All of the time we have been here .... THERE WAS A PLAN .... until today! Half of our group left at 6:00 am to fly to Shanghai and the other half of us decided to wing it. In all the time it took to start the day, it not so gently reminded us why plans are helpful. The dillydaddlying though gave me enough time to take a call from Amy Wagner with Channel 5, out of Cincinnati. She was very kind and interviewed me about our experiences in Beijing for the Olympics. As it turned out, throughout the day, several of us would be interviewd by NBC Worldwide and ESPN Spectator but more about that later. (That 15 minutes of fame is running out fast!) I'm sure my footage is on the cutting room floor.
After the interview, we went to the bus stop and climbed on our trusty steed (this one without air conditioning), and headed to the Water Cube full of confidence that somebody, somewhere had 5 tickets to sell us to get into swimming. We stood right in front of the entrance looking at likely purveyors. Funny how scalpers have the same look about them regardless of where in the world they are. I should note that as I understand it, the Chinese government was very smart in pricing the tickets at a fairly reasonable price. They were hoping for the first SOLD OUT Olympics in history ... and it is. The Chinese people bought up most of the tickets and the rest of the world got what they could. However, not everyone who has tickets here is going to the events and the government does not want them resold or scalped. No one seems to know for sure if it is legal or not. With the way they were acting around the strong police presence...we're guessing it isn't legal. Hence, the careful attitude of the scalpers. So standing in front of the Cube wasn't the smartest thing for us to do.
I had some 3 x 5 cards in my backpack and we wrote in Chinese and English "Need Tickets"! We started walking down the block saying (and I am writing this phonetically), 'Now Pee Ow' which, of course, means 'need tickets' in Mandarin. The further away from the entrance we got, the more people sidled up to us, guiding our group to the fence far away from prying eyes. Roberto from Chile had a few soccer tickets, several Chinese and Eastern Europeans had field hockey tickets. There were a few men's basketball tickets to be had but we were holding out for swimming. As we continued walking, various press corp doing random interviews on the street spoke to a few in our group. I talked with CBS and ESPN and while I know it would be difficult choosing whether to air my sound bites or Michael Phelps', I'm afraid we all know the answer to that. Karen R. and Mo got great face time too.
Finally, after exchanging phone numbers with the brokers, we met Niem from Paris, France. He had 5 boxing tickets for tonite. We huddled up, made a decision, and sadly bid adieu to the dream of watching swimming today.
Our day was finally taking shape. We had more event tickets! We decided we were hungry so Mo's mother took us to one of her favorite authentic Hunan restaurants. I have to say, I don't know how anyone finds things in Beijing. You go up and down hutongs or narrow alleyways to get to the good stuff. I knew I should have brought bread crumbs or string. Several times stopping to take a picture, I looked up to see everyone had disappeared. My heart has never stopped and started so many times. But all was well...Mo's mother steered us right there and I managed to make a few good directional guesses.
If you haven't had food from Hunan, it's spicy. I asked what the difference was between Hunan and Sichuan dishes as both Provinces serve hot and spicy food. The Hunan dishes use red peppers and Sichuan dishes use red peppers and another type of pepper that acts as their version of a hot pepper secret weapon. I'm a wimp and painstakingly picked out all the red peppers with my chopsticks. Yes, we were there for awhile. I picked up the tab this time for the 6 of us. We had several dishes plus beer and bottled water. The bill was 202 yuan or about 30 dollars. Food is very inexpensive.
We then got on the bus and rode to the area of Beijing very close to the American embassy. Mo's mom went home and we were left to investigate the area. It is a place where a lot of foreigners hang out especially Europeans. We decided to grab some Cokes and gelato in a little shop and it was very relaxing chatting about the trip and people watching. It was much better than the airport.
After chilling a bit, we went to shop the market next door. I can't even begin to say the name or spell it, but it is several stories high and each floor goes on forever. The floor is divided into booths where vendors sell everything like pearls, videos, charms, watches, silks, knock off everything-you-can-imagine etc. You name it, they have it. I bought a "Tag Heuer" watch for 20 bucks U.S. and a Christmas ornament. In fact, all of us bought watches. Interestingly, when Peggy asked for a Rolex, the vendors looked around. Seeing no police, they pulled a special case from the cabinet below the counter. It seems that you can reverse engineer other brands of watches but not a Rolex. If found, Mo said, they are confiscated. I liked Karen W's question. She wondered if you could take it to a watch repair shop at home if it broke. She was kidding.
Peggy and Mo bought Abercrombie & Fitch sweatshirts for 15 dollars, and Karen R. got some silk PJ's for her grandkids for practically nothing. Around 5:30, we decided to head to the Worker's Gymnasium which was the venue for the boxing. The taxi's will only take 3, so we divided up. Peggy and I ended up at the soccer venue by accident. We just asked one of the young and helpful volunteers (who are everywhere and then some) who speak excellent English, where to go. We were off target by only half a mile and arrived to the boxing event in plenty of time.
The boxing was pretty cool. They had the fly weights and bantam weights in preliminary matches and we snuck down to very good seats. Actually, our new best friend Niem gave us tickets that put one of us right in front and the rest in the nosebleed section. The venue had plenty of open seats so we sat together in the lowest section. If anyone knows how to score Olympic boxing...let us know.
So with no plans, we ended up having a great day. We learned to do illegal things in a foreign country, eat Hunan food off the beaten track, and barter with the Chinese vendors who made you feel like you were a steely negotiator while happily taking you for a profit.
By the way, we spent 500 yuan for the boxing tickets....about $75 bucks.
It doesn't get any better than that!