Scenes From Beijing (cont.)
Friday, Aug. 15
Welcome to Santa Monica
BEIJING -- Blue skies over Beijing today. No lie. It's the most gorgeous day here in the Olympic city. Feels like Santa Monica. It's hot, but very little humidity.
"With powder white clouds in the blue skies, the most picturesque weather of the Games greeted competitors as the athletics began at the National Stadium," wrote Agence France-Press.
The International Olympic Committee's medical commission chairman, Arne Ljungqvist, told reporters that "there is no indication that there will be a problem in the near future." Maybe yes, maybe no. World Health Organization China chief Hans Troedsson told the AFP that air quality had improved in recent months but that pollution in Beijing last week still presented long-term health risks to residents. Rain is in the forecast for the weekend. Until then, enjoy the blue skies. -- Richard Deitsch and Rebecca Sun
We bear no ill will, Spain
BEIJING -- Despite the recent revelations of several Spanish teams making bafflingly politically incorrect caricatures of their hosts, Chinese fans seemed to bear no grudges during the Spanish women's basketball team's preliminary round game against the U.S. (Granted, the women's hoops players weren't among the athletes photographed tugging on their eyes.) In one corner of the stands, up at the very top, a large group of fans banged inflatable boom sticks together in rhythm to a coordinated cheer.
Since Beijing crowds have been nothing but supportive of all competitors during these Games, it was hard at first to tell which side they were more pulling for, until I caught wind of what they were yelling: Xi ban ya, jiayou!
Xibanya is "Spain" in Mandarin, and by now, Beijing Olympic followers should all know that jiayou means "add oil," or, generically, "Go!" So ... why Spain? Is it because they were the underdogs in the game? Or because the Americans (ridiculously dominant in world basketball) are correctly perceived as the greatest threat in the group, which also includes the Chinese team?
Or are these gestures simply not as big a deal to the Chinese-in-China as they are to people (of any ethnicity) in countries like the U.S. and Great Britain, where populations are much more racially diverse and therefore more sensitive to and aware of historically racist signifiers like the slant-eyed gesture? -- Rebecca Sun
A night at the opera
BEIJING -- On Wednesday, Sports Illustrated interpreter/opera-lover Jingwen Wang and I received two tickets to a concert by the "New Century's Three Tenors" at the Great Hall of the People (where the Chinese parliament convenes) in Tiananmen Square. The concert was part of Beijing's Olympic Arts Festival, an excuse to attract top classical talent from around the world for a series of high-culture events in the city.
It also gave Jingwen and me the opportunity to change out of our grubby fieldwear and into actual dresses, which turned out to be only sort-of appropriate, as we were surrounded by men, women and children in varying types of attire, from full formal qipaos (traditional silk gowns) to cargo shorts and what looked suspiciously like undershirts.
My prejudice was unwarranted, however. The most devoted opera fan sitting nearest us happened to be a Buddha-bellied gentleman in aforementioned suspicious undershirt, whose knee-slapping and enthusiastic clapping indicated he was more into the music than I was.
(Jingwen was distracted by the presence of microphones to amplify the sound of the orchestra and the singers' voices, which she said the Metropolitan Opera in New York never uses. My inexpert ear didn't detect any difference in sound quality until the speaker in front of us began to pop.)
Judging by the cheers and applause, the crowd appreciated and recognized the Italian classics performed by Mexico's Ramón Vargas, Italy's Marcello Giordani and Swiss-Italian Salvatore Licitra. Chinese lyrics were displayed on two large screens mounted on either side of the stage.
The biggest audience response came when Licitra sang a traditional piece in Mandarin -- his phonetics were passable, not surprising for professional vocalists who often sing in languages they don't speak.
Clearly, whether in Italian or Chinese, music is the universal language. -- Rebecca Sun
Bring on the Yellow Cows
The official Olympic rules make it clear: There is to be no scalping of tickets at these Olympic Games. And it's a sellout, too, say organizers. So if you don't have your ticket and nobody wants to sell you one at face value, you're sunk. Got that?
Good. Now make your way to Scalpers Row, a.k.a. the stretch of sidewalk along Beichen West Street that starts at Beijing's northern central fourth ring road, just west of the Water Cube. For perhaps a quarter-mile walking north, parallel to the Olympic Green but outside its gates, you'll find all manner of tickets being sold by China's scalping set. In Chinese scalpers are known as the huangniudang. The loose translation is "yellow cow brigade." And they've got tickets to anything you want to see in Beijing -- at a price.
The going rate for afternoon session volleyball tickets, face value 80 renminbi (RMB), just over US$11.50, was 500 RMB ($72.85). A track and field ticket with a face value of 800 RMB was going for 3,000, according to my would-be Chinese seller. Because this was a Chinese guy talking to an American woman in English, though, the first price was probably higher than the tickets would actually sell for. If I'd pulled out my Mandarin on him, the price would have gotten lower pretty quickly; the general rule of thumb in this town is that foreigners are asked to pay about three times the actual cost of anything negotiable, but that heavy negotiating will usually get the price down to a reasonable level.
There's not a lot that's reasonable, though, about BOCOG claiming not to have knowledge of Scalpers Row when the tickets are being flashed in midair, with police standing right there, in the middle of it all, doing nothing. It's a shame because some venues (not all) do have a lot of empty seats, and it looks as if scalpers have taken over from legitimate ticket vendors as the only way for foreigners to buy tickets at these Games. Add that to the frustration some national teams have felt at the low number of tickets offered to family members of Olympians and the ticket scandal in the U.S., where at least two firms were selling bogus Olympic tickets online, sometimes to the tune of thousands of dollars each, and you've got to think there's a better way to put people in seats at an Olympics.
Until then, bring on the yellow cows. -- Mary Nicole Nazzaro