November 10th, 2010
It’s been an interesting few days.
On Saturday a few of us foreign teachers went round to The Den where we met up with a couple of friends. Then we wandered over to the East Gate of Workers’ Stadium looking for a scalper. After a bit of to and fro we got enough tickets at what we felt was a reasonable price, and the others went in while I waited at the gate. All the others in no hassle, I gave the scalper his money and joined them. Then we went through a security check and found ourselves in the grounds surrounded by a large group of people wearing green, a smaller but far more disciplined group wearing a slightly more subdued shade of green, and a large group in dark blue, some with alsations on leashes.
The large group in green were the Beijing Guoan supporters. To be expected in Beijing, of course, especially it’s Guoan playing. They were a good-natured bunch, really, moving in their various groups towards their various gates with their flags, scarves, vuvuzelas, green devil horns and various other bits and pieces.
And there was security in spades. People’s Armed Police in green, and PSB, thousands of PSB. Some, stationed at various posts. Dog handlers lined up in perfect rows near the gates. Others, patrolling. And their vehicles parked in strictly regimented rows inside the gates, including, by the north gate, the kinds of vehicles I would really rather never see used in anger. And after a fruitless search for scarves, we found our gate and entered the stadium to find more security. PSB on patrol, of course, but men in not-terribly-expensive-looking suits, some on patrol, others stationed at particular points. We found seats, and saw out on the athletics track more security. This time men in what looked like police-issue uniform trousers and shoes and black nylon bomber jackets stationed in two rows, one inner one outer, at intervals of two or three metres all the way around the track, sitting on chairs with feet apart and hands on knees, staring seriously and intently at the crowd. We saw those last group move only when ordered to stand for the national anthem and then sit down afterwards. One did move his hand to deflect a paper airplane that was about to hit his knee -and in doing so earned a small cheer from the crowd in our corner, but otherwise they remained perfectly motionless the entire time.
At the opposite end of the field on the upper tier of the stand just below the scoreboard was a tiny group dressed in bright blue. A distinct line of dark green around their section of the stand revealed they had a very heavy People’s Armed Police guard. They must’ve been the Jiangsu Shuntian supporters. They tried to get a few chants going in the build up to the game, but the large mass of bright-green bedecked Guoan supporters in the central stands closest to them quickly shouted them down with one of the Guoan supporters’ more notoriously vulgar chant. That was fun from the “teach my colleagues rude Chinese words” point of view. But the Shuntian supporters seemed to be outnumbered by their PAP guard, from what I could tell through Saturday’s rather thick haze, and never had a show against the sheer weight of numbers Guoan musters on its home field.
We were in the northeast corner of the stadium. The Ultras, so I was informed by a friend who’s attended a few Guoan games, were that especially green, especially loud, especially passionate group not far around the curve in the northwest corner. The two other densely packed green sections straddled midfield on either side of the pitch. I found it particularly cool when the Ultras and the crowd at midfield on the east side got a call-and-response thing going, with us in the middle seeing these chants fly through the air between the two groups.
The game started, and the first half wasn’t much to talk about. Guoan was definitely the dominant and more agressive team, but they seemed to lack urgency or much idea of a game plan. Shuntian, although very weak on offense so far as I could tell, did have one huge asset in a very tall, well-built defender who looked perhaps Arabic so far as could be seen through the haze and failing light, who had that magic ability to be everywhere the ball was and stop it from moving towards the goal. And not just the ball. A Guoan player tried to get around him but literally bounced off him the way a tennis ball bounces off a concrete wall. But a Shuntian player fouled in the box, and Guoan had a shot on goal. It should’ve been easy: one on one, and the goalie has no way of knowing which way the ball is going to fly until it’s in the air, and the spot is so close the goalie has no time to correct himself if he guesses wrong. And what happened? The Guoan player hoofed it so high over the bar it looked like he was shooting for the moon. Well, slight exaggeration, but it should’ve been an easy goal, and it was right in front of us.
The second half was more of the same until about halfway through when, way down at the far end of the field we saw a flurry of activity and a ball entering the net. The crowd, including us, was instantly on its feet roaring with long-delayed satisfaction. And this, finally, brought some urgency to the game. Both teams came back out firing, although with Guoan still the more dominant. Shuntian made the Guoan defence work – although their offense wasn’t great – and Guoan threatened the Shuntian goal a few more times. But fulltime came with Guoan winning 1-0.
A pleasing result, to be sure, but the best part by far was the atmosphere. And I don’t mean that thing that should’ve been a perfectly clear mixture of gases dominated by nitrogen that became increasingly opaque as darkness fell. Our corner was a relaxed, easy-going bunch looking for some decent football and a hometown win. To our left and right were the more passionate supporters, but they, too, seemed to be out more for the enjoyment of it.
And so we wandered out feeling good about the world and headed back to The Den for nutrition and liquid refreshment.
Crossing the road I thought we were about to see a great example of people power as the sheer mass of the green-bedecked created two small traffic jams, one that would be northbound, and one that would be southbound. But a southbound bus driver called the Guoan supporters’ bluff. Oh well, you can’t win them all.
I’ve never liked The Den. It’s the kind of place that leaves me desiring a long, hot shower with bucket-loads of soap. It’s something about the sheer number of sifty older men, the crowd they attract, and the vibe they create. Still, it’s tolerable as a place to meet and a place to watch the sports one can only watch via satellite TV. To make it worse, I’d been feeling a bit rundown, tired and headachy the whole day. More importantly, having a pregnant wife waiting at home really cut down on any desire to stay out late. But I hung out for a while, then left my friends with money to cover my share of the bill and headed home.
Sunday was just as much fun. We headed over to a Suzuki dealer not far from here to look at a few cars. The two models we were most interested in were the new Alto and the Gazelle. We had a look at the new Alto, but as soon as I got in the driver’s seat, I said no way. There’s something about the way the roof curves down into the windscreen that makes me feel like half my vision is cut off, and there’s no way I’d want to drive feeling like that. Not only that, but it had close to zero boot space (the old Alto could fit a fold-up bicycle – I know from experience) and very little room for passengers. The Gazelle, on the other hand, felt perfectly comfortable, had plenty of boot space, and room for passengers (although not for an adult passenger behind the driver’s seat if I’m driving – I need to push the seat back all the way to accomodate my legs). And so we indulged in the best form of impulse buying and bought one.
While we were waiting for the paperwork to be processed we tried all the other models on offer except the Grand Vitara. The SX4 and Swift had the same visibility issue as the Alto. Only the Jimny was one I would feel comfortable driving based on that visibility issue, but we don’t want an SUV, it’s out of our price-range, and two-door vehicles aren’t so convenient for getting infants in and out of.
Today I met my brother in law at the dealer and we picked up the car, got some petrol, and headed off to get the car tested and registered. As he’s the only one in the family with a valid driver’s licence (I’m still in the process of getting my New Zealand licence converted to a Chinese licence), he’s the only one who could legally drive the car.
I never really thought I’d ever have to teach somebody to drive. I certainly never thought I’d have to teach somebody to drive in what is in chronological order the fourth foreign language I have studied, or in terms of actual ability, my second language. If it had occurred to me that I may need to, at some stage in my life, teach somebody to drive, I certainly never thought I’d have to do that in any foreign language. But it very soon became clear that although he had learnt how to operate a motor vehicle, his skills weren’t great, and he had absolutely no idea of how to handle a car on the road in traffic. There were too many conversations along the lines of:
“STOP THE CAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
“What? Why? We need to go through…”
“But the car in front of us is stopped! Can’t you see the brake lights shining?! When the brake lights of the car ahead of us are on, we need to stop, too!”
There were far too many obvious holes in his knowledge and understanding of motor vehicles, traffic and roads. It made for a very stressful day.
And just to add to the stress, the dealer sent the wrong document to the testing station, so we had to wait while they went back and got the right document. This meant that we couldn’t complete the testing and registration until after lunch.
But the staff of the testing and registration stations were on the ball, and once we had the right documents, everything went smoothly. It also helped that over the lunch break, we left the car parked at the front of the queue, and that anyway, there weren’t that many cars to be processed in the afternoon, and so we were out and back to the dealership to finish up the paperwork pretty quickly.
And so now we have a brand new Suzuki Gazelle paid for and registered and sitting in the driveway outside our apartment block. It feels good, but it will feel better when I have my Chinese drivers licence in my hands.