April 13, 2008


It's a shame that a couple minutes of intense frustration can taint a great weekend. Today, on a beautiful, 72 degrees and sunny afternoon in Beijing, China I found myself making that growling noise through clenched teeth. I even raised my fists in frustration to show this city (and the dozens of surveillance cameras around me) that I, as a Westerner, do not understand the system. Let me explain.

With the Olympics a couple months away, Beijing has begun to host a series of Good Luck games, in effect a way to test the venues and work out any 'kinks'. I am not the first to say that there are a lot of kinks. Last month at the baseball game, there was an enormous line to get into the game (it took over 30 minutes to enter the baseball stadium, funneling thousands of fans through a single entrance with 3 guards checking tickets). Lesson learned I hope. We missed Jet Li throw the first pitch..bummer.

This weekend my Minnesotan friend Katie and I, again, spent Saturday and Sunday exploring the diversity of this city. I met up with a San Diego friend Pat Hall for lunch and together we took the subway to Wudaokou (the university area of Beijing). Pat was spending the weekend with some Chinese friends and I was meeting up with Katie for an afternoon of hiking (destination unknown).

We made a quick stop for coffee, but our conversation kept us sitting much longer, drinking our iced coffees in oversized and oh-so-comfortable chairs. We then set out to explore the vast campus of Tsinghua University. Two hours later we were still walking through it's tree-lined lanes and spent sunset watching a soccer game and some determined kite-flyers despite almost non-existent wind. As we walked home, we were invited to dinner across town at Pete's Tex Mex with friends. Pete's is the quintessential American restaurant and makes some tasty ice-cream concoctions that has earned it local honors for years.

After a nice dinner, we trekked back across town. When I say across town, I mean over an hour of walking/subway/transfer/walking. A street vendor was selling books as we were walking and I bought 'Good to Great' by Jim Collins. I've been meaning to read this book for quite some time, and 15 kuai was an amazing price. Once we got back to Katie's place I discovered that some pages were copied backwards.. you get what you pay for.

Katie and I slept in 'til 8:30, probably the first time in weeks that I've slept past 6:15, it was glorious. We had breakfast al fresco at a cute little diner called 'the bridge'. Sunshine, fresh OJ, granola with yogurt, and a fun friend.. it was good stuff. The rooftop patio reminded me of The Broken Yolk in PB, but instead of the distant ocean, I saw not-so-distant construction cranes.

After fellowship, we had some tempting lunch offers from other friends but decided to head over to the National Aquatic Center to buy some tickets for the Synchronized Swimming Good Luck games this week. We walked to the subway (25 minutes), jumped on one line of the subway, transferred, and got on a second subway line. The temperature outside was pretty warm, but the inside of the subway car was exceptionally warm and everyone was sweating. In a country of no deodorant, this was extremely unpleasant for the 25 minutes we stood side by side with our fellow commuters.

Katie and I were still in good spirits as we exited the sweaty subway and made our way to the box-office to get our tickets. The internet said they would be on sale from 10am-6pm, but when we got there, the place was closed. An angry Chinese man was banging on the glass window. Finally, someone opened the window and the man expressed that he wanted tickets. The response was "Come back here tomorrow at 10am. We're not selling any tickets anymore today!" The Chinese man continued to yell "Wei shen me?!" translated "Why?!". No reason was given. Our Chinese advocate stormed off. Now it was my turn to knock on the window and represent the small crowd of foreigners that had gathered with hopes of buying tickets. Again, the same response. This time in English, "Come back to this place tomorrow, 10am, ok?" said very sweetly, and then the glass was shut and the conversation was over. I wanted to follow the example and yell "WHY?!" Instead, I grrrr'd. This is when I raised my fists. There's no reason for this disorganization. The inconsistencies are everywhere...plans change constantly. It'll be interesting to see what happens when some less patient people come this summer, and much more is on the line. Defeated, Katie and I made our way back to the subway, not really saying much, trying to be quiet rather than giving a voice to the negativity brewing in our thoughts.

The best part? We're meeting back at the National Aquatic Center tomorrow morning at 9am to get tickets. China, you win...you always do.


Katester said...

Oh man, I was feeling so happy for all your American-like adventures up until the end. "China, you win." I feel like I have that mantra with my computer: "Computer, you win . . . you always do."

Brianna Allison said...

I love this story! It's so true...Chiner wins. :)

Brianna Allison said...

So...by "nightmare", I probably mean...too many people, smog, and traffic. All other things in SoCal are good. Also...are you going to be in San Diego in October? I'm doing the Mission Bay Triathlon on Oct. 3.

Bill Miranda said...

A very enlightening blog. Thank you for sharing. I will be most interested in your comments once the Olympics get started.

I have traveled to China a number of times but alas, never to Beijing. Maybe someday.

caljoy said...

So did you ever get to see the swimmers?
You paint a picture of what could possibly go wrong in Bejing in just a few weeks.
Like bill, I can't wait to read your blogs on the Olympics.
I still think about you often.