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Beijing Games may be the one to break Olympic ‘cocoon’

BEIJING — Saturday, 12:45 a.m., Olympics Time

Whenever I return from an Olympics, people always ask: “How was Greece?” or “How was Japan?” or “How was Australia?”

Generally, I say, “Oh, I didn’t go to Japan. I went to the Olympics.”

The event creates a sort of nationless cocoon. I’m guessing that won’t be the case here, where I arrived a few hours ago.

The Olympics do have their globalized imprints. When I walked off the airplane, GE signage dominated the jetway. GE is an official International Olympic Committee sponsor, paying about $70 million over the past four years so it could dominate such billboards throughout the Olympic city. (By the way, the Beijing Organizing Committee has denied most signage to non-official sponsors, prophylactically negating ambush marketers.)

Within 500 feet of entering China, there stood a large banner of U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps, with a smaller image of Chinese and NBA star Yao Ming. That was a Visa sign.

No matter where, the Olympics and their attendant corporatization become a sort of island within the Games’ host nation.

But — and  I am not making this up — as I stood in line to have my passport checked, a police officer approached me. His English was excellent.

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“The United States,” I answered.

“You are a journalist?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Write only good news,” he softly ordered. “It will be good for both of our countries.”

As he spoke, I was waved to the counter by the passport officer.

The policeman continued talking to me, now 10 feet away. He explained that his uncle had been a journalist and covered the 1972 breakthrough of Ping-Pong diplomacy. Some trace these Olympics, which will open a week from today, to that historic sports/diplomacy moment.

“He wrote about Kissinger,” the cop said of his uncle.

The young woman scanning my passport muttered, “No politics.” In English.

And that was my first exchange in China, where I suspect the host nation and its collective power will supersede the Olympic cocoon.

Finally, an Internet alert. At my hotel, about a mile from the Main Press Center, where there has been a controversy about blocked websites, I was able to get to Amnesty International’s page, but not the Dream for Darfur site, which I’ve written about.

And, as subversive as we’d like to think we are, comes through just fine here.

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