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E-ticket conversation: Behind the Bamboo Curtain

Updated: August 8, 2007, 2:11 PM ET
By Wright Thompson | ESPN.com
BEIJING — We leave the capital on Highway 108 early in the morning, ahead of the sludge of commuter traffic, which grows by a thousand new cars a day. The blacktop beneath the green Jeep knocks us around; we're taking the back road west, ignoring the modern, smooth expressways.

More than 2,500 kilometers separate us from our destination: Chengdu, the dominant city in China's Wild, Wild West. A driver, interpreter and I are setting out to look at a sprawling, complex country through the prism of the 2008 Olympics. In front of us is a week of white-knuckle mountain roads, countless oxen, a Rolls-Royce, homes made of mud, skyscrapers made of steel, a dreary coal-town wedding, a forest of smokestacks, a quilt of rice paddies, hundreds of villages and cities filled with people, each with a story to tell about the hopes and dreams of the real China and what, if anything, the Summer Games can do to make those dreams come true.

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