Bigger, Better, and More Bureaucratic

BEIJING - They say size isn't everything. This may be so, but size can certainly be quite impressive.

It begins at the airport. At first one hardly notices the sheer length of the hallways leading through the terminal - after all, El Al is always thrown into some corner far from the action.

But after a few minutes, a sense of proportion begins to set in. The hallways are each the width of a basketball court, every entryway or door rises to monstrous proportions.

This is five or six times as big as Heathrow, the largest airport in Europe - or so the locals tell me with ill-concealed pride.

After passport control, standing between the delegations of Kiribati and Algeria, it's time for baggage collection.

This airport is simply too large to travel on foot, so there is a train to take visitors on the 10-minute journey to retrieve their luggage. And this being China in 2008, it's a fast train.

Outside, the sheer proportion of things continues to amaze - the roads, the number of cars on the streets, the buildings of the Olympic compound.

The Games are just as big at the level of human resources. A vast army of volunteers leap on every accredited Westerner assuring him or her in broken, congenial English that they are here to help.

At every corner they stand smiling, ready to assist those bearing the ultimate door-opener in Beijing, the yellow press card.

But this is China, after all, and that means bureaucracy. And like any bureaucracy, this one sometimes makes the visitor yearn to bang his head repeatedly against the wall.

The wi-fi internet connection in the press center, for example, costs a fortune, and yesterday it ran out after officials handed out the last of the access codes for its use.

That's right, wireless internet - available at any self-respecting Tel Aviv cafe - has run dry, just like a bottle of soy sauce.

Thankfully for me, a standard connection is available to those who didn't get a code and are left holding the proverbial cable.

All it costs is $500 and a stack of bureaucratic forms.

But it is the press center itself which may be the most impressive display in the Olympic compound.

A small city spread across several floors, it is an enterprise that makes the media center for the World Cup or Euro soccer championship look something like Kfar Sava beside New York.

On the other hand, these are the Olympics we're talking about. Perhaps it's always like this?

"This is the biggest press center I've seen in my life," says a Swiss journalist who has competed, as it were, in six Olympiads.

"Everything is really big here, no?" he asks me, not waiting for a response.

"Big?" I ask him.