BEIJING DISPATCH: Ticket envy

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On the first day of Olympics competition, Dr. Bob Elliott reflects on the frustration of being a spectator. Some venues sit practically empty, and yet the staff refuse to allow people to go sit in the seats, saying that the seats are already sold. He wonders how a sea of empty seats will appear on television as the events move into the finals. | OLYMPIC SCHEDULE

BEIJING - Last night the Opening Ceremony introduced the world to a side of China rarely seen. Although we have been trying to purchase Opening Ceremony tickets for two years we have been unsuccessful.  Early yesterday morning, a hotel staff member offered us two tickets at $15,000 each — we declined. Instead, we opted to watch the ceremony from the television in our room.  As we watched the extravaganza we realized that, although the technical elements were impressive, we were unable  to interpret much of the ceremony.  Unfortunately, the T.V. commentary was offered solely in Chinese.

Today, competition officially began.  For the first time we spotted "obvious tourists" in the city. They started to swarm all of the tourist sites.  Everyone seems to be settling in and dealing with the language barrier in a fairly efficient manner. Both the tourists and Beijingers are actively trying to learn about each other’s culture and get to know one another during this exciting time. Although I anticipated being taken advantage of when money was involved, this has not been the case.  I had one merchant at a tourist site today point out to me that I had overpaid.  He returned my money.  All of the taxi drivers we have encountered (about four a day) have been honest and have taken us in the most direct route to our destinations.  I have learned that it is important to be very careful about your belongings because it is easy for items to fall out of your pockets. Belongings are much safer in zippered pockets and purses – Velcro just doesn’t do it.

Today was another hot day.  The temperature was once again in the 80’s and 90’s.  However, it is the humidity that makes wandering around the city so difficult.  You are constantly searching for rooms with fans or A/C.  The good news is that today the sun actually broke through and we saw shadows and the sun. However, thunderstorms are predicted for tomorrow.  On Friday morning, the Chinese fired more than 1,000 cloud-seeding rockets into the sky to prevent rain from interfering with the Opening Ceremony—more cloud seeding is expected during the next few days.

Today we inquired about getting tickets to events for this week.  Another member of our travel group had tickets for the indoor volleyball event today.  He informed us that no ticket-scalpers were outside the indoor volleyball venue although one-third of the seats in the venue were empty.  The ticket window staff told him that the seats were sold and that they could not fill them with anyone. If this situation continues into the finals, I believe it will be embarrassing for the Chinese to have so many empty seats within the view of the cameras Seoul, Korea Olympics in 1988 the officials finally just opened the doors so that empty seats could be filled.

Tomorrow we anticipated visiting the Bell Tower but an American tourist was killed by a Chinese man at that location.  There has been very little coverage of this event although violent crime directed towards tourists is rare in China.  Our plans may change.

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