Greetings from Beijing, where I will be shooting video and taking the occasional photo for the Globe and Boston.com during the next few weeks.
Good news to report for anyone headed to China to watch or cover the games: if you're properly credentialed or visa'd, getting into China is a breeze. Which might not sound like breaking news, but China has a pretty serious reputation for bureaucracy (especially for journalists, especially at airports and border crossings). AND, prior to departure I had neglected to fill out an Equipment Declaration Form (in triplicate), meaning I had not received the REQUIRED Equipment Confirmation Letter, and so I was mentally preparing, the entire 17 hour flight, to do a whole lot of repentant paperwork and question-answering under a naked lightbulb upon arrival.
Not so. From the moment I stepped off the plane into the massive new (and new-smelling) Beijing Capital International Airport, I felt like one of the first customers at a newly opened restaurant that is striving for a high star ranking. In the mostly empty arrivals lounge, college-aged Olympics staff snapped to attention and stuffed helpful pamphlets into my hands. Lines moved quickly. A super-friendly immigration officer could hardly wait to stamp her approval into my passport, and a machine in front of her desk (pictured above) invited me to rate her service (I abstained). And, at customs, it turned out that a simple explanation for why I had not filed the dreaded Equipment Declaration Form (in triplicate) was an acceptable cover story for why I could not present a signed and stamped Equipment Confirmation Letter. An Olympics staffer was summoned, and they helped me handwrite all the appropriate forms (in triplicate) on the spot.
From a little reading, I see that a lot of this customer-service approach to immigration is newish, maybe part of China's Olympics reinvention of itself. But I guess it says something about customer service, because leaving the airport--hours earlier than I had anticipated--I found myself buying into Beijing International's cheesy slogan a little: "Harmonious Airport, Dreams start here."
Beijing Capital International Airport, as well as almost every other square foot of Beijing, is festooned with Olympics banners, posters, and displays.