BEIJING DISPATCH: Lucky 8-8-08
BEIJING -- It is Opening Ceremony Day for the Olympic Summer Games in Beijing, China. This morning we awoke and discovered a group of about 15-20 young couples lined up in the lobby preparing for their weddings.
August 8, 2008 (8 is a lucky number) is a date considered in Chinese culture as very lucky and will assure the couple, who marry on this day, future prosperity. All of the brides were adorned in long white wedding dresses and the grooms were dressed in dark suits. The Chinese remain a very superstitious culture and will plan dates and events on dates that ensure luck.
We asked hotel staff to notify us if any tickets for the Opening Ceremony became available. We have tried to purchase Opening Ceremony tickets through our tour group for the last two years but have been unsuccessful. This morning one of the hotel staff notified us that a "friend" had tickets he would part with for $15,000 each!!!! Of course, we declined the offer but told him that if his "friend" dropped the price substantially we might be interested.
Several people with whom we have spoken would like to attend the Opening Ceremony but NOBODY has tickets. Many people are going to travel into the city to watch the event on huge screens set up near the venue. I expect the night air will be very humid and hot-not a comfortable place to be. We will watch the event in the hotel cinema which has air conditioning and drinks of our choice.
We ventured into the city this morning and toured Beihai Park, the largest Imperial Gardens in the world and a popular area for dating couples. The park sits in the middle of the city and is covered with exotic plants, huge water lilies, historic structures, and a famous Chinese restaurant. The adjoining lake is very large and many couples and families rent boats to paddle around the lake. All of this takes place in stifling heat and humidity. Although you get use to being wet all of the time, your eyes are constantly scanning the neighborhood for the rare shop enclosure that might have A/C for a brief break before you continue on your way.
We discovered the subway today. The system is very efficient, very crowded, and very cheap (about 30 cents per person). The taxi system is also great. The taxis are very clean and relatively inexpensive. A 30-minute trip will cost about $9.00 and taxis are everywhere.
The town is in close down mode today in anticipation of the Ceremonies. Most popular attractions are closed for the day. We are surprised by the absence of "obvious" American tourists in the city. We rarely hear English spoken outside the hotel-where are the tourists?
We are off to another wonderful and creative dinner and then to the hotel cinema. The air has not cleared and, in fact, looks worse this evening than it did earlier today. Although fireworks are scheduled I wonder how they will be viewed through the haze-it is really thick.
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