t know where to go. Unfortunately, ?face? is very important in Chinese culture, and rather than admit they don?t know where to go, they?ll just drive you around until they find where you are going by luck.
The poor guy who took me home last night was almost in tears as we drove aimlessly around Beijing. We did several laps of the Bird?s Nest stadium and Aquatic Centre, and started heading towards the velodrome, which is several miles out of the city centre in the opposite direction from the Media Village.
I tried to explain, but not knowing any of the words, ?this?, ?is?, ?the?, ?wrong? or ?direction?, I don?t think I made my point very well.
Or maybe he was disorientated by the smog, which is quite bad. I wouldn?t like to be riding an Olympic Road Race any time in the next few days.
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