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Reporter's notebook

Antoine Cormery is following the Olympic torch on its way from Greece to Beijing. Follow him across five continents during his weekly show "On the Road to Beijing". Read his notebook and send him your questions on this page.



Beijing, Thursday July 31st

The Chinese human rights record tends to give a bad image to the Chinese people.  Individually, however, the Chinese never miss an opportunity to smile and be warm with tourists. They are always there to give advice to foreigners or help them with directions.. An attitude Parisian taxi drivers should take as an example!

Beijing, Wednesday July 30th

Far from the noise of the city in the Sky’s TemplePark, Beijing residents practice Tai Chi Chuan. There is nothing more relaxing than watching them moving with such a mastered slowness.

Beijing, Tuesday July 29th

To move around Beijing, there are two ways: the hard or the easy way. The hard way is mainly for the locals. Since the alternating traffic was imposed some weeks ago, only one in two cars is allowed in the city capital depending if they end up with odd and even numbers. Only taxis can drive every day.  It’s easier to move around Beijing if you own an Olympic car pass. In that case, you can use the Olympic lane. On each five orbital freeways (the sixth is under construction), the left lane is Olympic pass only. So even if it’s jammed, there is always a free lane! I asked a local at a traffic light what they thought of it and they seem OK with the situation. The Games are worth a little sacrifice!

Beijing, Sunday July 27th

Preparation day for the programme ‘On the Road to Beijing’. We move around the capital with our colleagues from France 24’s Beijing bureau and police are just everywhere. Dog brigades, policemen both in plainclothes and uniforms, constant accreditation controls, armoured combat vehicle around stadiums, helicopter patrolling and missile launchers. All this force deployment is just oppressing.

Beijing, Saturday July 26th

I rediscover the city I left five months ago when the torch arrived in Beijing. Change is stark. Flags dress up the city and its streets, symbolizing the spirit of the country while millions of extravagant piles of flowers of the colours of the Olympics are displayed everywhere. It is very impressive. We can feel a big event is approaching. Wasn’t it Mao who said that “hundred flowers bloom”?

Beijing, Friday July 25th

Boarding at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport headed to Beijing. I am travelling with France’s Olympic fencing team. Brice Guyard (gold medal in Athens 2004) and Laura Flessel (double gold medals in Atlanta 1996) are real hopes for gold in Beijing. It’s a large selection. The atmosphere is very relaxed. Just after we land in Beijing, they take another plane to a provincial city where they will complete a pre-Olympic training. We wish them luck.

Paris, Wednesday April 30


How do you say "at last" in Chinese? This Wednesday, the Olympic torch has finally arrived in China. Will this spell the end of trouble? That is the big question after a rocky journey over five continents. Will the national leg of the relay, preceding a passage through Tibet, prove calmer?



Tuesday, April 29


Met with New China wire journalist Ming Yan, based in Paris - chance to get another taste of the resentment felt for the chaos surrounding the Paris leg of the torch relay. It will take time to erase memories of this seminal event in Franco-Chinese relations.



Sunday, April 13


The torch makes its way around Africa. This time everything was fine in Dar Es-Salaam, except for the uncooperative weather. But the torrential rain will not dampen the torch, which survived Paris and London, after all.


In fact, I think that the big error the Chinese made was that they were trying to prove too much. They wanted to have the longest torch itinerary in the history of the Games. But they soon forgot that China's human rights record was high on everyone’s mind.  



Friday, April 11


Today is the third episode of “On the Road to Beijing”. At the last minute, we tried to convince the Chinese ambassador in Paris to do a spot on the show expressing his views on the troubled week. “Too sensitive,” he said. A diplomatic response, but no doubt an order from Beijing.



Thursday, April 10


After the Paris fiasco, American authorities are tense. The flame is going through San Francisco. This is the home of the most important overseas Chinese community. Indeed, the event was marred by disruptions.


I ask myself: If the US had the bid to host the 2008 Olympics, wouldn’t the flame still be the target of demonstrators protesting against US involvement in Iraq?



Paris, Monday 7 April


It’s only on TV that you can actually see the Olympic torch in Paris. The security and police escort is such that it’s impossible to see the torch for real. Difficult to describe the chaos. The crowd is becoming hysterical. The Chinese probably regret organizing this Olympic relay which still has a long way to go.



Paris, Sunday 6 April


The official sponsor of the Olympic flame, the Chinese computer manufacturer, Lenovo, is organizing a dinner at the Eiffel tower. The company’s aim is to present the torchbearers it has chosen amongst those who have to run through the streets of Paris the following day. The sportsmen receive their “Olympic packages” with Adidas T-shirts which bear the logo of the Beijing Olympic games. The mood is strange. We should be partying but we are not. Everybody is chatting about the scuffles in London this afternoon and already feel that the Paris relay will be even more chaotic.  



Beijing, Thursday, April 3

Boycott or no boycott? Whenever we mention the possibility of a boycott of the opening ceremony - or indeed of the entire Games - the answer from the local people is invariably the same: “Why should there be a boycott? Living standards have risen in the country, everyone is happy, there are no problems. It is the West that’s making a fuss, because it is jealous of China’s success!” End of quote.



Beijing, Wednesday, April 2, 2008

We are recording this weekend’s show in front of the Olympic stadium, a 20 minutes ride from the city centre. The building is a magnificent sight. It was designed by Swiss architecture aces Jacques Herzog and Pierre Meuron, whose other masterpieces include London’s Tate Modern and the Prada megastore in Tokyo. Here, the interlacing metal beams glitter in the sun. The local people have dubbed it the “bird’s nest”. Every day, thousands flock to take a picture of the rising giant.



Beijing, Monday, March 31, 2008

We have a meeting at 7:30 am, in front of the Games' international press centre on a large Beijing avenue. I bump into French media colleagues: Pascal Golomer, France 2’s correspondent in China, and TF1's Christopher Gascard. Some buses are provided to take us to the square. Before we get on board, they meticulously check (twice rather than once) that our badges match our passports. But no, Robert Menard of Reporters Without Borders, who disturbed the lighting of the Olympic flame in Greece, is not with us today!

The press officer, an American in his fourth Olympics, encourages us to pass by the restroom, as once we are seated there will be no access to toilets and we will be there for hours!

We leave by bus and arrive at Tiananmen. What strikes me most is my Chinese cameraman, who had never set eyes on the "forbidden city" before now… forbidden to tourists no doubt! Under Mao’s large portrait, the doors are closed. Access is controlled and to get to the site of the ceremonies you have to go through security checks, like in an airport. Even the dancers who will participate in the show have to go through them.

The press is grouped on the platform. The guests are carefully seated and at 10:58 am the president arrives. The ceremony can begin under CCTV cameras, the official television source. Fortunately they’re filming the event, as the average Chinese citizen cannot attend the show live. He or she has to make do with the televised version, yet with a slight time-lag to offset any untimely occurrence.

At 11:45 am, the official ceremony is over after a spectacular and colourful show. All has gone well, with no repeat of the affront in Olympia. Yet, with the Olympic torch due to cover another 137,000 kilometres, much could still happen.



Beijing, Sunday, March 30, 2008

We have no idea whether we’ll get access to Tiananmen Square tomorrow morning for the arrival of the Olympic torch.  There’s a lot of uncertainty on the part of the organizing committee, who refer all international press to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There is a vivid sense of nervousness in the air. Finally, we are given badges to attend the event with all the international press.



Beijing, Saturday, March 29, 2008


I arrive in town two years after my last visit.  I was expecting to see Olympic flags everywhere lining the large avenues, but there is so much dust as a result of the construction and pollution that they’ve probably decided to wait until the last minute before putting up the white banners with five coloured rings.


The area around the Olympic stadium is still under construction. Right now, it’s a weekend attraction for Chinese families. They take photos in large numbers. The construction, which looks like a bird’s nest, is beautiful and spectacular. Beijing residents are proud of the preparations for the Games. As for the threats of a boycott, they simply arouse defiant replies. “We’re not afraid; it’s just those who are jealous of China’s success who say that,” argues one passerby. Nor do Tibetan protesters receive much sympathy. “They’re just bandits who were justifiably taken in by the police. Tibet is China, at any rate,” points out another. There’s little room for discussion!

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