In the Belly of the Beast

Beijing's Main Press Center Will Host 20,000 Journalists This Month

By Published on .

Richard Burger
Richard Burger
The Main Press Center (MPC) on the Olympic Green in Beijing looms like a fortress, a massive structure that takes a good 10 minutes to walk around, if you have the clearance required to do so. This is where MPC-accredited media hang out and write their stories. Associated Press and Bloomberg and Reuters all have newsrooms on the second floor, some with more than 200 workstations.

On the ground floor, there is a huge bullpen where many hundreds of reporters who don't have the luxury of an on-site newsroom go to pound out their stories. On the same floor, you'll find a convenience store, a beauty salon, a pharmacy, a post office, a coffee shop, a travel agency, a mobile phone service center, a gymnasium and sauna, and probably more.

In the basement, there is a McDonald's, a restaurant for the reporters, and a gigantic cafeteria for PR people like me whose home for the next four weeks is the MPC. (The food, an odd combination of Western and Asian, and cooked by an Australian catering service, is actually not bad, considering that for us workers it's free.) To top it all off, literally, there's a five-star hotel and restaurant standing on the shoulders of the MPC.

I've worked at the biggest trade shows in the world, like CeBIT and Comdex and CES, but have never seen anything that even remotely resembles the MPC. This daunting maze will accommodate some 20,000 journalists by the time the games end on Aug. 24. For sheer size, it is wholly in a class by itself. And it's intimidating as hell.

Like most other places on the Green, sponsors' products dominate the landscape: McDonald's fast food and Coca-Cola vending machines are everywhere and there are only Lenovo computers and Panasonic flat-screen displays. (Full disclosure: both McDonald's and Lenovo are clients of my agency, Ketchum Beijing.) You can only get cash from an ATM if you use a Visa card.

The games start in only three days. Preparation frenzy has now reached that point where you can think of nothing else. Personal blogs, non-Olympic e-mails and Scrabulous and other Facebook time-sucks are forgotten as you focus like a laser on all the materials that still need to be finalized, and all the unexpected hurdles that keep popping up. (BOCOG just loves putting up hurdles; yesterday they walked into the press center building and announced that no one is permitted to carry umbrellas into the building; don't ask me why.)

You know you aren't sleeping or eating as much as you should, but the adrenaline high keeps you going. For 20 months, alongside thousands of the worker bees here, I have been working toward this moment, this 17-day extravaganza. All of us have the same questions looming in our minds, namely, what will we do after it's over and what will our lives look like? But none of us has time to even think about the answer. Twenty months for 17 days. You just push it aside. Later.

Three more days ... Hopefully, I'll have some good stories to tell with the kickoff of the games to end all games.
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