Truth vs perception

I remember in June 2004 on the sidelines of a press conference in New York, a journalist suggested to me that the distance between Athens and Baghdad is exactly the same as between St Louis and New York. I never actually measured it on the map but it did not matter. Perception matters, and his perception was that some terrorists would travel directly from the Iraqi desert to Athens, as if it was a straightforward bus ride. Many friends have offered truths and perceptions about Beijing. So let me try to sort them out. From an organizational point of view, things seem to be working fine. Our flight landed at Beijing Airport, but to my disappointment not at the brand-new 1-million-square-meter terminal. Still, my luggage arrived intact within two minutes. A small police dog walked indifferently by them and within two more minutes I had validated my accreditation without a hitch. Off to my hotel, and a quarter of an hour later I was checking in at the Beijing Hilton. Exiting the hotel, the warm air hit me like a slap in the face. A note to my American friends: Yes, there is such a thing as «dry heat.» It’s the one you get in Athens in the middle of August, when you stand under a tree (if you can find one). However, in Beijing no tree will save you from the humidity. Your only comfort lies inside the air-conditioned areas. And mercifully there are plenty: the hotels, the taxis, the shops. But not the «Bird’s Nest,» the famous Olympic Stadium. The sky so far is gray; the buildings at the far end of the horizon are lost in the mist. I was told in a very assertive manner by an Beijing Organizing Committee official that this is «mist» not «smog» and that the air quality was «good.» As I was frantically trying to find friends in an ill-conceived plan to have lunch outside the confines of the Main Press Center, I walked in circles for about an hour. I can report that I survived the experience with no breathing problems of any kind. Just a lot of sweat and a mental note: never, ever to wear a suit again. Stratos Safioleas was the international media manager for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.