No Wallet, no yuan, no problem

So there I was, walking from the swimming venue to the Media Press Center, Ipod in ears, feeling very much like a music video as I walked the streets of Beijing. ``I used to rule the world,’’ crooned the Coldplay song.

Back in the MPC, reaching for the phone card that accesses the internet everywhere here, I realized my wallet was gone. I had taken it out while resolving connection issues at the swimming venue. So I trudged back to the Water Cube -- this time feeling not at all like a music video.

It wasn’t on the table where I left it. ``That sucks for ewe,’’ a man with a French accent said. Couldn’t tell if it was a translation thing, or he was gloating over my American misery. Anyway, went to the Help desk, where the following exchange took place.

``I lost my wallet.’’

``Could you describe it please?’’

``Well it’s black. And…’’

No ``and’’ was needed. The black wallet was produced instantly, without even opening it to match names or photos.

Workers here carry out their instructions meticulously. Go to put your lunch tray in the garbage and three people greet you. Just try and get to a door before they can open it for you.

The laundry experience – well all I can say is those folks down there in the basement are brave, very brave.

In the case of the wallet, I figure they were instructed to ask for a description. Once given, produce the missing item.

Their seems to be a manual they are following that covers anything. Some have even suggested it covers their enthusiasm, but I think it’s real. Yeah I know a big reason China secured these Olympics and spent at least $40 billion to make it happen was to change our perception of them. But a human can only fake enthusiasm for so long, and in the case of Atlanta volunteers in ’96, not very long at all.

No these people genuinely like you, and want you to like them. They go out of their way to help, out of their way to communicate too. They smile, you smile back, all day long and into the night. It gives you energy, it really does.

They don’t get out much, the Chinese. They know us only through advertisements and images. They have the world in their backyard for two weeks, and they are curious.

Wallet in pocket, I headed back to the MPC, Ipod playing, again feeling like a music video. Back in 1984, when I took a three-week tour of China and Japan with a high school soccer team (thank you again, Rich Connor and Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader), the song that stuck in my head was ``Roam’’ by the B-52s. ``Roam if you want to, roam around the world.’’ Now it is the new Coldplay hit. ``I used to rule the world, it used to rise when I gave the word.’’ Given that you people keep waking up just when I want to go to sleep, that’s just about right.

At the entrance of the MPC, there was this big tank thing. Armored Personnel Carrier they called it, and it was part of a beefed-up security detail. There had been some unrest apparently out there in one of those provinces beyond our Olympic bubble, but I couldn’t stop from thinking it had something to do with the bizarre stabbing death earlier this week, no matter what the official word on that is.

Richard Jewell has forever officially made me wary of official words.

Anyway there was this tank thing on both ends of the MPC, and for a moment I thought of getting my picture taken in front of it with a flower in my hand, like that anonymous man who stood in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square during the student uprisings of 1989.

But I’d like to see my family again in a few weeks, not years, so I reconsidered.

That said, security here feels no different than any of this century’s post 9/11 Olympics, and has actually run smoother. Security screening occurs before you get on a bus to enter the fenced in Olympic Green, and for the rest of your time inside, you move around freely. In the past, your bag would be screened at every stop, at every venue.

But once you walk outside those fences, tread carefully. Because you are watched.

Anyway, for whatever reason, I seem to be on the same time schedule as reporters from Kazakhstan. (No Borat jokes, please. OK, just one. OK, two. OK… no stop right now!).

I know they are from Kazakhstan because they wear team uniforms, as does Russia and a few others. This started in either Athens or Turin. I don’t know the advantage of media dressing in a team uniform, especially, since, for the most part, these men and women are not in any better shape than their beer-guzzling western counterparts.

And they need more than one uniform apiece. Especially during the summer in Beijing. Please.

Oh by the way, that national anthem in ``Borat’’? The one that sings, ``Greatest country in the world, all the other countries are run by little girls’’? Not really the anthem. Just in case you thought it was.

Let’s see, what else. Headlines! Of course. My favorite was the one in the China Daily heralding India’s first-ever gold medal in shooting. ``Indians go on a shooting spree,’’ it said, which was both inaccurate and given the current climate, a little dangerous.

The other appeared in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz after the miraculous finish by the U.S. men’s 4 by 100 freestyle relay team.

``Two Jews and a black man help Phelps fulfill Olympic Dream.’’

Brian Schiff, that’s for you, big guy. Still haven’t found any Israeli-Beijing swag, but the clock hasn’t run out yet.

Anyway, here’s the link:

Check out this line too, about U.S. anchor Jason Lezak:

 ``An amateur until the age of 20 who had played water polo and baseball, Lezak - a good Jewish boy from California - put on a great show."

 Well, I think that catches me up. Oh one last thing. After a long day that began with Michael Phelps breaking the all-time record of gold medals and ended with a U.S. boxing victory at night, I arrived back at my apartment to discover I had lost my keys.

The people on the desk let me in and gave me a new set of keys in the morning. They are also changing the locks today.

They’re still smiling, but give me some more time.

I think I can break them.