China with Polish Characteristics

August 15, 2008

Plenty of seats but no tickets

Filed under: Uncategorized — chinatalk @ 3:47 pm

From the very beginning getting Olympic tickets wasn’t easy, even for those living right here in Beijing. The procedures kept changing and the demand was so high that one always felt bit overwhelmed by the system. When the last sales opened in May, people stood in lines similar to those from the Spring Festival (when 90% of Chinese travel for family reunions) and the tickets were soon declared completely sold out. It’s surprising then that many of the stadiums are now half-empty. Some of the best seats remain untaken during the competitions, while outside crowds of people stand in lines, desperately hoping to buy something from the underground traders.

On Thursday, by a chance I managed to get a ticket for a good volleyball game (Poland-Serbia). Fans from both teams were stuck outside, unable to go in and cheer on their teams. Some of those determined to see the game finally paid well over 1000 yuan (original price: 80RMB) for a last-minute pass from the traders. Inside there were plenty of stis, which many foreigners found frustrating. “It’s ridiculous that after travelling all the way here we can’t even watch our teams, but they have to bring school trips inside just to fill some places,” told me one of the fans. “Really Beijing is a wonderful experience, but ticketing has become a nightmare.”

Why are there so few tickets around? The rumor going around has it that majority of good spots were handed out to state corporations and Party cadres. As it turned out many of them are too busy working or simply could not be bothered to come and watch anything. Officially, they are also not allowed to trade the tickets away. So the nonsense continues, with very few tickets and plenty of wasted opportunities for the spectators who’d actually care.

It’s not that I don’t think local people shouldn’t have the first grabs at their Olympics. But I feel it was overdone to the point where we’re engaging in a “guerrilla warfare,” sneaking around and trading in the streets just to participate in an international event. Nothing I haven’t experienced before, or that people couldn’t deal with, but was this really necessary?

August 13, 2008

Xinjiang + terrorists?

Filed under: Uncategorized — chinatalk @ 3:55 pm

There has been a spree of attacks against Chinese police and security forces in Xinjiang this month, and increasingly there are claims of organized terrorism in the region. Below are couple sources, which might help you to keep up with events in the province – obviously just a tip of an iceberg, but it’s a start:

Check out the New Dominion (, which among other things aggregates most of the news reports on the events in the region.

Also take a look at the Opposite End of China (, a local blog written by an expat.

August 11, 2008

Quality investigative journalism

Filed under: Uncategorized — chinatalk @ 4:02 pm

In an exclusive dispatch from Beijing, the Onion reports on People’s industrious coverage of the Olympics – very entertaining.

What’s less amusing is that many of the news services currently in the capital wouldn’t hesitate to promote such a story, regardless of the extent to which it’s true or relevant.

August 10, 2008

Cheer cautiously

Filed under: Uncategorized — chinatalk @ 10:01 am

Apparently the government has asked Chinese spectators to restrain themselves from excessive cheering at the sports events, fearing it would totally overwhelm the foreigners. In the interests of fair competition shouting jia you, the popular cheer translating directly as “add oil,” is now strictly discouraged. However as you will see in the video below, the regulations could not contain the bursting energy of Chinese people 🙂 I hope this will become a pattern. The final moments leading up to the opening ceremony were filmed at Tiananmen and in Ditan Park.


PS. Couple of direct takes from the transmission of the opening ceremony had to be taken out of this video (copyright issues, apparently). You can still download the uncut version at the bittorrent – no crime intended.

August 9, 2008

Olympic peace shattered

Filed under: Uncategorized — chinatalk @ 6:04 pm

It is tragic, but the euphoria from the successful opening ceremony of Beijing Olympics did not last long. Even as the athletes marched around the National Stadium, two of the participating countries engaged in open military hostility, with Russian bombers and tanks attacking targets in Georgia. The situation in that region was tense ever since the government coup in Georgia (Velvet revolution, 2003), but now it could deteriorate into the next Chechnya. So much for the Olympic peace…

But the other tragedy happened right here in Beijing. The news just broke of a deadly attack in which a Chinese man stabbed two relatives of the U.S. volleyball team coach while they were visiting the Drum Tower (Gulou) in the historic center of Beijing. The man has than leapt from the building to his death. It is not clear why he attacked the victims (one of them died) but it sends shockwaves across the world – the Olympics tainted with murder hours after the opening.

August 7, 2008

The Olympic (in)security

Filed under: Uncategorized — chinatalk @ 3:58 pm

The Olympic countdown is proving to be quite exciting. In less than 24 hours all eyes will be on the National Stadium in Beijing, the so called Bird’s Nest, where the opening ceremony will highlight the result of seven long years of Olympic preparations. The stadium has become a new symbol of modern China and its international ambition, and arguably one of the most heavily guarded places in the country. It’s interesting than, that things have slipped out of control at the Nest this week, not once but twice. The government really lost face when Korean TV journalists attending dress rehearsal of the opening ceremony blatantly broadcast over one minute of footage to their national channel – Beijing’s secret show was out on air for everyone to see.

But at least the journalists were a part of invited audience. Early morning on Tuesday, however, four members of Students for Free Tibet, managed to climb the electric poles in front of the Bird’s Nest and unfurl their banners proclaiming: One World, One Dream, Free Tibet.

How was this possible? Perhaps one could forgive an incident at the Worker’s Stadium near Sanlitun party district, or at one of university gymnasiums, but the National Stadium?

 “It’s ridiculous,” said my Chinese teacher, a native Beijinger. “They put all this pressure on our daily life, enforce strict limits, yet can’t even control what happens at a top sports venue?”

I can see why people get angry. The security has become really tight, with additional cops on the streets, roadblocks around the city and cumbersome checks in the subways. Yet instead of a sense of security, one only finds it more unsettling and anxious. People in the uniforms, just as all the others, are really worried about anything going wrong. None of them could bear to see China’s great event making an embarrassing blunder – so while the atmosphere is increasingly festive, some are visibly on the edge, keeping their fingers crossed. Let’s hope that everything really works out. And that it doesn’t rain on Friday.

August 3, 2008

The new face of Beijing

Filed under: Uncategorized — chinatalk @ 3:16 am

It’s only five days until the Olympics and the whole city is taking on a flush of excitement. Out on the streets all the shops and houses have fixed Chinese flags over their door and many streets are decorated with lampions and street artwork. The air in the city cleared up a lot and Beijing suddenly lost its grey and depressing exterior – I never suspected it was the pollution that made it feel so heavy and unpleasant. Right now, the city looks cheerful and full of lingering charm. Like never before, all the little alleys, courtyards and public squares seem to have come to life, breathing and opening up like fresh flowers. It’s a really beautiful city, but we hardly ever had a chance to see it like that. For years, almost everything was lost under grey smog and construction projects. How I wish, the factories and trucks would stay shut even after the Olympics…
The look, the atmosphere, but especially the events are bound to make this month a charmed, unique experience. I plan to blog on a regular basis now and provide an interesting glimpse into the daily life around the Olympics – do keep up with the site.
A quick technical note: quite often the videos I post here seem to be unavailable for viewing, possibly due to internet censorship in China. If you’ll find that regular proxy’s (, tor, anchor free, etc.) don’t help, go straight to where you can see all of my work. The channel ID is: polskipekin.

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