The following is a guest post from my friend Bill, an old-time China hand who’s been here nearly 17 years. He is an affable fellow who many of you know. No China basher he. His story appears to be verified over here. This post does not necessarily reflect the views of this site’s owner, who was not there.
Today I was an active participant in what was without question the most barbaric episode of Chinese history I’ve during my past 16 years living here. Waiting in line, outdoors in 35c swealtering heat for Olympics tickets.
I was quite impressed with the previous on-line ticket lotteries. Whoever decided it was time to have an olympics’ tickets free-for-all off-line during a Beijing summer deserves to face the Party (and possibly the UN) for his crimes against humanity.
It was announced on the local news this week that the final 700,000 tickets would be sold on July 25th in Beijing at the ticket counters of the respective venues where the events were to be held starting from 9:00 a.m. I knew it would be a little crazy, but at least thought that a.) the crowds will be spread out to the different venues and b.) this is a unique opportunity to make friends out of shared comraderie. You know, like we do every week when our flights are delayed and no indication is given as to when or if it will take off. So, what the heck I trampsed to the Bird’s Nest at 5:00 a.m. only to learn that all tickets were to be sold from the Asian Games (AoTi) venue.
I got to AoTi and did a quick poll from the upper part of the line to learn some people had been there since Wednesday. Not a good sign. Anyway, I took my place at the end of what seemed like a 10 kms wrap-around line and soon met my two new “best friends,” Chen Laoshi, A Tsinghua University professor of management and Xiao Wang, a UIBE student of accounting. These are numbers guys, so I figured if they’re going to wait this out my chances are pretty decent to get tickets. Had they been art students, I would have been off like a prom dress.
I’m not sure exactly how many people were in the line(s), but a rough guess would be at least 20,000. Thinking 700,000 tickets divided by 20,000 folks waiting ahead of me, in the worst case scenario if I wait it out I’ll at least get to see the Albania vs. Chad Women’s beach volleyball preliminary.
How could I have been so bloody naive? Seven hours later, nearly at the strike of noon, an almost 18-year-old PLA soldier came by and told us they have finished selling tickets for today, but we can stay in line to wait for when they begin selling these tickets the next day at 9:00 a.m. HELLO! Who volunteers to be a refugee in Darfur?
I should mention in more detail, there was no general announcement to the throngs of people waiting and profusely sweating in line. I had been pinching cigarettes from that PLA boy and rewarding him with RMB 5 notes throughout the morning which is why he came to inform me & my numbers guy clique of the news. The masses before and behind us were not informed to my knowledge, at least not in an formal manner.
Mr. Management and Mr. future CPA (unrelated except for meeting in the ticket line) decided to cut their losses and go their respective ways home. They were long gone before I could ask how to say “Gimme Shelter…” in Mandarin. I felt like this barbarious situation needed some screaming and yelling, but I was just too self-absorbed at the thought of returning home for a cool shower, some AC and a chance to pee. Yes, there were no WC’s available to the masses. God knows how the Wednesday arrivee’s were faring.
The subject often comes up whether such sudden development in China is good versus the “simpler way life was before.” And, a popular dinner topic among certain long term or returning expats is similar. Hai gui friends have the same conversation but on different levels. It often ends with people trying to reinforce their opinion that before we did not have these traffic jams, this fast paced life, the intense competition for jobs, etc.
Today’s experience is my end-all to that topic. Though, I have always reminded other foreigners and returnees living here that life for a Chinese person sitting in their car in traffic in Beijing with their heat in winter or air conditioning in summer is a great leap foward versus being on a bicycle. Ok, Ok, …same for the new public transport options.
So, lining up for anything which can otherwise be booked on-line truely ‘serves the people’ and if anyone argues with me on that point, I welcome them to enjoy this Green Beijing summer in a line for Olympic tickets now.
The CCTV news this week informed Beijing residents, “The last day to buy Olympics tickets is July 25th.” How many hours in a day?
Update by Richard. I wanted to move a remark I made in the comments into the actual post: “To the less hysterical readers, I don’t blame the ticket buyers for this, but the bureaucrats who allowed it to happen. The entire thing was a recipe for chaos. Sure, I’d like to see some improvement in line-waiting etiquette, but that’s happening – compared to 2002 there’s been huge progress.”
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.