Beijing Hot Pot

Summer Heat and Poor Planning Turn the Green Into an Olympic Endurance Test

By Published on .

P.T. Black
P.T. Black
My mother did her best to raise me right. One of our key tenets growing up was that we should be grateful when invited over to others' homes and we should certainly never criticize their food. My mom, thankfully, is not in Beijing. Speaking honestly, last weekend was tough in many respects and life on the Olympic Green was a trial.

The weather on Saturday and Sunday was brutal. It was all we could do to keep from stripping off our sweat-stained clothes.

Also, the green wasn't prepared for the huge influx of visitors on the first day of the games. Most of the security machines were turned off and the horde of volunteers on hand could not change that situation.
Main thoroughfare on the Olympic Green on Aug. 9, 2008
Main thoroughfare on the Olympic Green on Aug. 9, 2008 Credit: P.T. Black
Hundreds of spectators lined up in the beating sun and thick, slimy humidity. It felt like being inside a teenager's running shoe -- hot, damp and unspeakably dirty.

Once we got through security, the layout of the green didn't provide much relief. The massive broad avenues must look great sitting in miniature on a planner's table, but they are woefully under-sheltered. The distances between the sponsors' pavilions and other venues are intimidating in the heat.

Occasional transportation trolleys zipped by, but they were reserved for athletes, staff and pregnant women. They were not accessible to the general population.

Luckily, water (provided by Coca-Cola, naturally) was cheap and plentiful -- thank goodness, because we weren't allowed to bring our own food and drinks into the green.

The hardest part of the day was lunchtime. I've heard the media and athletes are presented with dozens of gourmet options in their air-conditioned palaces. The rest of us have exactly one "restaurant" option: McDonald's.

Now, I love a Big Mac as much as the next guy. But in sauna-like conditions I prefer something a bit lighter or maybe a milkshake. Sadly, McDonald's didn't include that summertime treat on the menu at its restaurants on the green.
Coca-Cola Experience Center in Beijing combining the world's largest LED screen with the world's largest LED Coke bottle
Coca-Cola Experience Center in Beijing combining the world's largest LED screen with the world's largest LED Coke bottle Credit: P.T. Black
Another problem was seating. The McDonald's outlet in the middle of the green has limited seating, forcing hundreds of people to move outside to eat. For security reasons, apparently, the planners put all the benches in the open areas without shade, so the shaded pavilions have no seats.

The result? Roast on a bench or squat in the shade. Most of us chose the shade. Overall, the food situation was dire for Westerners raised on fast food. It was even harder for the Chinese visitors to cope with the limited options of foreign food.

The marketing activities, however, were interesting. Sponsors have pulled out all the stops and are providing some of the highlights of the games so far. Their activations are both on the green and in downtown Beijing.

Signs at Coca-Cola's massive installation at the Place in Beijing's Chaoyang district say it all: It's the world's largest LED screen! The world's largest LED Coca-Cola bottle! The world's largest Olympic Games!

Subtle, it isn't. The Coca-Cola "Shuang Experience" tour on the green is also pretty massive and seemed to energize the crowd.

During the opening weekend, most visitors have been the thousands of young people in volunteer outfits who are everywhere on the green except, notably, at McDonald's.

They have a staff canteen.

Security officer at the Olympic Green
Security officer at the Olympic Green Credit: P.T. Black

Chinese visitors grab a spot on the ground for a McDonald's lunch.
Chinese visitors grab a spot on the ground for a McDonald's lunch. Credit: P.T. Black

Braving the heat
Braving the heat Credit: P.T. Black


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