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Reporting for Volunteer Duty at Beijing's Olympic Broadcast Tower


On Saturday, July 26, I report for duty at Ling Long Pagoda (LLP) along with the three other UNC volunteers. Our contracts read "broadcast coordination," but we soon find our post is more accurately termed "help desk assistant." Our responsibilities now include giving directions, checking for suspicious activity, and routing broadcaster questions to the relevant BOCOG official.

While this is an unexpected and initially unwelcome update on our part, many of our Chinese counterparts did not land their dream positions either. I speak to one colleague who said he didn't get his preferred post. He wanted the National Aquatics Center, but was assigned to the IBC. His friend wanted the IBC, but was assigned to the National Aquatics Center.

Regardless, the Chinese volunteers are enthused to be here. They are representing China at the Olympics, and it is the greatest honor no matter what the role.

At 128 meters high with three steel towers clutching five glass broadcast modules, Ling Long Pagoda is a striking piece of workmanship. But 13 days before the opening ceremony, construction debris still litters the perimeter outside. I sit down at the empty lobby information desk. Bangs and clanks echo from inside the tower walls. The tower, which was supposed to be completed July 8, is still a work in progress.

On this day I am one of five volunteers assigned to work. Besides us, the only traffic in the lobby consists of security guards and the female janitors who tackle the lobby's stone tiles with dirty rags and plastic water bottles filled with cleaning solution.

Broadcast teams (known officially by BOCOG as "rights holding broadcasters") are still setting up. Seven companies have purchased floors in this tower: CCTV, BBC, CBC, Televisa, TV Azteca and a French network. NBC's Today Show will tape just outside. The first floor is a public lobby and the seventh floor a VIP meeting room.

From the seventh floor, I can see bridges painted with murals of blue and green waves that straddle the river paralleling the Olympic Green. My operations manager says this motif symbolizes a harmonious relationship between construction and nature, which mirrors sentiments put forward by Monroe E. Price in "On Seizing the Olympic Platform" in Owning the Olympics: that "The Green Olympics would emphasize harmony and mutual promotion of man and nature."

But on this particular day, hazy like the two before it, I can barely make out the Olympic Green to our north and the National Aquatics Center to the south. The NAC is the equivalent of a few blocks away.

My manager is incredibly busy. His cell phone rings relentlessly and he shows up to our brief afternoon meeting with a stack of printed e-mails, most of which he says he has not had time to read. When he tries to sit down with us, the technical manager for LLP interrupts and hustles him off to deal with a more pressing matter.

He has only one assistant, when in theory he could have five. He has a lot on his plate, whereas the five of us have a lot of time. Today, we sat in a group behind a desk devoid of a telephone, stationary or an explanatory "information" sign. I sympathize with the women who staff department stores and supermarkets, five to a counter or two to an aisle. I always wondered what that was like.

BOCOG regulations, however, prevent us from assuming more responsibility. Our job description is to man the desk. While our location beside the Bird's Nest cannot be beat, our Olympic assignment less than two weeks before the games has yet to prove the dynamic experience we anticipated.

We wait patiently for things to pick up.