BEIJING -- Been trying very, very hard to resist the Siren call of McDonald's, Official Restaurant of the Games of the XXIX Olympiad. There's a big one right in the basement of the Main Press Center here, and it would be very easy to kick back every evening with an artery-clogging Big Mac and fries. They even have Olympics-related brochures (above) at the counter proclaiming the health benefits for athletes (!) of a Mickey D's salad- and burger-based diet (read more here).
Yesterday, I left the confines of the Olympic grounds and walked about 15 minutes to stumble upon a real, honest-to-goodness, slightly dingy, neighborhood noodle shop. It was next-door to a smokestack and a beautician of some sort called, Focusing Attention Scalding With Sharon (see below). This restaurant had no English on the menu, so I had to point to another customer's table to order something. The steaming bowl of beef noodle soup I randomly selected turned out to be pleasantly rich and delicious, as well as extraordinarily spicy. The chili and Sichuan pepper floating in its red oily broth set my mouth on fire, and by three spoonfuls in the front of my shirt was dappled with sweat. The waiter came over to crank up the fan beside my table and aimed it straight at me. By the time I tipped the bowl back to sip the broth, my tongue was numb (Sichuan pepper seeds do that). But it was by far the tastiest, most satisfying meal I've had in Beijing so far.
Back inside the Olympic compound, the hundreds of Chinese volunteers aren't so lucky. They don't get money for staffing the Olympic facilities, and so they have to queue up in a special line (photo below) every mealtime to get paid the only way they can: in McDonald's hamburgers (2 each) and fries (1 regular size). No supersizing allowed, unless you know the right person.