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Obama sets the pace in China

For reporters covering him, the sightseeing is just a blur. They can only take it a step at a time -- make that 30.

November 20, 2009|Barbara Demick

BEIJING — If it's 3:40 p.m., this must be the Great Wall.

So President Obama's travelogue from China could be titled. Anybody who complains that their own travels are too harried should consider the plight of America's first tourist. Between meetings with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, state dinners and a "town hall" meeting with students, Obama squeezed in some power sightseeing.

For a taste of his travels, consider the following excerpts from pool reports or journalists' notes. (Pool reports are filed by journalists allowed to attend specific events with limited space for reporters with the understanding that they will share their information with others. POTUS is shorthand for President of the United States, and "poolers" refers to the reporters assigned to follow his travels.)


Tuesday, Nov. 17

(Mike Allen, Politico)

President Obama, in a leather jacket with fur trim, strolling through the Forbidden City, surrounded by his official party and dozens of other Chinese hangers-on. When the President approached, your pooler asked: "Mr. President, how do you like the Forbidden City?"

The President replied: "Beautiful -- spectacular."

The President and his party walked up 30 steps, then down 30 steps into the spectacular courtyard, which at this time would usually be filled with tourists. The courtyard had been cleared except for pool press, with a red rope-and-stanchion to keep us in our place. After walking across the courtyard, the party walked up a steep stone stairway of 50 or more steps. The president entered the Taihe Dian ("Hall of Supreme Harmony"), first constructed in 1420, with the current hall constructed in 1695. Even bundled up, the poolers were freezing. The roofs had a bit of snow, and the rough stone courtyard had a few patches of ice. The party, due at 1:20 p.m., appeared at 1:11 p.m. after a stop back at the hotel.


Tuesday, Nov. 17

(Helene Cooper, New York Times)

Millions of people come to Beijing and look at the delights of the Forbidden City. But how many people get to race through it, not stopping to see anything? The 15 members of your pool, that's how many.

POTUS, after making a 30-minute stop at the St. Regis to change from his suit to a distressed brown leather jacket, arrived at the Forbidden City at 2:15 p.m.

He was escorted by Forbidden City Museum Director Zheng Xinmiao, a cast of, well, a lotta people, including (senior advisor) David Axelrod, (senior advisor) Valerie Jarrett and (press secretary) Robert Gibbs.

POTUS kept his hands in his pockets to ward off the chill, and headed up and down the first few staircases into the successive courtyards that make up the former residence of China's imperial leaders. He stopped in the first courtyard to get the requisite photo in front of the staircase, but was facing the wrong way, which Mr. Zheng quickly pointed out, making POTUS turn around.

"Oh, that way?" POTUS said, laughing. "I see."

Your pooler would love to continue this report in this vein, but can't, because at that point the pool was hustled away from POTUS, and hustled -- at times at a flat-out run -- through cobblestone courtyard after cobblestone courtyard, whizzing through the Imperial Garden, the Gate of Heavenly Purity, the Hall of Union and Peace, the Hall of the Imperial Palace until, finally, gasping, 10 minutes later, to the final destination . . . the Courtyard of Loyal Obedience, where pool was told to wait at the Gate of Continuing Harmony for 26 minutes so they could get photo of POTUS, having completed his tour at a more leisurely pace.

At around 2:45 POTUS arrived with Mr. Zheng under the Gate of Continuing Harmony. He sat down alone and wrote at length in the VIP visitors book. Pool has made a request for what he wrote.

Then he got up and told Mr. Zheng: "Thank you for a wonderful tour of this magnificent place."

He also said he would like to come back to China with his daughters.

Memo to whoever is doing pool tomorrow for the Great Wall trip: Dress warm and bring running shoes.


Wednesday, Nov. 18

(Peter Nicholas, Los Angeles Times)

President Obama spent about half an hour touring the Badaling section of the Great Wall of China, accompanied by a large contingent of Chinese guides, Secret Service and White House officials.

After motorcade arrived at 3:40 p.m., the president climbed a set of steps and signed a guest book sitting on a table at a flat entry point. Obama wore what looked to be a ski jacket. No hat. Weather was cold, with a fierce wind leaving ears and fingers numb. POTUS and the entourage proceeded up a sloping path, disappeared into a guard post, reappeared and kept going.

Press corps was kept at the entry point and was not permitted to follow. We couldn't see much, not even with the aid of binoculars purchased before the trip for this specific purpose.

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