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Olympic arrivals

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James Reynolds | 11:57 UK time, Monday, 28 July 2008

The flags are up by the side of the road, the Olympic village is open, and the athletes have begun to get here. It feels like the Games have already begun.

This morning, I went along to Beijing's international airport to film the arrival of some of the British Olympic team.

Tom DaleyA camera crew from Chinese state TV waited with us at the arrivals gate. They were keen to speak to the 14-year-old British diver Tom Daley - a boy who's now famous even in China.

The athletes turned up and made their way through the special Olympic arrivals lane (the Chinese crew tried to interview Tom but were gently eased aside by the rest of the British team).

The athletes' first sight of Beijing was the new airport terminal - the largest in the world. It's designed to take their breath away. But this city's air probably did that instead.

Today's been another grim air day for Beijing - the fifth in a row by our count.

Beijing pollution graph

This run of polluted days must make this city's Olympic organisers pretty nervous. When Beijing bid for the Games, it made a clear promise - the air in this city would be clean. But the athletes are here, the emergency clean measures are in place, and the air is still bad. So, we're now being told that Beijing is now considering a further series of ultra-emergency clean air measures. If this new series of measures don't work, it's hard to think what else this city can do - apart from pray for wind or rain.

I've also spent much of my time today trying to figure out exactly how many special passes you need to get around the city. Officially accredited journalists are all given an official yellow-lined Olympic Games pass - which gets you past police checkpoints and into Olympic venues (this pass is so sacred and impossible to replace, that if you lose it, you might as well quietly emigrate, start a new life under a false name and hope that no-one ever tracks you down to tell you how stupid you were to lose your pass).

But this one official Olympic pass doesn't get you everywhere. You also need a special pass for your car, and you need a special sticker for your video camera as well. If you're going into the Olympic village, you'll need another, completely different pass as well - which you have to apply for well in advance.

All in all, it might be easier - and quicker - to brand your forehead with your name, date of birth, passport number and DNA sequence. Perhaps that'll happen in London 2012.


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  • 1. At 1:28pm on 28 Jul 2008, hughye wrote:

    ha, seems u r very bothered by the security check.

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  • 2. At 1:34pm on 28 Jul 2008, Godasse wrote:

    Will China have to compensate the long distance runners who won't be able to compete for fear of damaging their health because of excessive pollution?

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  • 3. At 2:23pm on 28 Jul 2008, snsgenius wrote:

    I have been to Beijing several times and I have to admit that pollution there is a bit of a problem.

    The related departments must bring forward more measures to ensure air quality during the Olympics. These concerns of athletes and delegations are genuine and should and must be addressed seriously.

    In the blog entry, it is also mentioned that journalists need to apply for many special passes in order to get around the Olympic venues. Commenting on this point, I would like to say the world is not that nice and Beijing merely tries its best to avert any accident.

    If you think that's inconvenient, just think about the trouble Chinese students going to the UK to study have experienced. How many checks they need to go through to get the visa and how many documents they need to provide to get the visa?

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  • 4. At 2:24pm on 28 Jul 2008, Cantab wrote:

    Nice blog James. I think Beijing has really underestimated the time she needs to clean the air. A few days before is hardly enough to cancel out years of construction and decades of environmental damage to the entire northern China.

    Really hope a bit of miracle happens!!!

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  • 5. At 2:38pm on 28 Jul 2008, Rikey wrote:

    China and "pray for wind and rain"? This is certainly ridiculous.

    And the phrase is tasteless and contemptuous.

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  • 6. At 2:53pm on 28 Jul 2008, yjianbo2007 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 7. At 4:14pm on 28 Jul 2008, churchgore wrote:

    Wind can easily blow in pollutions from thousand of miles away. I think Beijing should request assistance from neighboring Hebei province. For example, give factories a vacation and temporarily expand the car-policy to Hebei province.

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  • 8. At 4:14pm on 28 Jul 2008, otherchinese wrote:

    “It's designed to take their breath away. But this city's air probably did that instead.”, that makes me laugh.

    “it might be easier - and quicker - to brand your forehead with your name, date of birth, passport number and DNA sequence”, a simple bar code on a wrist/necklace band like those for groceries or a magnetic card should do the job, it seems.

    “pray for wind or rain”, I heard the cloud seeding team has been practicing for the Games. Perhaps, there will be a man-induced shower to washout the pollutants from the air every night during the games?

    Desperate times call for desperate measures. Perhaps a 90% traffic ban should be reinforced to further cut down the air pollution.

    Hopefully, the concerns over the air pollution and many measures to curb the pollution will continue during non-desperate times, e.g. even after the game, in Beijing and else where in China.

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  • 9. At 4:27pm on 28 Jul 2008, BeijingLondon wrote:

    Security check?

    For several times in London, when I raised my camera for London Bridge, Tower Bridge, St Pauls etc, I got stopped by either the police or some plain clothes guys, no explanation given.

    Later I found out that it's part of the 'security cautions' they took.

    That's even without a big event like the Games. And I wonder what London will be like security wise in 1012.

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  • 10. At 4:31pm on 28 Jul 2008, DandelionZHang wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 11. At 4:36pm on 28 Jul 2008, baixianglu wrote:

    There's no need to pray for rain, all that's needed is a little cloud seeding. Surely you should know that by now?

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  • 12. At 4:41pm on 28 Jul 2008, WiseFortuneCookie wrote:

    The greater the challenge, the greater the victory.

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  • 13. At 4:52pm on 28 Jul 2008, londonlurker wrote:

    I imagine there must be a buffer or cache of pollutants in the environment (e.g. absorbed by the bricks of all the buildings). So when the pollution decreases suddenly, the environment will exhale the bad air because of the gradient of pollutants concentration. If the pollution in the air keeps low, the pollutants will disperse eventually. Otherwise, it's hard to explain why the air is even worse than before the anti-pollution measures have been taken.
    Let's hope my theory is right.:)

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  • 14. At 5:14pm on 28 Jul 2008, nihaorain2007 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 15. At 5:14pm on 28 Jul 2008, ccpbrain wrote:

    I heard otherwise, James!

    Official numbers indicated air qualities of the 22 out of past 25 days meet/exceed WHO clean air standard.

    The official also said this is the only SCIENTIFIC measurement for the capital. He told us our blurring pictures and naked eye observations can not be trusted. You are manipulating your little toy to spread viscous rumor to insulting 1.3B Chinese people.

    People like me grew up educated by our party have complete faith on our official announcements. My government never lie.

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  • 16. At 7:54pm on 28 Jul 2008, four_lions wrote:

    china is full of surprises.
    i am sure olympics will be too

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  • 17. At 8:05pm on 28 Jul 2008, flibblesan wrote:

    I've only been here for the past 2 days but the pollution is quite bad. I see no factories open, or any construction work, so I'm confused why there is smog.

    Beautiful city though, just a shame about the smog.

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  • 18. At 11:44pm on 28 Jul 2008, BradZimmerman wrote:

    Responding to comment #3 by snsgenius: If you think the UK is particularly hard on people applying for visas, try emigrating from the US to Poland. The first time I applied for a visa I was told that, even though my employer was sponsoring it, it was denied. We tried two or three more times before they, without comment - and any other changes to the copious amounts of documentation (birth certificate (translation also notarized), copies of my entire passport, proof I was living in the country with my fiancee (stamped by another department), explanations of every visit to/from the country, copies of my various diplomas, notarized copies of my work agreement with my employer and so on)... they finally agreed to let the application go through. Of course, right after I received my visa card I asked, because I'd become married during the year-long application process, if it was hard to update the visa because I was married and I was told that I would have to go through the ENTIRE application process again. The marriage documents had to be provided, along with all the other documents I'd originally provided, plus separate interviews with my wife and I to ensure we weren't faking our marriage and finally they issued the updated visa - good for two years.

    So please, while you may think that the UK is making life difficult for some Chinese students who wish the luxury of studying in the UK, don't delude yourself into thinking that it is particularly difficult on foreigners. They are not; it is far worse elsewhere.

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  • 19. At 11:48pm on 28 Jul 2008, baysidetina wrote:

    The city I came from, Hangzhou, is one of the most beautiful cities in China. There area lot of trees in and around the city. However in summer it is also the haziest city I have experienced in China. Does that mean Hangzhou is heavily poluted? I don't believe so.

    I think the haze in Hangzhou is probably caused by water vapours from our local lake, West Lake. I don't think

    What is the constitution of Beijing's haze? I heard there was a bit of rain in Beijing recently. So I was wondering could it be water vapour too.

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  • 20. At 02:59am on 29 Jul 2008, worldofharmony wrote:

    James, I do hope the GB team received some helpful advice from you on quality brands of gas masks. Pass on my best medal wishes next time you see them, will you?

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  • 21. At 03:20am on 29 Jul 2008, nonfamiliar wrote:

    i would be interested to see how emergency environmental measures aimed at drastically reducing pollution over the short-term work here. it is clear the chinese authorities are putting a lot of resources into the effort. these sorts of intensive pollution reduction programs may prove necessary for other nations in the future, so the olympics provide a great test case.

    the cloud seeding is especially interesting - you can see from photo sequences how much the air clears up after rain. emergency solutions can't ever be expected to be perfect solutions, but i do wonder what will be in the water if it's brought all that smog down with it.

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  • 22. At 04:03am on 29 Jul 2008, factsFisher wrote:

    While newsworthy, you PM10 toy's readings seem to have minimal if any correlation with the scientific reports of the API. I guess this is simply due to your taking data for less than 1% of the time for the measurement to which you often compare, which represents what one breaths during a noon to noon period. Conversely, your still photo each day does have an integral characteristic so it is much more representative quantitatively than your or any other 10 min PM10 reading. In any case, I concur with your implied message that the specific daily time interval(s) over which the endurance races will be held should be the basis for the partial APIs that the athletes ask about from all concerned. Such facts are what leads to poor performance from lung damage during the deep breathing. The rest of the time the API from PM10 is just an irritant in both visual perception and to the sinuses.

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  • 23. At 10:10am on 29 Jul 2008, londonlurker wrote:

    To ccpbrain No.15:
    I suspect you are mocking chinese. your ID says all.:)

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  • 24. At 10:53am on 29 Jul 2008, londonlurker wrote:

    To baysidetina No.19:
    Bad news to you, Hangzhou is polluted too... Not that there are many pollution sources, but rather the towns around it are polluted.
    Beijing is heavily polluted and the haze is due to pollution for sure.
    I have been living in Beijing for more than 20 years and go back to Beijing every year when abroad. As far as I can tell, the haze has appeared for no more than 8 years.

    Two things could be haze factors: no wind in summer and no trees along the streets.
    There is a 1000-meter (more or less) high moutain range on the west side of Beijing to block the westerly wind in summer. The whole city is like inside a cauldron.

    Also, because of all the road expansion, big trees are disappearing year by year. The small shrubs put for replacement are barely qualified as 'trees'.

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  • 25. At 12:48pm on 29 Jul 2008, demojr wrote:

    Long-time James Reynolds fan in NY, grateful for excellent Olympic coverage. TV news in m native land has become a joke.

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  • 26. At 2:24pm on 29 Jul 2008, sanenazok wrote:

    I'm not surprised that the official readings indicate that the pollution is fine. In fact, Beijing has been enjoying a great deal of "blue sky" days in the last few months. It seems that every other day was perfectly clear. Of course that's all according to the officials and now that the athletes are here all of that is well irrelevant. If the athletes think the pollution is high then that's all that matters.

    While I think the BBC's readings are probably not as "scientific" as ones performed at an official lab, the BBC readings can still be trusted. It's the same way I trust the thermometer outside my window even though it's not as good as a scientific one, it still does its job. More importantly, the BBC does not have to skew its readings to follow the party line, i.e. that every day is a blue sky day.

    Come to think of it, the instrument the BBC uses is almost certainly made in China (or has components therefrom) so if the Chinese accuse it of being a toy well then...they made it that way!

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  • 27. At 6:26pm on 29 Jul 2008, baoning2008 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 28. At 9:16pm on 29 Jul 2008, holywhiner wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 29. At 01:24am on 30 Jul 2008, factsFisher wrote:

    sanenazok made my point exactly, the air quality at the location/venue of and during the time of the event is the essential information that the IOC should have been awake enough to request. It is sad to see such incompetence/ignorance in the IOC and many of its member affiliated staff.

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  • 30. At 03:01am on 30 Jul 2008, GrahamForbes wrote:

    James, Oh contraire!

    First, did you report that a small downpour and an easterly wind that removed all of the pollution you were proclaiming yesterday?
    You see James, it is easy to be a Beijing Basher but objectively you should also report the news in a consistent manner. If you reported the pollution existed yesterday, you should also report that is gone today; would balanced reporting not require you to report the good with the bad?

    Should you also recognise that the security measures are in place to make the general public safe? Yes, you can say they are draconian, yes some might say oppressive, but we residents welcome these impositions, so that we and all members of Beijing are safe. The Olympics are a target for terrorism, just by their very nature. The Chinese Government have taken measures to protect the population of Beijing, the incoming Olympic athletes, encouragement rather than criticised in brutish fashion.

    I see little mention in the press of the greatly improved standard of taxis in Beijing or the improved buses and magnificent new subway system. That is not to mention the new buildings of world renown.

    Come on James; leave the Beijing Bashing to Amnesty International, George Bush and the others that have a distinct political agenda and report the good with the bad.

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  • 31. At 03:30am on 30 Jul 2008, chinayan wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 32. At 06:24am on 30 Jul 2008, jeffinvade wrote:

    In two of your video clips, the readings from your handheld pollution detection device you got in front of the olympic village are 147 and 168. Don't you think the margin is tooooo big? or did you go to the olympic village for the video clip and the tests in two different days?

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  • 33. At 11:58am on 30 Jul 2008, garbettn wrote:

    China should never have got the games. Polution is an important area - just another broken promise. Human rights violations and recent restrictions on internet say enough about a regime using the games to show to the world "How great China is!"

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  • 34. At 2:23pm on 30 Jul 2008, uk_cref wrote:

    That's funny.

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  • 35. At 4:38pm on 30 Jul 2008, gazuky wrote:

    Isn't it touching how China cares so much for the health and wellbeing of a handful of athletes (with the world watching) but so little for its own citizens who have to breathe in filth every day of their lives?

    The air may not be clear, but the Chinese authorities' priorities are.

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  • 36. At 4:55pm on 30 Jul 2008, thunderousTommy wrote:

    The olympic ring symbolizing the union between men
    is more of a myth than reality.

    The elite athletes don’t chum chum with their fellow competitors. Indeed they are usually in seclusion focusing on their game plan to beat their opponents who they know only too well.

    In fact the Olympics is really not for the . athletes
    It is a marketing tool for the host city/country and for
    multinational enterprises.

    Lets face it, it is a made for TV event, put together in a studio from the spread out venues and telecast to the world , formated to each country’s unique audience. It is a security nightmare, an expensive two week show that never pays back dividends, and due to the enormous number of athletes , requires a qualification system that eliminates many good athletes.

    Why not accept this reality and make the Olympic year a world championship of all the sports, with venues spread out in different countries. It would spread the financial burden and participation across the globe, it would decrease the vulnerabilty to terrorism, it would increase athletic participation, and it would make no difference to the TV audience because its put together in the studio anyway.

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  • 37. At 7:31pm on 30 Jul 2008, holywhiner wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 38. At 12:36pm on 31 Jul 2008, strictwith wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 39. At 12:27pm on 02 Aug 2008, Inherent wrote:

    Is there not a chance of death to athletes (especially the distance,outdoor cyclist,swimming)who are open to the elements.Asthma attacks could be all to prevalent.sure they showed how they've got the pollution down but that was only one day.can they keep it like that for the durration then after the curtain comes down what happens then do they just let the polluters go on ?

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  • 40. At 01:35am on 04 Aug 2008, wonderfulchinese wrote:

    To garbettn.

    The game is rewarded to 1.3 billion Chinese people. For those who are trying to politicalise the game, you are not gaining any credit. At least not from 1/5 world's population.

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  • 41. At 5:07pm on 12 Aug 2008, ouquan wrote:

    Dear James:
    I have question about if PM 10 is the best measurement for air pollution.
    When I click through BBC's testing date with picture, July 17 had lowest reading(PM10: 12) but after Beijing stop its half of the traffic and other pollutions(beginning at July 20), the PM 10 reach 278 on Aug. 10th(more than 10 times worse)?
    To me it seems PM10 mostly related to weather(sunny day or raining day), not the pollution. How do you explain in the same spot in Beijing, PM10 jump or drop over 100 point in one day? Check those pictures, bad weather, bad PM10.
    Thanks BBC who offer these picture s and measurements.
    Let's figering out how can Beijing cut down its pollution with a better indicator than PM 10.

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  • 42. At 04:22am on 26 Dec 2008, dennisjunior1 wrote:

    It seem that the athletes arrived and departed in a safe and orderly way!

    --Dennis Junior--

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