Letter from Qingdao: Battling with Bureaucracy

Dan Slater on a very popular form of transport in Qingdao
Welcome to the first letter from Qingdao which will be a regular (hopefully) daily feature of Sail-World’s coverage of the 2008 Sailing Olympics.

There is no daylight saving in Qingdao. This translates into a dawn around 4.30am and night starting around 7.00pm.

Some of us have difficulty sleeping when the sun is starting to come up, so we were up bright and early, peered out between the hotel towers in front of our room and had a good look at the sea conditions.

Surprise of surprises, there was wind – at about 5.00am! Was this Qingdao – the Queen of the Light Air Venues?

Yes, sure it is. And a lot of the other tales of this City no longer hold true.

Camera mounted on the back of a 49er

Gone is the algae, confirmed by New Zealand Finn sailor, Dan Slater, when he spoke to Sail-World this afternoon. Even the green hair that was the plague of the course a few weeks ago has faded away.

Slater was very complimentary of the efforts of the Chinese, 'they have put the sea-boom out, cleaned out the algae inside it and now it is absolutely fine', he told Sail-World when we ran into him cycling through the boat park this afternoon.

Cycling is a very good way of travel around the boat park and regatta environs. The area is massive and flat. Walking in the heat of midday is OK for those who want to lose a bit of weight and don’t mind the exercise, but it is not quick.

Golf carts save media legs

With cycles available new for $60 in the shops here, they are a no brainer for competitors. A fleet of electric golf buggies spare Officials and media in particular a route march lugging bags of computers and cameras. The buggies circulate through the area, picking up and dropping off to suit, without a schedule in sight. Like of lot of things in China, if you throw enough people at something, the problem will be solved. So it is with buggys – and there’s plenty of them.

Checkpoint Charlie - Qingdao style

Security is part and parcel of any Olympics, and can be very officious and inflexible at times, compounded by a lack of instruction. Our battles started yesterday, when two of the Sail-World team were picked up with larger than standard lens in their bags in a scan on entry to Qingdao, and got the Chinese treatment.

The Chinese treatment consists of someone sticking to a very rigorous set of instructions, which often defy all reason. But that is the way they have been told that it is to be, and that is the way it will be.

Typical of these is the charge to the media of $700 for a basic internet connection for the month. Remonstrating that we weren’t here for a month bought no sympathy – that is the way it is. Aren’t we giving you and your event valuable publicity? – blank look. None of your Louis Vuitton Media centre treatment for journo’s here, mate. But necessity being the mother of invention, a work around was found, and the price paid. And everyone was reasonably unhappy.

A media food hall which shuts at 1.30pm, is another, but that battle will wait for another day.

'Ours to know and yours to find out', seems to be a common theme. Most of the media have endured a rough lesson in conformity, which takes about a day. Then you learn to go with the flow and that is the end of it - for the time being. Hopefully our hosts will lighten up as the series progresses.

For all its initial frustrations, the security system is surprisingly sufficient. It seems to work on a series of clean zones. You, and your gear, goes through an airport style checkpoint and a close look is taken at the contents of your bag.

If you have a phone or other such device, you have to demonstrate that it works; got a camera – take a picture; got a bottle of water – drink it, and so on. While that may seem a burden, it is a small price to pay for knowing that the area is clean. There are no legions of soldiers around with guns. Yes, there is the odd squad marching in file, but nothing more.

Qingdao walkabout 08 August 2008

Same with the hotels, where you are checked in and out in a similar way. For the media we go through security in our hotel, get on a bus with motorcycle escort and are then taken straight through the gate and there is no further check. Very simple and very effective, with the informal check of course that everyone knows everyone else on the bus – so for anyone wanting to crack the system it is impossible. Well, as impossible as anything can be.

The only soldiers seen totting guns were at the airport, and a very twitchy bunch they were. Even more so when a camera was pointed their way. It went quickly into the bag until we’d exited the airport. No sense of humour, at all.

Today is the day of the Opening ceremony on Beijing. At the sailing we are not allowed an Opening Ceremony – so we have a 'Launching Ceremony', as we are told with a wry grin. We know little of what is planned, but will be there. However, we’re here for the sailing, not the launching/Opening, and getting a spot on media boats tomorrow is much more important.

The media centre covers 8100 sq metres and will be an international yacht club after the Olympics.

The weather has been very reminiscent of what we saw in the Takapuna Worlds – gentle onshore breezes of up to 10kts and very warm. The haze looks worse in photos than it is in reality. Visibility today was about 10kms. There is no pollution. The air is fine, just like home.

As we left the hotel in the media bus this morning the overhead display 26/44 – meaning that the temperature was 26C and humidity 44%.

First races are tomorrow. Who knows what that will bring.

First up for the Kiwis, is Dan Slater in the Finn sailing on Course A. He will have two races – weather willing, and there is no reason to suppose that it won’t be.