Maese (et al., etc.),
I like this back-and-forth blogging format you've chosen. Do you think anyone knows we're blatantly ripping off the style that the cool kids over at Slate.com came up with years ago? Do you think anyone cares? Maybe we can become a discussion topic on Poynter. I can't tell you how much I love watching people argue over the trees while the forest that is our industry burns to the ground.
Anyway, it's been an interesting few days in Beijing. Here are 10 things I bet you didn't know about Beijing, since you've only been here 12 hours and I'm working on hour 36 at the moment.
1. There was actual smog inside the Water Cube yesterday. I'm not making this up. When your pollution is so bad, it seeps through the super-thin walls of your swim complex, suddenly what was hailed as a breakthrough in architecture just seems gross. Seriously, indoor smog? Phelps should keep that mustache, but he'd probably have to get Johnson and Johnson (an official Olympic sponsor!) to help wash the film out of his beard every night, and that could cause a problem. Seriously, the sky looks like Amy Winehouse's skin after a three-week bender. Disgusting.
2. People here actually watch you pee. It's true. Since there needs to be volunteers for everything -- in order to promote how polite and how organized China is -- there are actually people who wait at the door of bathrooms at Olympic venues and make certain you don't have any issues. I'm not even sure there is a joke necessary here.
3. I didn't have any celebrities on my flight like Dikembe Mutombo, which is a shame. How in the world does he have enough leg room for a 13-hour flight? Personally, it would have been hard for me to resist going up to him and trying to get him to say his favorite (alleged) pick-up line when he was in college at Georgetown: Who wants to sex Mutombo? I don't even care if that's just an urban legend at this point, it's one of the greatest pick-up lines ever. I wish he were competing for Nigeria in this Olympics, simply so we could ask him about that alleged story.
4. I spent the better part of Tuesday morning barfing up half an energy bar and two bottles of water. I'm not sure what the heck happened upon my arrival, although the three hours of sleep on the plane might have contributed to a killer migraine I woke up with. It's never fun to hug porcelain, but it's even less fun when you're doing it in a foreign country and editors are sending you e-mails asking when you're going to file a story. I envisioned myself spending the next three weeks like that, passing off my duties as Michael Phelps' biographer to you, but luckily for the both of us, all I needed was three more hours of sleep and I felt a lot better.
5. People in China are ridiculously polite. (Except for the five cab drivers that refused to accept our fare this evening. But you knew that.) Twice here, I've almost stumbled while walking into a building and both times Olympic volunteers (dressed in snappy blue and white shirts) practically dove in my direction to keep me from falling. I'm not sure whether this comforts me or frightens me.
6. Cold beer is actually more expensive than warm beer in the media press center. I figured this out yesterday, prior to your arrival, when I was drinking with Dan Steinberg and Barry Svrluga from the Washington Post to unwind after my flight. I think this is obviously unfair to American journalists, since European journalists are usually cool with drinking warm beer. To me, warm beer tastes like motor oil. I'll gladly pay the 10 extra yuan, thank you. But IOC President Jacques Rogge may get a prickly e-mail from me.
7. My wife, Jen, is pretty much the sweetest person on the planet. Prior to my departure, I got four mixes for my iPod to get me through the week, plus a sweet backpack filled with outlet adapters, energy bars, band aids, a water bottle and just about anything else you can think of. I was buzzing through her playlists (Beijing or Bust Vols. 1-4) wondering what is the perfect song for all the long bus rides we'll be taking this week as we migrate between venues. Right now I'm leaning toward Ben Lee's "What Would Jay-Z Do?" which pumps me up and makes me laugh at the same time, the perfect attitude for event coverage when you've had four hours of sleep. I think I should see if Michael Phelps wants to borrow it before the 400-meter individual medley against Ryan Lochte.
8. Outside of the Olympic volunteers, not very many Chinese people speak a lick of English, but they do like to groove to American music. Svrluga and I were walking back from watching swimming practice today, through the lobby of the hotel connected to the press center, when we were nearly floored to hear a man singing The Carpenters "Close To You" while playing the piano. Why do birds suddenly appear? I don't know. If the smog clears, I guess I'll ask them.
9. Your line about Katie Hoff and Stringer Bell reminded me of a post I've always wanted to do over at The Life of Kings, but haven't gotten around to it yet: What athletes remind you of characters on The Wire? Now I can't stop thinking about this. No way is Katie like Stringer. She's more like Carver. Thrown into the mix early, before she was really ready, she had a few public missteps, but now she's wiser and stronger for it. I'll have to nominate Bob Bowman for my Proposition Joe. He knows the game, knows all the angles, but prefers to remain behind the scenes. I guess that makes Michael Phelps kind of like Marlo. He wants nothing more than to wear the crown. He doesn't care about money, he just wants to hear his name ring out. We need to ask Carmelo Anthony what he thinks.
10. Australian swimmers are far bigger celebrities in their own country than Phelps or Hoff will ever be in ours. At the Aussie press conference today, Eamon Sullivan and Stephanie Rice made it a point to sit next to one another, even though they recently broke up after carrying on a pretty public relationship, and the Aussie media was still a twitter about it. They even had to confirm their breakup, which was awesome. Libby Trickett actually sold the exclusive rights to her wedding photos to an Australian magazine. If Amanda Beard tried that, I think US Weekly would roll their eyes.
Off to bed. Hopefully more swimming and less smog tomorrow.