BEIJING--This city has been very journalist-friendly in my short stay here. But I chatted with a wire-service photographer a few nights ago who has been here for almost a decade and he painted a pretty different story of his years leading up to the Olympics. For taking photos he's been banged up by state security thugs, learned his subjects have been harassed, and had his phone tapped to the point that snoopy security agents would sometimes show up at a subject's house before he did.
Today I got a teensy weensy taste of that hyper-security/paranoia thing. I was shooting video for a totally innocuous, wholly China-positive piece on ping pong in a large neighborhood park called Longtan Park. I had cleared mine and my translator's presence with the park overseers, and they had even assigned a woman to walk step-by-step with me through the park. Ok. Fair enough. But as we moved around the park, I realized I had a larger security entourage. Hanging back politely, just barely trying to conceal that they were tailing me were one standard-issue security officer, and one guy in plain clothes in continuous walkie-talkie contact with someone back at base.
As my visit was coming to an end, my official minder asked me several times, "Ok, so now you will go back to your hotel?" She was baffled when I wouldn't disclose my next move (it was, in fact, back to my hotel, if you are keeping score, China). Before I left, I turned around and gestured for my surprised police officer and walkie-talkie guy to get together for a group photo with my minder. Then we shook hands and said our goodbyes. I asked my translator to thank them for providing such comprehensive security for me while I was in their park.
My security entourage