As a six-year Beijing veteran, with not-totally-awful Mandarin, my experiences of these "16 days in Beijing" were always going to be unlike the experiences reported by the fly-in fly-out media circus that surrounds your modern Olympic Games.

Where the media generally reported difficulties with "getting around" and "security", my experiences at events (including both the men's basketball final and the Closing Ceremony) were completely fuss-free and a credit to the thousands of unpaid and endlessly cheerful volunteers who were everywhere in the city. I "waited" in the security line for the men's basketball final for approximately 90 seconds, and about 10 minutes in a queue for the Closing Ceremony. Considering both events were sold out, and that everyone was scanned, and every bag checked, that's amazing. I did notice more attention being paid to people sporting half-a-dozen "camera equipment" bags, so perhaps that, and the fact that journalists needed to have tickets to the designated "press seating" rather than turning up and waving a press pass, was the cause of the kerfuffle.

And if you were reporting on the rowing in the morning, and the judo in the afternoon, and relying on non-pool resources (say, a local taxi) to get from one to the other, and tried saying "The judo venue, please" in English to your taxi driver, I can imagine you might get annoyed enough to write home about it.

The feared "terrorist events" did not occur. With several (brave, though foolhardy) exceptions, the promised mass protests also did not occur. And while this may have been disappointing in a theoretical, column-inches sort of way to the various bureau chiefs in attendance, there was little justification for the repetitive "massive police presence" stories that went over the wires. Beijing is a densely populated place, home to over a hundred embassies (and their uniformed guards), and one of the ways it differs from big cities worldwide is the ubiquitous sight of uniformed "gate guards" (bao an for those following along in Mandarin) many of whom sport very police-looking clothing and hats, uniformed parking attendants (ditto with the clothing), and other people in blue-clothing-and-hats. There were no more "police-police" on the streets than any normal day, but if you were only here for the Games weeks, then I guess you reported what you "saw".

I spent 12 of the available "Olympic evenings" with athletes (thanks to an old Army buddy having a girlfriend on the Australian rowing team) essentially acting as a party coordinator, and so know that a premium was placed by athletes of several major Olympic nations on attending the sorts of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs where they would not be hassled by reporters. So I can understand the story, frequently printed/posted, that this wasn't an Olympics "for the athletes", to which I say, politely, bollocks. The "Closing Ceremony Eve" night in Beijing's Sanlitun bar area is something I will never forget. Picture block upon block of bars/restaurants/nightclubs and smiling police manning roadblocks (and turning away some very insistent local elites in their expensive cars, forcing them to walk like everyone else) which made the whole area into a pedestrian paradise, and then populate your mental image with 10,000 + athletes who are finished with all their events and just want to party and you'll see how unforgettable that experience was for everyone involved. Which, naturally, excluded the bulk of the journalists, who flew home the moment the competitions ended, leaving "designated hitters" to cover the Closing.

None of this, it hardly needs to be said, excuses a single jailed dissident, or un-poisons a single melamine-ed cat (or, tragically, baby). But as those are China issues -- actually they are mostly human greed and corruption issues -- and not particularly Olympic ones, it seemed to me slightly odd to try and tie them in some way to a festival of youth, excellence, and sport, but that view was not shared, as "tie-in" ledes of that nature were popular over the period. Everyone, surely, remembers how hugely successful the original 80's Olympic boycotts were in raising the profile of what an idiotic thing it is to do to invade Afghanistan. Surely it is self evident how well the world, and particularly the United States part of the world, learned that particular lesson. Does tying the current situation in Afghanistan to the Olympics make more or less sense now than it did in 1980 when the USA did it, and do either of those make any more sense than tying the Beijing Olympics to Tibet, a situation that has existed for decades, or Darfur, where the worst that can be said is that China is propping up an evil regime that supplies oil (hmmm, where have we seen that behavior before)?

Finally, it's worth sparing a moment to think about filters. Not the kind you put in your pool (or your coffee), but the kind that we each carry around to sift through the daily information overload. How is it that an event like Usain Bolt surging ahead to win the 100 metres in World Record time is bright enough to cut through our filters -- to see it as an awesome human achievement, and not as a "product" of all the above, a "product" of all that it is a product of -- but (mostly) not bright enough to illuminate those filters from the side?

Whatever else they were, those 16 days, here on the ground, were amazing. Experience an Olympics once in your life, if you can. And, in light of the above, I'd be very disappointed if you got this far and still believed (if you ever did) that "experience it" means anything at all like "read about it in a newspaper" and/or "watch it on TV".