T-minus four days and packing ….

Some serious pre-China anxiety setting in. I am — despite my aura of world-seasoned, globetrotting, time-zone scoffing meanderings — a hater of change and a serious agoraphobic who needs a Rainman-like routine to survive. Here is my home from August 5 through the 26th. The Beijing Grand Empark.

This place looks like the dollhouse for Hello Kitty and the rest of the Sanrio menagerie. With nighttime lighting like this they should play steam calliope music through tin bullhorns at all hours. The number one amenity of the Empark is this mysterious feature, the “Underground Non-Night City:”

“The underground non-night city features various shops, gourmet street, super market, indoor swimming pool, recreational centre, beauty salon, KTV, sauna, night club, DISCO, etc.”

Along with “KTV” I need to figure out this mystery activity as soon as I arrive:

Tennis Court / Pool Tables / Physical jerks / Badminton”

The Empark is way on the western side of the city (if the Forbidden City and Tienanmen Square are the center of Beijing, then the Empark is out at 9’o’clock), south of the Summer Palace in Shijingshan. I used Lenovo’s Olympic venue mashup of Google Maps to locate the place and orient myself in relation to the rest of the action. It’s not in Outer Mongolia, but the Empark doesn’t look like its in the heart of the action, which I predict will be more to the east around Chaoyang and the embassies. On the plus side, the hotel is near the baseball park, so if I can score some ballgame tickets, I’ll be close.

Travel around the city is not an easy thing when the Olympics aren’t in town, and even with even/odd driving restrictions in place, this is not a great city for a non-Chinese speaker to simply leap into a cab and issue directions. Indeed, I usually get a card with the hotel address in the appropriate characters and laminate the sucker to show to cab drivers when I get lost. Beijing is not a walker’s city — not in the Manhattan sense of the work — although one can definitely get some good strolls in around around the Forbidden City, a cross-town expedition is not recommended due to the sheer vastness of the megapolis.

My big concerns, as always pre-trip, are the adequacy of the gym, the conduciveness of the neighborhood to walking (I am an incessant walker when stressed out), and food. To give you a sense of how weird I am, I have eaten, with very few exceptions, the same breakfast for the last four months — steelcut oatmeal with apple sauce and almonds, two slices of Canadian bacon, a teaspoon of codliver oil, and two cup of Peet’s French Roast cofee, black. That’s it.  No eggs. No pancakes.  Beijing is the land of congee for breakfast — a favorite of mine — and the weirdest bacon (very tasty) I’ve seen outside of the US. As for the gym, I’ll bring my jump rope, new ultra-ugly Nike IDs, and the Crossfit list of hotel-room routines to try to stay on the fitness bandwagon.

I will say I’m psyched not to be at the usual Lenovo hotel — the Loong Palace (aka “The Lonely Palace”) which is way north of the city near the company’s offices in Haidan — a perfectly fine place to sleep, but per the nickname, pretty much in the middle of nowhere out on the Baidaling Expressway which leads to the Great Wall.

I need to get my affairs in order on this cloudy Cape Cod day and start packing for 21 days out of my normal routine. I don’t think the TSA is going to be cool with me packing a pint of Norweigan cod liver oil ….. Imagine how freaked out an athlete must get when traveling to a foreign venue? US athletes brought their own food to Rome in 1960 and half of the squad got dysentery from eating unwashed fruit. I can only imagine how freaked out some over-trained specimen must feel about getting settled into a new timezone, bed, diet, and air quality before trying to perform in the most important competition of their lives. I guess the lucky ones are those athletes who perform in what Uncle Fester calls the “Smoking Sports” — sports where one could,  if dumb enough, smoke a butt while participating. Sailing comes right to mind (what I would pay for a picture of some Olympic sailors on the downwind leg cracking open Budweisers and lighting Camels in the wind like Cotuit Skiff sailors in the Sunday afternoon Informal series) along with shooting (Billy Bob with a shotgun taking aim at clay pigeons with a Merit menthol hanging from his lip) and maybe bowling (except bowling isn’t an Olympic sport). The athletes with the freakish metabolisms and the V02 max ratings up in Lance Armstrong territory – they must have a hellish time dealing with travel and staying competitive. I get stressed thinking about it.

Okay, back to my second-to-last day off, some paperwork and bills, tomorrow I’ll start packing and worrying about my own details.

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