T-shirt and shorts?
When you’re going to the Olympics, the usual luggage packing takes on a bit more meaning.
I always knew those teaching supplies for my U.S. Government unit would come to greater use some day. My full-sized American Stars-and-Stripes certainly proves it.
If you’ve been keeping up on this blog, you know this was a spur-of-the-moment decision.
I had no hotel accommodations. No venue tickets. No detailed plan. I just decided I’d go, even despite what I’d been reading.
I must say, reports of popping in on the Games and seeing an event have not been encouraging.
The first day of sales in China had people waiting in line for 24 hours. Police were everywhere, trying to keep order. When the booths finally opened, the rush to grab up tickets was a madhouse of pushing and shoving. They sold out in a few hours.
The tickets themselves have been carefully guarded by the government. Opening and closing ceremonies require a person to register their name and ID number before being issued a pass. Tickets are metal coded for scanning and can only be transferred twice, although I’m not sure how that can be enforced. Who would know how many times a ticket had been passed along to another?
Then we have the scalpers, who are threatened by several years in a labor camp if caught. On the second day of the Olympics, I read 135 arrests had been made for illegally selling tickets. Still, there are many scalpers hiding in the shadows or leisurely walking around the main venues. They “psst!” desperate individuals over to their corner for a secretive purchase. Prices range from $100 to $1,000 or higher. Even the most undesirable sports events are bringing in big bucks.
In China, it seems years of possible wealth outweigh years in a labor camp.
These ridiculously high prices are also forcing many venues to remain empty. Scanning the spectator areas during the live coverage, there are entire sections devoid of occupants. To the public, it appears there must be plenty of tickets to be bought but in actuality, the ruthless scalpers have total control over these seats. They remain empty because few can afford to pay for them, nor are scalpers willing to come down in price.
Visitor frustration is high among everyone, including the Chinese who have come to Beijing to personally support their athletes in the stands.
For many fans, it just ain’t happenin’.
The Search for a Hotel
For fear of being stuck with a hotel I couldn’t afford, yesterday evening I made a few phone calls to Beijing.
My usual Beijing accommodation is a Chinese chain motel, the Ru Jia (Home Inns), which is comparable to a Super 8. When I first stayed there 17 years ago, it was the Bei Wei Hotel, a couple notches up from the backpackers’ haven. Rates were as low as $15 a room. After the chain hotel’s refurbishing in 2003, I paid a reasonable $36 for a small suite last year. A real bargain considering the hotel is situated just 25 minutes’ walk from Tiananmen Square, 10 minute’s walk from the Heavenly Palace park, and tucked away in a quaint Chinese neighborhood with cheap restaurants and a lot of local color.
My Friday night phonecall to the front desk left me astonished: 1,800 yuan ($260) or the cheaper 1,400 yuan ($200).
I expected this particular Home Inns to be high but not that high.
I debated landing at the airport and trying my luck but a few Internet searches sent me to a familiar site, Holiday Inn Express.
In China, I never stay in American hotels due to the high costs but it was listed under “cheap rates” so I called.
The disappointment of the same Home Inns prices registered stongly in my voice.
I pleaded in Chinese.
“Anything cheaper? It’s just too expensive for me.”
There was a slight pause. The woman at the reservations desk seemed to be thinking.
“We have a special rate offered by the manager. 60% off, non-refundable, if you charge to your credit card. 868 yuan ($125) per night with breakfast. I can only offer to you now. If you call back later, that offer is maybe finished.”
“This is the best price in the city,” she added. “All our guests paid full price. And you are very near the Olympic venue, only 20 minutes by bus, 10 minutes by subway.”
Oh, heck. What’s a credit card for, anyway?
So that takes care of one difficulty on my worry list.
If nothing else, I have a good place to stay in the city proper, high-speed Internet room access, and a free breakfast. If I don’t manage any venue tickets, I’ll just enjoy the atmosphere and embrace the Olympic moment.
After all, isn’t that what the Games are all about?
From Chengdu, soon to be leaving for Beijing, here’s sending you “Ping An”!