Welcome To Beijing!
At least, that's what I think this human-sized critter was saying to me in a mechanical voice when I made it past customs. It's also possible he was saying "Eat Dirt Foreigner!" Or "Just to Your Left Up Ahead is the Starbucks Cart, Right Next to the Jeep Store!" Or "Paul Lo Duca Got Just Released!"
The critter, of course, is Huanhuan the Olympic Flame, one of five such mascots. Their smiling demonic faces are everywhere, from massive banners to car window decals on cars stuck in traffic in all the non-Olympic traffic lanes.
But the airport-to-high-speed-equipped-Washington-Post-office-space transition is actually remarkably easy, at least if you work for the Washington Post. Leave customs, and several volunteers will see you off to the media transport exit. There, at least six volunteers will coordinate your passage on a regulation-sized bus filled with exactly three people: the driver, the volunteer and the passenger. From there, your WaPo adminstrator will meet you in your hotel lobby, arrange for you to get a hotel key, help you tell the hotel staff which foods you don't prefer, shuffle you through a metal detector and onto another empty bus that runs directly to the Main Press Center, and hand you a local cell phone and a bag full of pins.
And then, about 19 hours after you left home, you will be in a room filled with Washington Post employees and Washington Post computers and Washington Post coffee mugs and really, really, really fast Washington Post Internet service. Just downstairs is the McDonald's, if you want anything.
It seems unfair, really. Traveling to a foreign country should be a lot harder than this.
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