Warnings in September 2008

I didn’t know what to expect. I was meeting a friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in a while, and I wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. I also didn’t know what to expect in Beijing. By the time you read this, all the pomp and pageantry of the 2008 Olympics will be over, but I still have to write about it. After watching my first competition, I quickly found a little café by the Agricultural University. The espresso was nice, and after writing a few emails on their house computer, the dude behind the counter said I didn’t have a bill. I had already paid for the drink. The internet was free. It was one of the few places near the event that had internet access. Cool. I went back four times over the next three days. I got a taxi a short while after, and was downtown in no time. Not bad.

My old friend is quite successful, and I wondered if I had prepared enough cash for the night. He drives a car with a max 280kph speedometer. I ride a bike. The place we went to was jamming. From the outdoor seating, everyone could watch the games being projected on the wall of the building next door. In the courtyard, a guy was playing the sax. A dancer was clacking up the stairs in tap shoes. Margaritas were flowing out of the frozen drink machine. Every now and then the whole neighborhood would roar with excitement.

A business associate of my friend said he wanted to leave to get something to eat. We went. The stall attendant dragged three cases of beer onto the sidewalk, and asked us to sit. Then came three big bottles of cold Tsingtao beer, followed by a plate of some of the biggest lamb skewers I’ve ever seen. I had been in town long enough to have the northern accent seeping into my normal one. The barbeque guy laughed when I told him how good the lamb was. I obviously hadn’t come close to fooling anyone that I didn’t come from the south. My friend was jabbing away in French with a couple of guys from Guiana. He’s from Russia. The street was alive with all sorts of people some of whom still had their faces painted.

We left, went through the front door of a spot my friend recommended, and there wasn’t a soul in the place. He told me to trust him. We walked up to the roof. It was teeming. Not a drop of aggression in site. Smiles came easy. So easy, that a few people even laughed at my jokes. I was handed a Corona. As I walked to the café after the morning session the next day, I noticed that the guy walking just ahead of me was the guy who won the gold two days earlier. He was short, and skinnier than I thought. Nobody bothered him. About a hundred meters down the road, I saw a girl who had won a week earlier. She was talking to someone on her mobile. She was taller and broader than I thought. I decided to skip the news that day. I had seen all I needed to see.

By Tim Hoerle