How long have you lived in Beijing? Nine months. Why did you come? It was a chance pretty much unprecedented in my lifetime to be able to have a front row seat at this event, the Olympics, at a time when China is completely reinventing itself. Did you get any tickets to the Olympics? I could not get any. I missed the final round, and I didn't make the lottery in the first round. So, unless I come upon some scalped tickets or something, I probably won't get to many of the events. Won't you be working at any of the venues? It looks unlikely. I will most likely be chained to a desk all day, working for the paper behind the scenes, and not doing any of the reporting. But I don't know for sure. What's it like covering the Games for China's state media? It's a little bit how I expected and a little bit different. I was expecting it to be a big deal, but I didn't quite understand that it's basically all that matters, in terms of news coverage and especially sports coverage. It's surprising how deep the Olympics is reaching into the content of the paper. It's not just in the sports section. There's an entire page devoted to the torch relay. You literally cannot turn a corner anywhere in the city, or the office, and not have the Olympics right in front of you, whether it's the fuwa [mascot] or the Olympic rings. How do the China Daily reporters approach Olympic stories? The 'Olympic dream' or the 'Olympics on home soil' or every positive story you could possibly write about Chinese athletes, that is what they are interested in. Part of this relates to who they work for, the state media. But there is absolutely no desire or even consideration that there might be a negative story that could be pulled, or a story that is not anything but 'this athlete has a dream, and this Olympics is the pinnacle of this person's existence, and this is nothing less than the greatest thing that could ever happen'. How do they do things differently at China Daily from other papers you have worked on? They have a very specific outlook on what journalism is supposed to be, and what their job is supposed to be, and it differs quite profoundly from what you or I might think. They feel their job is to give a positive impression of the country and the government, and the whole concept of the media as a watchdog of the government does not exist here. This is not necessarily good or bad. It's just different. And sometimes the differences can be a little frustrating, for both sides I think. Are there Communist Party censors walking around the office with a big stick? Not at all. If anything, it's a case of self-censorship. The reporters know what they can and cannot write, and they have no interest in pushing the envelope or rocking the boat. Does this extend to sports, or Olympic, coverage? It does, actually. It's not quite as obvious. I can remember one example, during the 'saffron revolution' in Myanmar last year, when the monks were marching. There was a soccer game that was supposed to be played ... an Asian Cup qualifier between China and Myanmar. Anyway, the game was moved to Malaysia, I think, and we ran an AFP story mentioning the fact that there was conflict in Myanmar at the time - but that all got deleted. So in the story there was no mention of why the game was moved. I wrote, 'because of the political tensions there', and even that got toned down to something much more innocuous. Do you feel straight-jacketed by this? I don't feel particularly restricted, but that's because most of what I'm asked to cover does not really lend itself to sensitivity, as I mostly write athletes' profiles and soft features. What is it like living here at this point in China's history? It's like watching this extremely fast development in such a compressed period. I went away for three weeks and, walking just a block away, I can see buildings have been razed and new ones started. The landscape is constantly shifting. Everywhere you turn, there is construction going on, 24 hours a day, in every corner of the city. How does that affect your quality of life? It makes things noisier and dirtier. At my workplace there hasn't been a moment free of construction since I got here. It seems they always have a new project, whether it's repainting the building, or tearing up the entire driveway and putting down a new one, or putting up a new fence. It's a continual process of tinkering with the infrastructure. What will you do after the Games? My contract will be up, but it's pretty much up in the air right now. I'll probably go back to the US for a spell, and maybe come back to Beijing later.