Ah, the smog days of Olympic summer

From Baltimore to Beijing

August 07, 2008|By RICK MAESE AND KEVIN VAN VALKENBURG

The Sun's Olympic correspondents, Rick Maese and Kevin Van Valkenburg, are blogging back and forth to each other at baltimoresun.com/olympicsblog. Some excerpts:

How far we've come: Four years ago, we came to the Olympics outfitted with gas masks to protect us from terrorist attacks; today, we need only be protected from the byproducts of the modern world. Sorry to get all Al Gore on you there ...

Truth is, I have been surprised by how few cars I've seen on the road these past couple of days (and surprised that it's had little visible effect on the pollution ... seriously, Kevin, if we have time tomorrow, can we find time to build a smogman? Or maybe make smog angels?). When I was here in November, the traffic was worse than any city I've ever visited. Forcing Beijing's residents to drive on alternating days has drastically cut down on traffic. The plan calls for drivers to check their license plates and drive accordingly: Even numbers drive one day, odd numbers the next.

I thought about this today during the introductory swimming news conference, when I noticed every seat in the auditorium was even numbered. Made me wonder about where we're supposed to sit tomorrow...Anyone who had Michael Phelps in the flag bearer office pool was a giant loser - primarily for having such an office pool, but also because Phelps will be bearing no flags tomorrow night. In fact, Phelps confirmed that for the third straight Olympics, he won't attend the opening ceremony.

Rick Maese

You know what's weird? The fact that I'm staying on the 13th floor of our dorm/hotel/state-sponsored living quarters. Most hotels in the United States don't even have a 13th floor, because it's allegedly bad luck and what not, but it seems the Chinese don't believe in that mumbo jumbo. I have to respect that. Sure, it's possible the 13th floor is where designated "people of interest" are placed so that the state can keep and eye on them, but other than a handful of Michael Phelps anecdotes and some Scrubs DVDs, I'm not sure what I have that would interest anyone in the Chinese government. I think I'm probably in the clear.

I can report, however, that the air quality was pretty poor yet again outside my window. I had to put on some glum Ryan Adams songs to match my mood. Remember how in The Empire Strikes Back, Han, Luke and the Gang ended up visiting Lando Calrissian and Co. at the Cloud City? I predict that someday, many years from now, New Beijing will be built on top of its pollution and will be known as Smog City. And Yao Ming's son will be the mayor.

China had better be thankful that Angelina Jolie is busy giving birth to twins these days, because if she wanted to come to the Olympics and speak up about the country's ties to Darfur, no one could stop her. She's the most powerful person in the world, I think.

Kevin Van Valkenburg

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