Despite my exuberance at getting a ticket on Saturday, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d been too hasty. I debated if I should have waited, or offered a lower price
That was before I surfaced from the above-ground Beituchen subway station, which deposits all into the Olympic Sports Center. This subway station is the local hang-out for quite a few scurrying to purchase venue tickets.
As soon as spectators leave the subway escalators, we enter the scalpers’ territory, or rather the lion’s den, as I call it. Official signs are everywhere, warning against scalping, but these ticket sellers are positioned everywhere. Some sit on the building’s steps. Others stand in lines. All openly displayed their tickets while hundreds walk the rows. Prospective buyers finger, inspect, scrutinize, and discuss all tickets in the hopes of getting a decent price.
They’re out of luck. These sellers aren’t budging.
The first day of encountering the lion’s den, I already had my ticket in hand. I leisurely toured the lines, however, just to find out how well I had done.
The prices astounded me.
Original 300 yuan ( $14.50) tickets such as mine were going for 800 yuan ( $116) or higher. Prices only kept climbing, even when events were just a few hours (or even 30 minutes) from starting.
For 1,500 yuan ($217), a $14.50 ticket could be had for soccer.
For 2,000 yuan ($290), a $29 ticket could be bought for wrestling.
For 4,000 yuan ($580), a $72 ticket could be purchased for diving finals.
Every mention of price, I gasped in astonishment.
“So expensive!” I said in Chinese. “Who will buy this ticket? Chinese are poor. I’m poor! We all come to experience the Olympics. We have no way to purchase these. What a shame!”
Although the foreigner’s lament in Chinese caused many to smile, they sat smugly in their spot. They shrugged their shoulders. They continued to wait. With a spider’s patience, they knew their webs would eventually catch one of us.
Sure enough, that first day I watched desperate Chinese and foreign visitors pay anywhere from $80 to $500 for tickets officially bought for much less.
I felt sorry for one American university student who wanted gymnastics. She pleaded with those of us milling about if we had one, but none of us did.
I only came across one seller with a lone gymnastics ticket. His price? $435. The ticket’s original price? $57.
One deviously sly scalper was offering a ticket almost at face value.
A 200 yuan ($28) Equestrian ticket for 250 ($36).
A real bargain unless you consider where the venue is: Hong Kong. I have no doubt some uninformed visitor, eager to get a bargain, eventually bought it.
Beating the Scalpers
Although this lion’s den seemed hopeless for those of us on a budget, I found out on Day 2 (Sunday) that a foreigner’s Chinese can go a long way.
Saturday night, I had experienced the Olympic moment in person. By Sunday morning, I was still on my Olympic high. I really wanted another venue ticket and was ready to try my hand at tackling the immovable Beituchen scalpers.
This would take some strategy.
After studying their reactions and demeanor the day before, I was ready.
It was a simple enough ploy. I planned to find a ticket I wanted and then play the sympathy card: I’m a teacher from Chengdu. I’m in the earthquake zone. It was so terrible. Some of my students’ parents died. I came to Beijing to relax and see the Olympics. Please, can you give me a cheaper price?
After scanning the lion’s den row of tickets, I found water polo preliminaries enticing. It was a sport not too popular. Perhaps my sad story might be more likely to bring down the price.
The scalper was asking 800 ($115) for his $14.50. I launched into my plea.
The man shook his head but his companion, sitting next to him, poked him several times.
“Her Chinese is good,” he said. “She’s from the earthquake zone. Give her the ticket. 500 ($72).”
“I’ll pay 400 ($58),” I chirped eagerly.
Again, my seller shook his head even though his friend continued to urge him onward to give me the ticket.
Eventually, I gave it up.
“What can I do?” I sighed. “Maybe I can buy another ticket. Bye!”
Suddenly, the man stood up. He glanced apprehensively one way and then another. Looking me in the eye, he nodded his head but said quietly, “Not here. Follow me.”
It seems there’s some kind of agreement among these scalpers. They are in cahoots about selling tickets. They work together and help each other, so if one strays too far from the fold in offering lower prices, that person is on the black list. By moving away from the lion’s den, he could more easily get away with giving me my 400 yuan ticket.
We had to walk completely across the street, hunker down behind a trash receptacle and wait a minute or two to make sure no pedestrians were going by. Finally, I was allowed to pull out my money.
Once again, another Olympic ticket was mine: Water polo at the Ying Dong Natatorium (not the Cube) for the next day, Monday, at 2 p.m.
That evening, an Internet search on Olympic schedules revealed just how great my buy had been. I would be watching not one but three men’s matches. One of these was USA vs. Germany. An event to cheer on my country’s team! What more could I ask for?
And I made sure to bring paints. If you’re going to the Olympics, face painting is the “in” thing. I planned to “USA” myself to the fullest, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to appropriately display national pride in another country. How cool is that?
I’m behind a day in reporting for Sunday, Day 2.
I did manage yet another weighlifting event on Sunday night, the men’s 94 kg (206 lbs), which was at the same venue as the women’s. Although I didn’t have a ticket, I just showed up at the venue gate and hoped for the best. Sure enough, an American from Boston had an extra ticket which he sold me for 300 yuan.
The funny thing about this second time to the same place was that people knew me. While going through the ticket and security checks, and even when inside of the gymnasium, quite a few volunteers welcomed me back. For some reason, they had remembered me from the night before. It probably wasn’t too difficult. I was so excited, I think I chatted away with each one of them. Hard to forget an overly enthusiastic foreigner who speaks Chinese.
This time around, I had a better seat and I was informed. I now knew enough about the sport to follow it with more understanding. Sadly, no American was lifting but I enjoyed those from Kazakhstan. Their athlete, Llya Ilin, won. But it wasn’t the men who impressed me as much as our English announcer. He just rattled off those amazingly difficult names from Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Georgia and Uzbekistan as if they were all his native tongue. You try agilely rolling Arsen Kasabiev , Bartlomiej Bonk or Roman Konstantinov of the tip of your tongue and see how far you get.
In my opinion, the final weightlifting gold medal goes to our announcer.
Calling It Quits for The Day
Although I’d love to tell you all about today’s water polo matches, not to mention some very interesting people encounters, I’m afraid I have to call it quits for tonight. I’m tired, and tomorrow I return to Chengdu.
I can honestly leave happily, having done everything I’ve wanted to do. I’ve seen 3 Olympic events, enjoyed 2 medal ceremonies, cheered on my US team to victory (more on that), met some amazing individuals and had the experience of a lifetime. This trip will definitely be one of my "Top 10 best things I’ve done in my lifetime" list, no doubt about it.
Be sure to check my blog for more Olympic stories yet to come!
Until next entry, Ping An (Peace), everyone!