an unexpected afternoon

August 22nd, 2008

So the day before yesterday Roubaozi and I were just finishing up lunch when lzh phoned. She had two tickets to the Olympic green which were good from 1 till 6 that afternoon. It was already after 1, which meant we had to move in a hurry. I was reluctant, but Roubaozi leapt at the chance, and so we got the bill, skulled the remains of our beer, and jumped on the bus.

lzh met us at the Tuanjiehu subway station where she gave us the tickets. See, her danwei had gotten a whole bunch of tickets, but not enough people were interested. As it turns out, there were five left over and her boss was trying to get rid of them. lzh didn’t want to go, but she thought maybe Roubaozi and I would be interested. Well, I think she knows how I feel about such things, and phoned me hoping Roubaozi would say yes and we’d relieve her of two tickets. So off we went.

So we got back on the train at Tuanjiehu and rode around to Beitucheng hoping Olympic Green day passes were good for Line 8. Plan B was to catch a bus, which should not have been difficult. As it turns out, Plan B was unnecessary, but I think we should’ve taken it anyway.

Right, now a warning: Yesterday afternoon, perhaps due to the suddenness and unexpectedness of Roubaozi and I finding ourselves clutching Olympic Green tickets, was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. I have some ranting to do, and some raving as well. I want to get the ranting out of the way first so as to purge my system and allow the raving clear space to get out.  So this next section will be ranting. If you don’t like that, scroll down to where I start raving.

So we get off the train at Beitucheng and follow the signs to Line 8. I’m expecting, as you would, a fairly easy transfer to Line 8. Oh, I’m used to the hike a transfer between Beijing subway lines can be, so don’t get me wrong here, I’m expecting a transfer no worse than one would get at Fuxingmen or Dongdan. No. We find ourselves running a gauntlet of scalpers through a long tunnel then above ground and trekking for quite some time in the midday heat and humidity surrounded by tourists doing a good impression of brain damaged cows before we even see the security check for Line 8. And I’m desperate for a pee, and there are no obvious public toilets. So let’s just say I’m kinda grumpy and itching to get on the other side of security by the time we line up. But that’s not me ranting: This kind of thing happens anywhere and sometimes you’ve just got to hold on.

Prelude to the rant: I am absolutely not complaining about the existence of the security checks. No way. I know there are potential threats to everybody’s safety and that certain of those threats are multiplied when Big International Events are involved. Not complaining about that at all. I don’t complain about security at international airports for precisely the same reason. An appropriate amount of security is good, and at international airports and Olympic Games, appropriate becomes considerably more than normal. That’s cool with me, because I enjoy being blown up about as much as everybody else.

Rant: The security as it was done was stupid. Sure, make us line up, but for crying out loud, the staff are not the only ones exposed to the elements, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been caught desperate for both a pee and to get through security and looking around seeing no way of relieving the first need. Sure, keep everybody separate, that’s ok, allow only one to go through at a time. Sure, run us through a metal detector. But if you give me a chance to take all my metal objects off my person and put them in a reasonably secure tray before I pass through the metal detector, we’d probably get through all this much quicker! Really! And do you really need to flip through my wallet? And examining my keys in minute detail? Give me a break! It’s a wallet! They’re keys! What, are we supposed to leave all these things at home now? What about security? I’ve got none if I have to leave my keys in my apartment door and my wallet at home! And strange as this may sound, I do not appreciate parts of my body awfully close to my privates being groped by a young woman I don’t know. First up, I’m a happily married man. Secondly, said young woman looked like her entire life experience had consisted of textbooks, classrooms and exams before she did her volunteer training (a not unreasonable assumption, under the circumstances). I’d be much happier if an actual cop were doing the security check- somebody who had proper training and real experience. And speaking of this young lady- pointing at the pocket containing my wallet and saying “please” in an awful accent just doesn’t cut it. Speak to me properly. Tell me what you want. “Please empty this pocket” would suffice. Actually, I glared at her and asked “你要什么?” and from then on got coherent requests in Chinese. This pisses me off because I work in a Beijing university teaching Beijing university students and I know for a fact Beijing is capable of much, much better than that. But at least from that point on she spoke Chinese and gave me coherent requests.

Anyway, security was stupid and irritating, but both Roubaozi and I got through ok- although he took longer, having a bag, and he lost a lightbulb in the process (well, he was planning to go to the market to replace a few lightbulbs, not go to the Olympics). He also had his keys examined in minute detail, as if these volunteers had no idea what keys were for. Just to make this clear: A quick glance at both our sets of keys would have revealed they were only keys and came with nothing more dangerous than keys. Neither set required such examination.

And I can’t help but thinking: International airports deal with similar security threats every day and yet getting through security at an airport is never as much hassle, never as invasive, and always much quicker and far more efficient. How hard would it have been to have studied Beijing airport’s security measures and apply them?

And getting out of the Olympic Green was a pain in the arse. Somehow the exit we came out of was not good for getting back on the subway. Instead of having clear sign posts and directions, there was a line of volunteers holding hand-written signs. We had to ask to find where to get back on the subway, and the answer was a rather vague “under McDonald’s” with an wave in roughly that direction. Finding the subway entrance still required quite some searching, only to discover that they weren’t trying to make coming and going more convenient. To get back on the subway we still had to fight against the crowd coming out.

And banks. Would it be reasonable to assume that one would be able to use a regular Chinese bank card in China? I mean, a regular card issued by a Chinese bank in China? In an ATM owned by a Chinese bank? Yeah, we thought so. VISA, the IOC and Bank of China, in their infinite selfish, short-sighted stupidity, disagree. I had 100 kuai on me. I’d accidentally made Roubaozi spend all his money at lunch (yes, accidentally), all but 6 kuai. We could’ve stopped at an ATM along the way, but we were in a hurry to get the tickets and get inside the Olympic Green before they expired.

Task number 1 on entering the Olympic Green was to find a toilet. Easy. Task number two was to find a beer each. Not difficult. Task number three was to find an ATM. Found one relatively quickly, but immediately discovered it was for Visa cards only. This was a Bank of China ATM. Roubaozi was inserting a Bank of China card that had a Visa logo printed on it. It was rejected. Found and tried another ATM, but same again. Went looking for help. We eventually decided the best bet out of the complete lack of relevant service we could find was the tent selling day passes (but that’s in the Olympic Green…. you have to have a day pass to buy a day pass?). Actually, I have to say the volunteers in there were great, really, really great and went out of their way to find the information we needed. Honestly, they were brilliant. Roubaozi had no trouble communicating with them in English and the occasional smattering of Chinese as he mangles it (yes, he reads this blog), and I stepped in whenever I could help clarify matters. They were trying to track down the Bank of China person in charge, but he was out somewhere, so Roubaozi left his cellphone number and we went out to get a couple of beers and relax a bit before seeing what we could get in the way of souvenirs for lzh. As it turns out, there was no way we could withdraw money. That’s right, within the Olympic Green, it’s Visa, cash, or nothing.

Now let’s look at this again: Within the Olympic Green you can only use a Visa card to withdraw cash or (apparently- didn’t actually try this) pay electronically. Now, tell me, how many Chinese people have a Visa card? And is Visa universally used by all non-Chinese? Right. In their stupid bloody-minded drive for “brand protection” Visa, the IOC and Bank of China thoroughly fucked over the overwhelming majority of those entering the Olympic Green. Exaggerating? No. Were we the only ones to find ourselves a bit short of cash? Somehow I doubt that. And yet precious few of those Chinese and many of those foreigners finding themselves short of cash on the Olympic Green had no option but to go outside and find a regular ATM. And if you had tickets like ours, once you stepped outside the Olympic Green, you could not get back in. Really, why could Bank of China have not hooked up one ATM to the Yinlian system and allowed all those with a regular Chinese bank card to withdraw cash? You can tape over the Yinlian logo if you must, and thereby protect Visa’s brand. That is called customer service. But no, instead of providing good service to the majority of their potential customers on the Olympic Green they raised a big, ugly, Visa-logoed middle finger. And did I mention Roubaozi’s card was a Bank of China card with a Visa logo on it and he still couldn’t use it in a Bank of China machine with a Visa logo on it? And so to Bank of China, Visa and the IOC, I raise a great, big:




Note: I do not have any Bank of China accounts, and nor do I ever use their services unless absolutely necessary.

Anyway, that’s the ranting done. Once we’d clarified the money situation and learned that the Bank of China, IOC and Visa had decided to collectively shaft the majority of their potential customers, we got on with it. After all, I still had the better part of 100 kuai, and that was more than enough to keep us entertained as we wandered around the Olympic Green. And so now on to the raving:

The Bird’s Nest is awesome. It is an utterly incredible building. Alright, I’ve already seen it many times in various stages of construction, but to see it up close is a mind-blowing experience. Our first view was from quite a distance, as we got off the subway in roughly the middle of the Green, and you probably can’t see a hell of a lot from this, but there we were, trundling along, looked up and saw the top of the Nest and the Flame billowing out:

the flame

And yeah, it’s not easy taking that kind of photo with a cellphone…. Anyway, we did manage to get right up close and personal with the Nest:


Probably those photos don’t do it justice, but standing there had pretty much the same effect as watching the opening ceremony- I was utterly awestruck, blown away, mesmerised. That is one incredible building.

There was also no shortage of people. Indeed, on certain sections of the Green my crowd tolerance was just about maxed out. This, perhaps, is the best view of the crowd I can offer:

Yeah, not much of a photo. But it’s a huge, huge space between two collossal buildings and there was a lot of people looking very minuscule in the space between those two buildings.

And from the other side of that space, in an attempt to put the Nest into some kind of perspective:

Now, just let me check: did I mention how utterly awesome that building is? It’s incredible!

Unfortunately, as you saw, the Water Cube does not look so good in daylight, especially on a grey day (cloudy and humid, not necessarily any more polluted than normal), but having seen it many times overnight when it’s lit up from the inside I can confirm that in the right circumstances it looks just as awesome as the Nest. Unfortunately the best view we got on the day was of the setting sun shining through the roof and walls. Not worth even attempting a photo, considering that in such grey, cloudy weather the skin of the Cube looks filthy grey. Most unfortunate considering how awesome the Cube looks lit up from the inside at night- if you haven’t seen that yourself, take all the photos you’ve seen of it and multiply the awesome factor by 10.

And, well, relieved of the hassle of having to find money, and limited till 6 pm and the end of my 100 kuai (although nobody checked our tickets on the way out, so had we had enough money and been willing to put up with the very measly selection of “food” (McDonald’s and instant noodles don’t quite qualify as food, and there wasn’t much else in evidence), we just hung out, mostly around the space between the Nest and the Cube, watching the crowds, admiring the buildings, talking absolute horseshit, making stupid videos on our cellphones, and enjoying the fact that cans of Tsingtao cost only 5 kuai. Spotted a German with a bunch of Olympics badges on his bag, and thinking that’s exactly the kind of souvenir lzh was wanting, asked him about them, hoping he’d provide some useful information about where to buy them. Well, no. But we got to talking, and that was alright. Somehow we found out that this German and his mate were Werder Bremen fans. We immediately said, “Wynton Rufer!” Somehow that elicited a “Tut mir leid”, and I’m still not sure why. Ah well, whatever.

Naturally, most people on the Green were Chinese and mostly dressed in regular, everyday clothes, but scattered amongst the crowd were no shortage of people in various combinations of their national colours. There was a large group of Aussies in very loud green and gold, another Aussie who had seemed to run out of clean clothes and sewed her national flag into something approaching a shirt, and scattered groups of Poles, Russians, Americans, Germans and many, many others in similar sorts of costumes. The Chinese seemed to content themselves with five-star red flags and gold characters on red “中国加油!” headbands. We didn’t see any other Kiwis, at least none advertising themselves as such, which was a minor disappointment, but I guess the particular mix of non-Chinese on the green varies according to the competition schedule.  But in general everybody seemed to be happy and relaxed and it was a good atmosphere.

And I was wondering about two sets of cables that stretched high over the Green, one ending at the broadcasting tower, the other set with no obvious ends anywhere I could see. I thought those cables would make a pretty awesome flying fox, but then as we were talking to the Germans we saw an odd little machine zipping along the cables that ran over the Cube and the Nest. Aha! Must be cameras! I was wondering how they’d got those super-smooth aerial shots. There’s no way you could get such smooth shots from a helicopter, especially the way they’ve panned the camera. Nope, no helicopter, a cool little maching zipping along cables. Cool.

But all in all we managed to have a pretty good time. Pity about the money and the getting in and out hassles, but in between those problems we had a lot of fun. And at the very least, we can say we were there. Not that we saw any of the sports, but we were there.

And by the time we got back to BeiGongDa we were pretty shattered. We met lzh at the gate and stumbled down to the nearby Korean restaurant for some much needed nourishment, then stumbled home. It’s amazing how exhausting such a day can be, especially considering we really didn’t do anything.

Well, I suppose my ranting about the getting in and out of the Olympic Green is a bit silly, but none of what I wrote about the money hassle I take back. They really could have planned the transport and the security better, but it would always involve some hassle. The ATMs, though, absolutely should have been done better. Fuck Visa. People need money, and companies that deliberately screw over potential customers to “protect their brand” should be dismantled and sold off to the lowest bidder.

But ranting aside, it was a pretty cool day over all, and I’m glad I overcame my Olympic Grinch and went to the Olympic Green. It was awesome.

2 Responses to “an unexpected afternoon”

  1. Ji Village News Says:

    Morgan Freeman’s Visa commercial, here in the US, ends with “The ONLY card accepted there”. I guess they do mean it. That really sucked.

  2. wangbo Says:

    Wow, that must be the only commercial that can be taken literally. Yep, it sucked, but we had a good time anyway.