Friday, 15 August 2008

The Numbers

Only vehicles with licence plates ending in odd numbers were allowed on the road on Friday.

The Beijing authorities implemented this policy in July of banning cars on alternate days depending on their number plates. The scheme, which is scheduled to run until late September, is aimed at cutting congestion and reducing the fumes.

And it was an odd day. You could look up into the sky and it was blue. It wasn’t clear as there were a few clouds around.

But it was a familiar template. And it arrived courtesy of a massive downpour on Thursday. What I’ve found oppressive about Beijing so far has been the lack of height or perspective.

I’m used to looking up into the heavens and thinking with childlike innocence: wow that’s a long way up. I’ve become accustomed to peering into the distance even within the context of a cityscape.

When it’s grey and humid - as it has been for the most part since I arrived 10 days ago – it’s easy to feel leaden and oppressed.

I guess that’s how Michael Phelps’s opponents would regard themselves.

Normal service was resumed in the swimming pool where the 23 year old from Baltimore claimed gold medal number six. That’s 12 amassed since the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. This latest bauble came in the 200 metres individual medley. It was another world record.

Ryan Lochte, one of Phelps’s best buddies on the US team, won the 200 metres backstroke final and then had to get out of the pool and prepare for the medley final. He got a bronze in that so that was a marvellous feat for a man who, when asked about his diet during the games, gave a ringing endorsement to fast foods and one American burger chain in particular.

But while McLochte was adding another client to his portfolio of sponsors, one of the worst breaches of protocol was unfolding in the corner of the press conference room.

A bunch of German journalists who’d set up a press conference within the room before Lochte entered, were continuing to quiz their man.

And they didn’t seem to mind carrying on while Lochte and Aaron Peirsol were trying to talk about their 200 metres backstroke final.

The corps of volunteers who usually assure the smooth efficiency of the room were flummoxed.

They waited and hoped the miscreants would stop. Nothing of the sort.

Worse, they moved into a more central position and the din started to rise.

Eventually a reluctant volunteer began trying to shoo the pack out. They took their time.

Either their decorum had been frazzled by the gold medal success of Britta Steffen in the 100 metres freestyle final that morning or I was witnessing their usual modus operandi.

Very odd.