01.30.13

A Tale of Two Olympic Parks: London 2012, Berlin 1936

Posted in Olympics, Travel Log (N. America & Europe) at 8:43 pm by Benjamin Ross

Note to readers:  I want to give a brief apology to those who are still out there following this blog (I know there are a handful of you out there still).  During the past 4 months since the end of my Europe trip, I’ve been juggling a series of professional, personal, and academic priorities, and unfortunately the blog has fallen a bit behind on the list.  I’m attempting to straddle myself firmly back on the blogging wagon this month, and hopefully churn out the rest of the material from Central Europe this past September.  Thanks for sticking around.

Somewhat unpremeditated, my recent trip to Europe ended right where it began, sort of:  in an Olympic Park.  Needing to switch airports in London anyway, I opted to stagger my itinerary, allowing a full morning to explore the London 2012 Olympic Park…Yes, I am indeed well aware there is more to see in London than the Olympic Park, which is why it was the first stop on my trip in 2011. :)

The London Olympics had already finished by the time I hit the town, however the London Paralympics were in full swing, meaning the Olympic Park and most of its facilities were still operational.
Due to obvious security concerns, the Olympic Park was only open to those with tickets to events, which were all completely sold out.  Special “park only” tickets were sold as well for people who just wanted to look inside, peep around, buy t-shirts and mouse pads, etc, however those too were completely sold out as well.  In short, even seeing the park was a high demand ticket.  By some lucky fortune, I struck up conversation with a couple guys from Boston outside the park who gave me an extra ticket to women’s wheelchair basketball, which allowed for entrance into the park.
The only Olympic Parks I had previously seen were the fabulous, modern-marvel setup for Beijing 2008 and that massive aesthetic and financial eyesore left over from Montreal 1976.  London fell somewhere in the middle, probably closer to Beijing.
I spent most of my morning poking around the Olympic Park, scoping out the scene.
Fortunately my flight out of Stansted was late enough I was able to catch the first half of the wheelchair basketball match:  Germany vs. Mexico
The women on the wheelchair basketball teams had a wide range of disabilities including several amputees, and for the most part managed to provide an action-packed athletic showcase on their specially designed basketball-wheelchairs.
In between action, this guy in a pinked striped suit announced various contests and games with the audience along with the backdrop of “iconic” British music.  I’m pretty sure I heard that one Oasis song at least 3 times.
Here’s Team Mexico during a timeout.  Unfortunately I had to leave at halftime to catch my flight to Copenhagen, so I’m not sure who won.
Part of the idea behind having the Olympics in London was to rebuild parts of the historically working class East End, especially the area around Stratford Station near where the Olympic Park was located.  This included the construction of this gigantic pedestrian mall, just outside the gates of the park.
On the one hand, it’s unfair to compare London 2012 to Beijing 2008 since I wasn’t there during the actual London Olympics.  But I will say the whole feel of London 2012 lacked the excitement of the Beijing Olympiad.  When I had spent a few days in London the year before, there was hardly any buzz the impending Olympics other than the giant clock in Trafalgar Square.  In China on the other hand, not to mention Beijing, the entire country had been buzzing, gearing up, and sporting Olympic t-shirts years before the event ever happened.  A lot of this is context and makes for an unfair analogy.  Beijing is the center of a country rapidly rising to the center of the universe for the first time in over 1000 years   London has been at the center of the universe for much of the last 3 centuries.  This was also reflected in the size, scale, and opulence of the Olympic Parks, and in these regards, Beijing was far more grandiose.
76 years earlier, the Olympic Games were held in Berlin.  These were the infamous games were Adolph Hitler was the standing head of state, and much to his chagrin African-American Jesse Owens won 4 gold medals in track and field.  The Berlin Olympic Park is conveniently located along Berlin’s U-Bahn (subway) network, and with 3 days in the German capital to cap off my trip I figured I’d check it out.  (The brightly colored image above is the Olympic U-Bahn station).
I’ve always found two things especially interesting about the Olympic Parks:  1)  For about three weeks, they are the center of the world.  2)  After those three weeks are over, the physical space (and often much of its infrastructure) remains while the event it hosted is relegated to the annals of history.  What is done with Olympic Parks after the Olympics varies from case to case with a wide range of success and failure.
Today much of 1936 Olympic Park remains, leaving one of most beautiful historical sites I saw on my entire trip.  No doubt surpassed technologically by the Bird’s Nest and countless other 20th Century stadiums, looking out from the top deck of the Olympic Stadium it’s easy to imagine what an architectural wonder this must have been during the thick of the Great Depression.  (To be fair, there was a major renovation done at the beginning of the 21st Century)
Today, the Olympic Park is both a tourist attraction as well as a modern sports venue.  The Olympic Stadium still regularly hosts football matches (the European kind), including the World Cups of 1974 and 2006.
a view of the stadium from atop the Olympic Tower
The aquatic center
A view from below the Olympic Tower.  One of the more striking features of the Berlin Olympic Park was the stunning, uniformly grey concrete look of all the buildings which was surprisingly quite aesthetically pleasant.
I didn’t exactly plan it out that way, but starting my trip with the London Olympics, and ending it with a historical trip through the 1936 Games was a fitting way to cap off my trip with  some comparative historical perspectives.  It will be interesting to see what will remain of London 2012 in the decades to come (as I am already hearing that the Beijing Olympic Park has become somewhat of a ghost town).  Berlin seems to have done a fine job at both preserving their park and incorporating it into modern functional use, and maybe London will follow a similar path as well.  Time will tell.

 

08.08.09

Beijing Olympics…was it really only a year ago?

Posted in Olympics at 1:32 am by Benjamin Ross

Today (8/8/09) marks the beginning of the one year anniversary of the Beijing Olympics, an event which through a fortuitous work-related coincidence, I was able to attend first hand.  Looking back, here are some of my favorite memories of those seventeen days.

Beijing 2008 Square

-Taking a cab on the second ring road during rush hour and moving faster than the bicyclists.

-Relaxing outside, in Beijing, at a baseball game, with perfectly blue skies, and drinking 5 kuai Tsingtaos.

-While relaxing leisurely and sipping on Tsingtaos with the other Americans, glancing across the stadium and observing the several thousand rabid Japanese fans yelling, screaming “gambani nippon,” waving banners, and participating in group cheers.  The only thing missing was the big drums (they weren’t allowed to bring them in).

-Beach volleyball!!!

-Kaiser’s guide for visiting journalists and forbidden cliches.

-Looking West out over a sky bridge on the third ring road and noticing for the very first time that Beijing actually has mountains within sight range.

This guy

-Seeing 13 live Olympic events for roughly the price of a football game at Soldier Field

-Stting in the same section as Kobe Bryant for the soccer semi-finals, and then listening as half the stadium proceeded to chant “Kobe, Kobe” for twenty minutes straight.

-Finding the Beijing Subway system to finally be remotely useful (thanks to line 5 and line 10)

Bird’s Nest!!!

-Watching Fuwa faceplant at halfcourt during a basketball game

-Meeting interesting people from all over the world, exchanging contact information and promising to keep in touch, and then never contacting any of them.

So what’s next for China?  I wouldn’t be surprised if as soon as the World Expo is complete we start to hear grumblings about Shanghai 2020.  Although if and when China does ever host another Olympiad, it’s going to be tough to top Beijing 2008.


 

05.10.09

The New Face of Sports in China

Posted in Olympics, Pop Culture, Society at 1:46 am by Benjamin Ross

Note: Due to the timeliness of the following post, I’ve taken a short break from “From the Delta to the Backwoods.” Expect another update to the series by the end of the week.

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August 18, 2008

On a scorching evening in Beijing, thousands of fans are pack into Workers Stadium to watch two international soccer powers collide in the semifinals of the Olympic Games.  Although people from around the globe have descended upon Beijing for the Olympics, the crowd arriving to watch Brazil battle Argentina is 90% Chinese.  In a country where soccer is embraced by the masses and visas to visit Western countries are not easily obtained, this is likely the most anticipated soccer match ever to take place on Chinese soil.  Of those lucky enough to get in, many have coughed up sums of up to 3000 RMB to purchase tickets from scalpers.

Beijing Workers Stadium Argentina vs Brazil Olympic Semifinals
The capacity crowd at Beijing Worker’s Stadium eagerly awaits the kickoff of Argentina and Brazil, playing for a spot in the Gold Medal Game.

As the opening kickoff ensues, the crowd fixates on the field, hollering, cheering, and soaking in what may be their only chance ever to watch world class footballers in person.  Halfway through the first half, heads begin to turn in the lower section on the west side of the stadium, and a slow murmur morphs into a barrage of emotion and shouts.  Cheers erupt, cameras flash, and a euphoric mayhem ensues, as from out of the fan concourse emerges an athlete renowned and loved by sports fans across Middle Kingdom.  But ironically, the athlete drawing all the attention at this soccer spectacle not a soccer player himself.  Rather he has earned his fame indoors on the hardwood, as both an Olympian and a perennial NBA All-Star.  I think you know who I am talking about, right?  In a land where ping pong is king but basketball is the latest craze, this star has become the Bruce Lee of a new generation, with his image sprawled across billboards, and his name imprinted on backs of jerseys in the schoolyards of far-flung rural villages.  Yeah, you know exactly who I am talking about, don’t you?  Wanna guess?  I’ll give you one hint…It’s not Yao Ming.

As the newly arrived celebrity and his two acquaintances take their seats, the mob begins chanting in unison, “KE—BI, KE—BI, KE—BI.”  Before long the entire west side of the stadium has joined in the chant.  “KE—BI, KE—BI, KE—BI.”  “Kebi” is of course the Chinese name Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant.  Bryant, a purported fan of the Argentinean soccer squad, had just sat down to enjoy the match, as he was mobbed by a mass of autograph seeking, camera flashing, Chinese soccer fans.  It was as if the match between the two South American powers had been temporarily suspended, so that everyone in attendance could catch a brief glimpse of the NBA superstar.  Throughout the fiasco, which lasted roughly 15 minutes, chants of “KE—BI, KE—BI, KE—BI” continued to roar throughout the stadium.

Over the last decade, the NBA has rapidly been replacing soccer as the premiere spectator sport in China.  NBA fervor rose to a new level in 2002 when 7 foot 5 inch Yao Ming of Shanghai was selected as the first pick in the NBA draft by the Houston Rockets. Since then, Yao has played in 5 All-Star games, given proper lip service to his country and its leaders, and avoided any major off-the-court blemishes to his personal record.  But the main knock on Yao thus far been his failure to deliver a championship caliber team to the 5.7 million people in Houston (and the 1.4 billion in China).  The Rockets Yao-era post-season woes have caused some of the rage over China’s tallest celebrity to taper off of late.  Recent years have seen numerous Chinese fans who were once loyal devotees to the Houston Rockets, switch their allegiance over to the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant.  According to Jiang Yuan, a 26 year old NBA fan in Xiamen, “Pretty much everybody in China knows Yao Ming.  But among those people who really pay close attention to the NBA, Kobe is more popular.”

Kobe-mania is indeed spreading throughout the Middle Kingdom.  In addition to the billboards and jerseys, last summer at the Olympics, I ran into a group of college age Chinese boys who were all wearing yellow shirts with purple letters reading “I Love Kobe.”  This was at a beach volleyball event.  I didn’t go to see Kobe play live.  I couldn’t.  Tickets were nearly impossible to find and selling for over ten times their face value.  Even CCTV highlight shows, where were at one time were virtual play-by-play recaps of Yao’s performance, are increasingly focusing more time on China’s adopted favorite son.

Interestingly enough, the NBA’s other dominant figure, LeBron James, has yet to leave as much of a cultural imprint on China as has been done by Kobe in recent years.  Even CCTV announcers can be heard pondering, “Why isn’t LeBron James popular in China?”  One theory, suggested by Jiang, is that Kobe’s game is dependent on “elegance and form” while LeBron’s style is based primarily on raw strength.  “Chinese peoples’ bodies are not as strong as those of Westerners.  Therefore they prefer those players with elegant playing styles like Kobe and Michael Jordan,” Jiang says.  This may also serve to explain why Kobe’s fame is seemingly eclipsing that of Yao, whose game relies heavily on him standing a full head above most other players.

I love Kobe T-shirt in China
A young Chinese fan wears his basketball allegiance on his shirt.

With all this in mind, the current playoff series between the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers may bear more significance for Chinese NBA fans than any other in NBA history.  This is not the first time these two giants of basketball have competed against one another in the post season. Yao and Kobe faced each other in the post-season in the first round of the 2004 playoffs, with LA easily disposing of the Rockets in five games, and most attention focused on the nominal rivalry between Yao and Shaquille O’Neal.  At that juncture, Kobe had yet to completely emerge as the MVP-caliber player he is today, and Yao was still a scrawny second year player, being dominated in the post by a formidable Shaq Diesel in his prime.

Fast forward to 2009 and China’s two favorite NBA stars are both posting career seasons and battling out a best-of-seven series in the second round of NBA Playoffs.  For Yao, a win against to Lakers could regain some of the ground he has already lost to Kobe as China’s foremost NBA superstar.  And for Kobe, a win puts him one small step closer to winning his first post-Shaq championship, and an even more devoted legion of Chinese Laker fans.

Few NBA enthusiasts would assert that the Rockets have much of a chance to win a championship in 2009, let alone take the series from the Lakers.  At the same time, the Lakers, assuming they handle the Rockets, will still presumably have their hands full in the NBA Finals against the red hot Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James.  Nonetheless, this series represents a potential crossroads for China’s two most-beloved NBA stars and could have considerable implications on their standings in the higher order of Chinese basketball deities.  One thing is for certain though.  You don’t need to be Chinese to become the king of basketball in China.  Just ask Chinese soccer fans.

Addendum: Just as I was putting the finishing touches on this post, it was announced that Yao Ming has a broken foot and will be out the rest of the Playoffs.


 

08.28.08

Olympic Wrap-up and Post 8/08 China

Posted in Olympics, Sino-US, Relations and Comparisons, Society at 12:31 pm by Benjamin Ross

Over the past three days, a cool has descended on the Chinese capital. In the span of just over two weeks, the Beijing Olympics have transformed from the most hotly anticipated event in the history of the People’s Republic of China, to the annals of modern Chinese history. Around Beijing, the hangover from the Olympics can still be felt. Olympic signage still dangles from bridges, buildings, storefronts and volunteers in blue shirts are still milling around on street corners, and the occasional wide-eyed foreigners with their credentials dangling from their necks are still walking around Wangfujing like they just landed on the moon. For locals however, it’s back to business as usual. The anticipation, the excitement, the vigor of the masses has all waxed and waned, as 12 million people recuperate from their 16 day party and settle back into their routines.

Even though Beijing appears to be returning to a semblance of normalcy, the rippling effects of the Olympics will be felt for generations. For my parents and their contemporaries, they all remember exactly where they were the moment Neil Armstrong set foot on the surface of the moon. Regardless of any practical effect it would have on Americans’ daily lives, the metaphorical significance of the first moon walk was immense. It presented Americans with reason to be proud to be American, and to be proud to be human. More importantly it catapulted us to a new age, where a feat previously reserved for science fiction novels had now become reality.

The PRC did not even begin competing in the Olympics until 1984. To ascend from those depths to become both the host nation, as well as the gold medal tally leader, is a deep source of pride and accomplishment for the entire Chinese nation. 50 years from now, Chinese retirees will all remember their exact location when Li Ning ran through the sky in the Bird’s Nest. For China, this moment, and the 16 days which followed it will shape the way the nation views itself for years to come. It was during the summer of 2008 that China realized dreams which only thirty years ago would have been unthinkable. The memories are not going to fade. What will gradually fade are the memories of pre-Olympic China.

What we just experienced in Beijing was no mere sporting event. It was bigger than that. China may not have sent a man to the moon, but the symbolic implications are there. The way in which 1.5 billion Chinese view their country and themselves will never be the same. For the Middle Kingdom, this is the beginning of a new era. Welcome to Post 8/08 China.

For me, my current China journey is about to wrap up as well. I am heading off to Shandong this afternoon for some exploring and independent travel. I should be back in Beijing by early next week, and will remain here until Sept 9, when I head off to Japan for a 4 day layover. On the 14th, I fly back to Chicago where it’s back to Italian Beef sandwiches and job hunting. At this point, it is uncertain when I will be back in the Middle Kingdom. I feel extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to be in Beijing during these historic times, and am eagerly anticipating what this new era will bring. With that, I want to officially wrap-up my coverage of the Beijing Olympics. It’s been a wild ride, but it’s time to move on. Post 8/08 China is now embarking on new territory and will never be the same as it was during pre-Olympic times. Expect some posts from the Shandong in the days to come.


 

08.25.08

Closing Ceremonies – Observations and Knee-Jerk Reactions

Posted in Olympics at 9:39 am by Benjamin Ross

Like several billion other people in the world, I watched the Olympic Closing Ceremonies last night. Overall, I was extremely impressed by the show, just as I have been with all of the events of the past 16 days. Many of my notions about China and its dearth of creativity were seriously challenged by what I experienced on CCTV last night. That aside, here are some observations and knee-jerk reactions I scribbled down while watching the festivities.

Jacques Rogge’s speech could have been written by a class of fifth graders…”Through these Games, the world learned more about China, and China learned more about the world.”…Wow, that’s deep.

Would it ki11 Hu Jlntao to crack a smile…just once?

Jiang Zemln looks old.

Were those dancers really wearing bike helmets? And where can I get one of those bikes with the rotating neon light wheels? That would actually be quite practical for riding around Beijing at night.

Did anybody else notice Liu Qi almost began a sentence with 同志们 (comrades) before catching himself mid-breath and saying 朋友们 (friends)?

Which tent was Jackie Chan volunteering at? I could have used him when I was trying to find an emergency helicopter equipped with parachutes, jump out, land in a moving taxi on 4th Ring Road, and roll out of it while passing the Wukesong exit en route to the baseball stadium. Instead, I just had to take the subway.

All of the flash photography is probably unnecessary at night with the entire Bird’s Nest all lit up (unless of course everybody is taking snapshots of their friends)…but it sure did make the stadium look cool.

Is it just me or does London seem like a pretty blah place to have the next Olympics?

Did David Beckham really need to travel halfway across the globe to kick a soccer ball into a crowd of dancers?

As much of a Led Zeppelin fan as I am, “Whole Lotta Love” seemed a little out of place, but at least they weren’t singing “London, London, I love London.”

That’s all I got for now.


 

08.24.08

Picture of the Day: Blue Skies Over Beijing

Posted in Beijing, Olympics at 4:53 pm by Benjamin Ross

beijing olympics wukesong baseball field

You couldn’t have asked for more perfect conditions for a Saturday afternoon baseball game at Wukesong.


 

08.23.08

Inside the Nest

Posted in Olympics at 4:52 pm by Benjamin Ross

After two weeks of Olympics, I finally made it inside the Bird’s Nest on Friday. The Men’s Decathlon was admittedly pretty boring, but it was well worth the 200 RMB ticket just to see the inside of the Bird’s Nest and Olympic Park. There isn’t much more I can say other than that the stadium is absolutely phenomenal! I’ll let my pictures do the rest of the talking.

Beijing Bird's Nest
 鸟巢
bird's nest up close
Beijing National stadium concourse
Beijing National Stadium
inside the bird's nest
Beijing 2008 Olympic Torch
China Olympic Track and Field
discus bird's nest
bird's nest seats
Beijing National Stadium roof

 

08.22.08

Picture of the Day: Olympic No-Smoking Propaganda

Posted in Health and Medicine, Olympics, Society, Translations at 4:11 pm by Benjamin Ross

I saw this advertisement at the bus stop outside my apartment this morning.

Chinese No Smoking Advertisement

It reads:

Establish a non-smoking environment. Controlling smoking begins with me (you).

There are so many messages wrapped up into this advertisement it is difficult to know where to begin. Here’s what I see.

-You will be healthy if you don’t smoke.

-You will be happy if you don’t smoke.

-There is an inherent connection between quitting smoking and helping the environment.

-There is an inherent connection between the environment and the Olympics.

-A proper Chinese family should have only one kid.

-Having a girl child can make a family just as happy as having a boy.

The Chinese word for “propaganda” is 宣传 (xuan1 chuan2). However, unlike the English word, the Chinese term does not necessarily come with a negative connotation. 宣传 is more like a public service announcement, messages for the greater good of the masses. But like “propaganda,” 宣传 often specifically tells the reader what action he should take or how he should think, rather than just stating the facts.

A picture may be worth 1000 words, but a carefully procured picture, along with a working knowledge of Photoshop and an explicit slogan, is usually worth a whole lot more.


 

08.21.08

More thoughts on the Olympics

Posted in Beijing, Olympics at 8:12 am by Benjamin Ross

The Olympics are almost over, and Beijing is on the brink of resuming to normalcy. Here are some more random thoughts and observations about the Games as we count down to the end.

Thumbs up to Olympic Organizers for making sure concession prices were so cheap even migrant workers could afford them.

Thumbs down to the people who were in charge of buying all the concessions. Apparently they didn’t think anybody would actually need a meal during the games. I have been subsisting on sausages, yoghurt, and dry instant noodles for the past week and a half.

Beijing Olympics 2008 volunteers
So far the Olympic volunteers have been great, as long as you don’t ask them any non-Olympic questions such as where the nearest restaurant is.

Thumbs up to the hordes of volunteers, mostly college students and senior citizens, who have donated their time and labor to the Olympic Games.

Thumbs down to whoever was in charge of training the volunteers for not requiring them to take a quick walk around the block where they are stationed to get familiar with their surroundings.

Thumbs up to Liu Xiang for giving his all in an attempt to overcome injury…not to mention the pressure of 1.5 billion rabid fans.

Thumbs down to those who have suddenly lost interest in Track and Field because Liu Xiang is no longer competing.

Thumbs up to the foreign beach volleyball live announcer who has been calling all matches in both English and Chinese, and with excellent inflection in both languages.

(Unfortunately, I can’t think of anything negative to say about this guy)

Thumbs up to the Beijing weather for raining for 2 days straight, clearing up most of the pollution, and leading the way for pristine blue skies for another 3 days.

Thumbs down to the Beijing weather for raining 2 days straight.

Thumbs up to the Beijing 2008 web designers for putting all event and venue information on a neatly organized website.

Thumbs down to the Beijing 2008 web designers for making their e-maps (like most made-in-China websites) incompatible with Mozilla Firefox.

Thumbs up to Beijing cab drivers for making an effort to learn some English, even if it isn’t of much practical use.

Thumbs down to whoever chose those yellow uniforms that cabbies are now required to wear.

Thumbs up to CCTV for providing round the clock Olympic coverage on multiple channels.

Thumbs down to the CCTV basketball announcers for not even pretending to be unbiased. Is it really necessary to cry “aiiiii you” after every single basket scored by the team opposing China?

Thumbs up for the music director at the basketball arena for playing Kurtis Blow’s 1984 hit “basketball” as part of the halftime program.

Thumbs down to the music director at the basketball arena for playing the organ version of “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands” at virtually every time out.

Thumbs up to the USA basketball program for making us look like we are once again taking international basketball seriously. (I am rescinding my previous prediction they had only a 50/50 shot at the gold.)

Thumbs down to the USA cycling program for making us all look like asses.


 

08.20.08

Cheap Olympic Tickets and the Running of the Yellow Bulls

Posted in Business 'n Economics, Olympics at 1:40 am by Benjamin Ross

I just returned from the semi-final soccer match between Argentina and Brazil at Worker’s Stadium. With two of football’s traditional powerhouses meeting, and a shot at the gold at stake, this has been one of the most sought after tickets of the Olympics. The match began at 9 pm, and when I showed up at Dongsishitiao Station (the nearest subway stop the stadium) at 7:30 I still had no ticket. Along the walk from the subway to the stadium, tickets were in abundance…however they were all going for sums in the quadruple digits. I arrived at the stadium at 8 to the same scene, hordes of anxious fans, many without tickets, and eagerly buying them from scalpers for as much as 1500 RMB a piece (face value was between 100 and 400).

At first glance, the situation looked grim. I had only brought around 200 RMB, and really couldn’t afford to pay much more than that anyway. But by 8:20, I had a ticket in hand. It was a “B” ticket, along the side of the field, only three rows back, the same section as Kobe Bryant. The face price was three hundred RMB. A friendly New Zealander whose friend decided not to show, had agreed to take my two bills for it.

The funny reality of the Beijing Olympics is that while tickets are officially sold out, and scalpers are selling them at upwards of ten times their listed price, face value tickets are not difficult to obtain All you need is a little bit of patience, and some flexibility.

When I arrived back to Beijing on August 6, I had no tickets at all. Thus far, I have been to matches every single day and have already seen boxing, judo, hand ball, water polo, basketball, beach volleyball (twice), baseball (twice), and soccer (twice). I have yet to pay more than face value for a single ticket.

So, how exactly does one get tickets to the “sold out” Olympics? The answer requires a basic understanding of the economics of second hand ticket sales.

The Beijing Olympics is an event which has been circled on the calendars of millions of Chinese people for the past 8 years, not to mention all the foreign guests who have flocked to the capital city as well. This is the biggest event that’s happened in Beijing since Mao Zedong stood on T1ananm3n Gate on October 1, 1949 to proclaim the founding of the PRC. The demand for tickets is enormous.

At the same time, the games are being held at 31 different venues, for a span of 16 days. Literally, millions of tickets are in circulation. While the demand for Olympic tickets has reached epic proportions, so too has the supply. In short, there is no dearth of extra tickets for most events.

Yellow bulls stick out like sore thumbs. Just look for guys who look like this.

Where then do all the excess tickets go? Extra Olympic tickets are sold by two distinct groups of people. The first group consists of what the Chinese refer to as “yellow bulls.” (黄牛 huang2 niu2) The yellow bulls are easy to pick out of the crowd. They have crew cuts and wear long pants and collared shirts. Most are from the bullish 40-year-old male Chinese know-it-all demographic. They carry man purses, and have tickets budging out of their pockets. You can spot them standing around the gates of venues smoking cigarettes and talking on their cell phones. Somehow they have tickets to every event, and they sell them at prices only Kobe could afford.

The second group of ticket sellers consists of those individuals who have extra tickets, and simply want to dump them off without any desire to turn a profit. Possibly their buddy got sick. Maybe their team was already eliminated. Or maybe they really just don’t give a damn about water polo. Whatever the reason, they have extra tickets, and are more than willing to sell them off for face value.

In reality, the latter group probably far outnumbers the former. The problem however, is that most of the extra tickets from the second group are scooped up by the yellow bulls, who then turn around to resell them at the inflated rates. The key to buying face value Olympic tickets is to get to them before the yellow bulls have a chance.

Here’s how to do it.

-Pick an event and show up at the venue an hour early.

-Arrive at the event knowing you may be walking around aimlessly for the next hour or two scavenging for a ticket. Patience is a must.

-Be aware that there is probably a 15% chance you will not get in to the event at all. This chance goes up exponentially if the event happens to have an athlete named Kobe Bryant, Yao Ming, Michael Phelps, or Liu Xiang who will be competing that day.

-Find an area near one of the gates where spectators who have just arrived are walking in.

-If you see more than one yellow bull in the vicinity, find a new location.

-Know the price of a face value ticket, and have the money (exact change) in hand ready to pay. On one instance, I had made a deal for face value water polo tickets for a friend and me. As I was fishing the money out of my wallet, a yellow bull swooped in and outbid me for the tickets.

-Approach people heading towards the venue, and politely ask them if they have an extra ticket to sell. It doesn’t hurt to emphasize the fact that you actually want to see the event, and aren’t just going to turn around and re-sell it. Several of the tickets I have bought have been from people who specifically did not want their tickets to get into the hands of yellow bulls.

-If the event has already started and you still don’t have a ticket, don’t panic. The people with extra tickets are in an even bigger pickle than you are. This is prime time for people to be dumping off cheap extras. From the minute the competition starts, the value of tickets drops rapidly.

-This entire process is much, much easier if you are willing to go to events alone as opposed to in pairs or groups. Olympic tickets were originally sold in pairs, but finding someone with two extras is considerably more difficult than finding a single. Finding three or more tickets seated together is virtually impossible. For some more low-demand events (i.e. baseball and beach volleyball) you can usually sit wherever you want once you enter the stadium. These are good events to go to if you want to go in a group.

Using this process, I have been able to get into most Olympic events with little trouble. So far I have purchased 11 tickets for 810 RMB (just over $100 USD). That’s less than the price most yellow bulls were charging for a single ticket to tonight’s soccer match. The longest amount of time I have waited for a ticket has been two hours, and the shortest has been only five minutes. A lot relies on luck, and the longer you are willing to spend looking for a ticket, the higher your chances are of encountering one.

Up until now, the only event which for which I have been unable to secure a ticket using this method has been Chinese women’s volleyball. I also haven’t even tried for US men’s basketball. Athletics, gymnastics, and ping pong (basically anything the Chinese are really into) are tough as well. Everything else though should be smooth sailing. Try it out, and have fun at the games.

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