The Great Firewall of China
It took us pretty much a full day to get here, but we are finally in China ahead of the IAAF World Championships in Athletics.
It's been seven years since I was last in this place and four since my last trip to this side of the world.
I almost forgot how difficult it can be to sit on a plane for 14 hours.
Having our photographer Ricardo Makyn along this time around made things a bit better. His mid-flight 'bucks' were rather amusing for a Chinese family sitting across from us, who must have feared for the poor soul, conquered by sleep, as his forehead teased his knees. It's all on video. He'll need to give a cut from his per diem or I will be sure to share it with the world.
Flight time aside, there are more than a few reasons to get excited for the fast approaching World Championships. Things do, however, seem a bit haphazard, so far, and, in terms of media manuals and certain other pertinent information, nothing seems to be ready despite the fact that the championships start in a few days. This is a major departure from what pertained the last time I was around these parts for the 2008 Olympic Games.
I also didn't remember so many persons mistaking Jamaica for an African country either.
"So where are you from?"
"Close to Africa?"
"Close to where?"
"It's in the Caribbean, close to the USA."
"Ah, OK. Caribbean."
The curious middle-aged woman inside the hotel lobby seemed just as confused at the end, as she did at the beginning of our conversation. She was the third person within the hour to make that mistake. Odd. Seems they don't have maps in China.
One of the world's wonders
Now when you think China, you think a few things. Chopsticks and noodles will probably rank high on most persons' lists, but the Great Wall of China is no doubt the country's calling card.
A 13,000-mile-long series of fortifications, which had its first blocks laid in the 7th century, is certainly impressive, but it is nothing compared to the Great Firewall of China!
The likes of Twitter and Facebook were not too big a deal back in 2008 when I last visited China and Instagram wasn't even founded yet. Back then, I used Yahoo, and though I noticed some lags when trying to access my email, I marked it down to a poor Internet connection.
I got a mini scare when I tried to access my accounts, only to realise that they were all blocked! Can you imagine no Facebook, Gmail, Instagram ... or worse, NO TWITTER?!
"They are American, we block," laughed the lady at check-in as I raised an alarm when my timeline turned up blank.
The Chinese seem to be doing just fine with their own social media platforms though. Youku (Chinese YouTube), Sina Weibo (Chinese Twitter), Pengyou (Chinese Facebook) are the main 'allowed' options here. Yes, 'map lady' gave me a crash course.
Who knows, maybe I'll create a Chinese alter ego - 'Lowe Chi', and create some havoc on Sina Weibo while I'm here!