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Much has been made of the scarcity of tickets in Beijing and yet in the first week there was a pandemic of half-empty stadia spreading the city. The government have been publicising their active work to shut down ticket touts and prevent illegal re-sale of official tickets. However, this is typical PR and bluff promoted through state-run media, and actually part of the reason for stadium seats being filled has been the relatively free and open re-selling taking place.

The fact is that a large number of tickets were bought early by Chinese people when Olympic ticket fever was as its peak. Now many of these people are realising that they’re not very fussed about watching an under 23’s football match, or Lycra-clad cyclists race in circles. Of course there are also people who have last minute changes of plan, or fail to find friends to join them. As a result there appear to be a decent amount of tickets ‘going spare’, and Bob has been one of the grateful recipients. So far Bob has acquired 9 tickets from a range of different sources, and has paid little over face value on average. So here is some advice (though alas it comes rather late in the day – again, blame the oft mentioned access limitations to WordPress in China).

First piece of advice, check out an article named Cheap Olympic Tickets and the Running of the Yellow Bulls from Ben, who has had even more success than Bob. Ben’s tips are:

-Pick an event and show up at the venue an hour early.

-Arrive at the event knowing you may be walking around aimlessly for the next hour or two scavenging for a ticket. Patience is a must.

-Be aware that there is probably a 15% chance you will not get in to the event at all. This chance goes up exponentially if the event happens to have an athlete named Kobe Bryant, Yao Ming, Michael Phelps, or Liu Xiang who will be competing that day.

-Find an area near one of the gates where spectators who have just arrived are walking in.

-If you see more than one yellow bull in the vicinity, find a new location.

-Know the price of a face value ticket, and have the money (exact change) in hand ready to pay. On one instance, I had made a deal for face value water polo tickets for a friend and me. As I was fishing the money out of my wallet, a yellow bull swooped in and outbid me for the tickets.

-Approach people heading towards the venue, and politely ask them if they have an extra ticket to sell. It doesn’t hurt to emphasize the fact that you actually want to see the event, and aren’t just going to turn around and re-sell it. Several of the tickets I have bought have been from people who specifically did not want their tickets to get into the hands of yellow bulls.

-If the event has already started and you still don’t have a ticket, don’t panic. The people with extra tickets are in an even bigger pickle than you are. This is prime time for people to be dumping off cheap extras. From the minute the competition starts, the value of tickets drops rapidly.

-This entire process is much, much easier if you are willing to go to events alone as opposed to in pairs or groups. Olympic tickets were originally sold in pairs, but finding someone with two extras is considerably more difficult than finding a single. Finding three or more tickets seated together is virtually impossible. For some more low-demand events (i.e. baseball and beach volleyball) you can usually sit wherever you want once you enter the stadium. These are good events to go to if you want to go in a group.

Bob’s experiences match Ben’s (Bob and Ben, what a pair!) and this certainly seems like sound advice.

For anyone looking for the touts (Huang Niu, 黄牛), Beitucheng Metro Station, at the entrance to the Olympic Green is the place to go. They have been there in force for weeks, and don’t even appear to have been put off by recent police warning signs that have been put up. Beware though, the asking prices are ridiculous so be prepared to barter hard or be ripped off.

The hypocrisy of the official statements of cracking down on illegal ticket sales is exemplified by the fact that this unofficial home for ticket re-sale is at the transfer station for all visitors entering the Olympic Green by metro, and is taking place in front of a bemused stall of Olympic Volunteers.

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The triple jump was an event in which Britain had high hopes for success and Bob has particular person interest too. Phillips Idowu was touted as one of the hottest gold medal chances in Team GB’s track and field brigade, while Bob was particularly excited about seeing an old classmate – Nathan Douglas – compete again.

Unfortunately, both have finished the event with a feeling of disappointment – Nathan missing out on the final, and Phillips winning silver (and losing gold, as he may be feeling) – though neither deserve to be feeling anything less than hugely proud. Nathan was kind enough to conduct a ‘facebook interview’ with Bob a few weeks back, which was going to be posted close to his appearance out here. However, difficulties in accessing the blog have caused a back-log and it is coming out now, when the results of his Olympic campaign are already known. Still, this is as good a time as any to extend congratulations to both and to see what Dougie has to say for himself:

1. It’s an Olympic year…how has 2008 differed from any other year so far, and what will you be doing differently?

ND: Its been a relatively slow year for me this year and it hasnt started how I would like but I do need to keep reminding myself im comin back from injury.

2. Jessica Ennis has just suffered an injury that will keep her out of the Games. Have you spoken to her since this?

ND: Yeh, obviously shes pretty disappointed and I know what thats like after last year [Nathan was injured for the 2007 World Championships in Osaka] but shes a strong girl and will get over it and come back even stronger

3. How do you go about protecting yourself from injury leading up to Beijing?

ND: Its quite hard because you dont want to back off to protect yourself cos u still need to get some quality training done, u just try to look after things that little bit more e.g. recovery strategies

4. Who’s your best friend in Team GB?

ND: Iv got many good friends in the team but I’ll probably be sharing with Christian Malcolm

5. Are there any romances in the Team?

ND: There are a few but my lips are sealed!

6. I’ve often wondered whether triple jumpers every jumper further than their PB in training, but find it difficult to repeat that in competitions?

ND: For me personally, no, because the adrenaline in competition helps me jump further

7. At school people tipped you as the most likely to be famous. I haven’t heard of anyone else from Isis School in the news. Do you ever feel famous?

ND: Nah I never feel famous and wouldnt count myself as famous either, even though its abit weird sometimes being recognised

8. Have you been to Beijing before?

ND: Nope

9. What are you most looking forward to seeing in China?

ND: Im not sure that I will get to see much in China because its all about competition, but I cant wait to see the Olympic stadium

10. What’s your favourite Chinese food? (This is a question Chinese people often ask foreigners!)

ND: Sweet and sour chicken!!!

11. Beijing could be the sight of some protests this summer. Do you have any concerns about competing in China?

ND: Obviously im aware of whats going on around the Olympic games, and understandably so, im glad the Olympics have brought this to the Worlds focus

12. Will you get a chance to see any other events at the Olympics?

ND: I should be able to fit it in after iv competed, thats the time for being a spectator

13. Which athlete would you most like to meet in Beijing?

ND: There isnt any really, you kind of get used to seeing each other around, its like seeing work colleagues around the office

14. Which Brit or Brits would you tip us to look out for in Beijing (apart from you of course!)?

ND: Simeon Williamson, Kelly Sotherton, Jeanette Kwakye, Christian Malcolm, Christine O, Nicola Sanders, Jo Pavey

Bob is still looking for embarrassing pictures of Nathan from school days, so watch this space…

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Finally the day has come and everybody – with the possible exception of those who have chosen to time such an auspicious date with wedding/child birth – is gearing up for the main event; the Opening Ceremony.

All over Shanghai people have been working half-days, leaving work early to prepare for the evening’s festivities. Bars and clubs have been promoting their venues in anticipation of a big turn out, and lost of people are hosting their own ‘Opening Ceremony Parties’. Mario & Sonic at the Olympics on the Nintendo Wii seems to be a popular themed warm up entertainment.

It’s sure to be a spectacular show (with or without Steven Spielberg!). There is keen anticipation in the air combined with a slight sense of nervousness; the run up to the Games has been slightly fraught and it seems almost inevitable that someone would target the main event tonight. It would  be a great shame if it were spoiled. But an even greater shame would be for the security to count any protest were to overshadow the entire event!

People attending the Olympic qualifying football matches last night were made to wait an hour to enter the stadium because of the high level of security. It is possible that such controls will kill all spirit and atmosphere in Beijing.

What’s more, if there should be a protest, surely most people would like to know, rather than for the whole event to be shrouded in suspicion and cynicism.

Bob has not heard estimates on the anticipated viewing figures but this will surely be one of the biggest TV events going. Every Chinese New Year it is part of the modern tradition in China for families to gather round and watch the special variety show – young and old, it seems that is just what people do. So much has been made of the Olympics nationally that the broadcasting of the Opening Ceremony may well bring people together in a similar way. Who knows how much those advertising spaces are worth!?

Fingers crossed for a spectacular show, and no sour taste afterwards.

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Beijing Air Pollution

Beijing Air Pollution

As the Olympic countdown reaches hours rather than days before kick-off, speculation about the weather condition become less abstract – will the pollution clear? – and more real – has it or not? However even now the issue of air pollution is a little hazy (apologies); conflicting stories seem and contrasting conditions seem to be stirring up debate.

Until this weekend, most reports were that pollution was not clearing – though officials blamed the smog on climatic conditions rather than industrial emmissions. China beat explains the situation well:

At the start of last week, for the fourth day in a row, emissions made it hard to see down the street, despite the fact the government ordered half the city’s cars off the road and closed factories. Officials said they would implement an emergency contingency plan on top of the existing anti-smog measures if pollution lingers closer to the Games.

Twenty-four hours later, the difference was night-and-day: thanks to a series of thunderstorms, triggered in part by the government’s arsenal of rainmaking rockets, the following days were dramatically better, like a nice day in New York.

The rain making mentioned was discussed by Bob earlier this year.

Tim Johnson summarises the conflicting media stories well by highlighting an NYT article about US cyclists with specially-made face masks and a China Daily article which appears to claim that the pollution will not impact the athletes. Well worth a read!

Then, however the smog returned with a vengence, suggesting that while the officials were correct in a way – the climatic factors do play an important part – the general level ofpollution is such that only on exceptionally good days is it relieved.

Johnson also mentions that his Beijing bureau are now publishing a daily photo (see above) of the view from their balcony and linking to to the Ministry of Environmental Protection’s website to the daily Beijing air pollution index on their Olympics home page. Great idea, though how realiable the official statistics are Bob would hate to speculate…

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Bob is delighted to be writing the Beijing Olympics Blog from China; admittedly not Beijing, but one step at a time. Unfortunately getting here has meant that it’s been a quiet time on the blog recently just the media has been full of enough Olympic news to satisfy the most eager observe. Bob would like to share responsibility for the lack of posts with KLM who run a very relaxed corporate policy towards punctuality, and the Chinese government who have an equally vigilant policy of internet censorship.

Beijing Olympic Volunteers in Shanghai

Beijing Olympic Volunteers in Shanghai

You may notice a difference in the coverage of the Beijing Olympics Blog as Bob hopes to provide a more personal experience of the Olympics, as the mainstream press are sure to be full of any and every Beijing story going.

Bob was pleased to be greeted at Shanghai’s Pudong Airport by a host of young and eager volunteers sitting underneath a Beijing 2008 banner and wearing matching uniforms.

“Do you have information about the Olympics?”

“No, sorry.”

“Oh, do you have information about the Olympic football in Shanghai?”

“No, we just have information about Shanghai.”

“Or how to get to Beijing from Shanghai?”

“No, just Shanghai.”

Still, they did have lots of information about Shanghai!

For the record, although a lot of news coverage appears to have been given to the government’s relaxation of censorship on parts of the web – including the BBC, certain Amnesty sites and content about the 1989 Tian’anmen Square incident – they have not unblocked WordPress. This will probably be enough to appease the IOC who had demanded that the Great Firewall of China be lowered for the Games. This has made accessing and updating the Beijing Olympics Blog quite difficult, and of course it is extremely frustrating that hardly anyone in the mainland will be able to read it. The next update will come as soon as possible, all things considered J

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The Lost Ring is a brand new ARG (which apparently stands for Alternative Reality Game) centred around the Beijing Olympics and jointly sponsored by the IOC and one of the 2008 Games’ official partners.

Bob is no expert in ARG’s and was informed about The Lost Ring by a colleague (thanks Liz), so decided to do some research. According to Liz:

“The internet is aflutter with rumours about a new alternate reality game…The Lost Ring began last week [Bob has a feeling this may be a little out of date], when certain gamers received a package in the post with a web address hidden in a ball of string.”

Intriguing…

Upon visiting the site – www.TheLostRing.com – you are shown a fantastic fantasy video (think Lord of the Rings meets ancient Greece) that sets a dramatic scene but gives few answers…

…so on a mission to find out more Bob found a post on Global voices which lead to the Virtual China blog, which happens to have an excellent introduction to the Game courtesy of Lyn Jeffery.

The Game is centred around eight main characters from China, Japan, Germany, Spain, US, UK, Brazil and France and the big idea is collaboration. These characters have super powers and mysterious pasts and are ‘played’ in real time online so that other players can interact with them – see their profile pages here.

So far there are apparently 15,000 people playing in China alone. According to Lyn:

“The game is designed to be impossible to make serious progress in unless you can figure out how to be part of a collective… It is fascinating to watch how this kind of highly emergent, non-rules-based, collaborative game is diffusing into China. In China, where this kind of gaming doesn’t exist, it’s hasn’t been so easy to engage a distributed community and link it up to a global community of players who mostly don’t speak Chinese.”

A number of issues face Chinese players, including language (much of the content is user generated, and so not necessarily provided in Chinese) cultural (Chinese gamers aren’t used to this kind of collaboration) and political (the Great Firewall prevents access to some resources that the players use, including The Lost Ring’s very own wiki). However Lyn observes:

“What seems to be happening, however, is that the translation problem is becoming a feature of the game, not a bug, which is perfect.  The community is self-organizing to deal with the communication problems, which appear to be most acute with the Chinese language materials.”

So it looks as if this by-product of the Olympics is building bridges of communication between the people of all countries, and particularly between them and Chinese people. That can only be a good thing.

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You’ve heard the songs, now check out the Beijing Olympics Rap ‘Beijing welcomes you back’, by local group In Three.

From track & field to swimming/
From the Bird’s Nest (National Stadium) to the Watercube (National Aquatics Center)/
China’s people are realizing an Olympic Dream/
Participating determinedly, achieving victory/
Winning glory for our socialist country/
Our national flag rises above Tian’anmen with the sun

Blogging Beijing has a full interview with In Three, or check out the rap here:

The topics of their rap are not uncommon for China. Chinese rappers do not tend to rhyme about ‘guns and hos’; partly perhaps because they wouldn’t be speaking from any experience, but also for cultural reasons. The current social climate is such that topics tend to centre around daily life – as The Times’ Jane Macartney puts it “the right to party is still controlled by the Party”.

Rap in China is a relatively new phenomenon in China – pop music is dominated with sickly-sweet ballads sung by cute, clean-cut stars. However Bob has been lucky enough to see one Chinese crew spit when Beijing’s Dragon Tongue Squad came to London to play the Royal Opera House. As part of the China Now festival in London – a programme of cultural events leading up to the Olympics – DTS came over and spent a week collaborating with British born Chinese (BBC) artists DJ Phat and Suki Mok.

About the topics of their raps DST’s Kirby Li (aka Verbal Confucius) tell Jane Macartney:

“We have to keep our lyrics real,” Li says. “The life of people in China has nothing to do with drugs, guns or violence but it’s more about how hard it is to find a job and how you feel when your boss curses you or your girl dumps you.”

‘Beijing welcomes you back’ is suitably patriotic and upbeat to fit the profile of an Olympic tune; In Three know that “The Olympics are a business, you know”. But asked about this bringing them global exposure they respond: “Don’t count on it… streets will be blocked, nightclubs shut down. There won’t be hip hop in the Opening Ceremonies.”

Finally, for a historical look at the origins of rap in China see this informative advertisement:

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