Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Olympic Soccer in TianJin

Sunday morning I got up and had breakfast again with everyone at the hotel.  We decided that a big group of us would like to go the USA Soccer match that evening in TianJin, which is a big city about 2 or 3 hours (depending on traffic) away from Beijing.  I honestly didn’t know that at the time we decided to go to it, I thought it was just a suburb or something right outside of Beijing

Do I scream "Amerca" or what!? ;)

So there were 18 of us who decided to go, and the match started at 5pm.  We worked out the logistics and sent two guys down to the north train station to buy train tickets for us for the 3pm train.  We had heard from the day before that the trains were sold out and people were waiting for hours to get on them to get to TianJin, so we planned ahead!  The guys for some reason only bought 15 tickets, thinking that some people would drop out or change there mind.  So at 2:15pm, we all met in the lobby of the hotel and got in taxis to take us to the train station.  We had a lot of people (investors) that were still pretty nervous about traveling and the whole idea, so I had to round up 4 taxis and make sure each driver knew that we were together and we all wanted to go to the same place…that isn’t too easy in China!  But somehow, we all made it to almost the exact same spot at the right train station about 20 minutes later. 

I got everyone out, did a quick head count, and headed in to try and find our gate.  The train station was very nice, clean and new, so that was good surprise. Well, like I said earlier, we had 18 people, and only 15 tickets.  Two of the guys (who took a different cab on there own to try and get to the station earlier to buy more tickets, actually ended up at the WRONG train station!  (There are 3 or 4 big train stations in Beijing.)  So they were late and were obviously not going to make our train.  The next one to TianJin didn’t leave until 5pm, so that really sucked for them.  I got everyone down the terminal to the right train, and it was me and Joe standing at the gate with one ticket left…and about 2 minutes to spare before we missed the train.  He handed it to me and said I had to go, so I left him standing there, the train sold out, and the next one not leaving for two hours.  I felt so bad!  :(

So I went running down the terminal, and luckily one of the investors was standing outside the train waving at me to hurry.  I made it on, sat down in my spot, and the train took off about 30 seconds later!  The train was very nice (just like the station) and it wasn’t until then that I figured out it was one of those new high speed bullet trains that pretty much goes so fast it just floats along the tracks…and that’s when I put two and two together and realized we were going a LONG ways away from Beijing! 

30 minutes later, after literally FLYING through the countryside, we arrived in TianJin.   Of course no one had been there, and no one had any idea where we were going.  So that was just great.  Everyone was following me, and I was just following the crowed walking off the train…no clue.  We found the “taxi waiting area” and decided to take a cab to the soccer (futbol) stadium…thinking (or hoping) that the cab driver would speak enough English to get us there.  Well of course that didn’t happen!  None of the cab drivers speak English…I have no idea what I was thinking.  So now I have 15 people with me, and am waiting in line for taxis and just know that it’s not going to work.  And I was right.  There were police officers lined up all over at the waiting area rushing people on to the taxis.  He yelled at us to go, so I ran to the taxi and asked him if he could take us to the football stadium – Olympics – soccer game – you know?  Blank stare…great…run to the next cab and same thing.  Well now the police officer is yelling at me for holding up the line and not getting in, and he puts a couple of my people in to a cab.  It was so loud and just crazy - sensory and emotional overload, but thankfully I saw them get in.  No! NOOO!  I started yelling and yanked them back out…we had no idea where we were going!  I tried to talk to the cop, but he quickly figure out we weren’t communicating!  He grabbed me and the rest of my group (who had scattered out along the street) and put us all together and yelled in to the waiting line something I'm sure to the effect of, ‘Who here can speak to these stupid Americans!?”  We were all dressed up in our crazy red white and blue USA outfits, so it was very obvious where we were from!  One guy raised his hand a came to the front, I told him where we were trying to go, he told the police offer, and stressed to him (after my prompting) that it was VERY IMPORTANT that all four of our taxis stay together.  So he got all of us in four taxis, and we were off…hoping and praying now that we all end up at the same place again! 

I mean come on…four taxis in a huge city in China during the Olympics staying together??  WHAT was I thinking….   Tianjin is very big…and it was very crazy since it was Sunday and I’m pretty sure at least 90% of the city was going to this soccer match!  We all stayed together (the four taxis) for probably 10 minutes…and then I couldn’t see all of them anymore.  Shocking huh.  After 30 minutes or so of driving through the city and sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, the guy stopped at a busy intersection and pointed to the right…where there were approximately 80 thousand Asians walking.  So we got out, thinking we were doomed and never going to find the other taxis.  About two minutes later, another one pulled up, and some of our crazy red, white, and blue guys got out.  So now we kind of stood out.  We stood in front of everyone – practically out on the middle of the street, and waited.  About 10 minutes later, another taxi pulled up.  So now Michael (another co-worker) and I decided we had to find tickets.  Not too many people spoke English (shocking!) so it wasn’t going so well.  I found a nice guy who kind of spoke English, and told us we needed to go across the street away from the stadium (and the row of police behind us) to buy tickets.  Just then, some old lady walked by with a little sign that said “I have tickets”.  Michael tapped her on the shoulder and followed her away.  He texted me a couple of minutes later and said she had five for 500 RMB per piece (around $80 USD) and I told him to take them.  I wasn’t having any luck standing in front of the stadium, and the other people (still missing one taxi) were getting restless and doubtful that we would get tickets.  Of course I couldn’t let that happen! :) (Side note: Who drags 15 investors to an Olympic event half way across China with no tickets??  This girl does!)   So I went back to the nice guy that spoke to us – he was just on the other side of the street, and I asked him to write down in Chinese that I need 15 tickets to the soccer game.  He kind of laughed and wrote it down.  So off I went…wandering against (the opposite direction) the sea of Asians heading to the game.  I got a block or two away, and the ENTIRE way, everyone looked at me, read my sign, took a picture (seriously), and laughed!  It was great. :) Eventually (probably 10 minutes later) this one guy was kind of following me.  Some other guy pointed to him, so I asked him if he had tickets and showed him my sign.  He started talking to me in Chinese…I mean full sentences.  Blank stare from me.  I said, “I ONLY SPEAK ENGLISH!” very frustrated.  So we weren’t getting anywhere.  I called Chris Wu (translator!) and told him what I was trying to do and that I thought this guy might have tickets.  I don’t know why, but I just handed my new cell phone to this guy.  Sometimes I’m a little naïve – he could have just run off with it I guess.  But he just stood there and talked to Chris for a couple of minutes and handed it back.  Chris said the guy had tickets and to go with him.  Go with him?  Where are we going??  By this time, everyone knows that I am buying tickets and what’s going on…that I’m not trying to get them busted by the cops or anything, so there is literally a swarm of guys around me pulling on me trying to get my attention showing tickets.  Seriously, I’m talking at least 10 guys trying to pull on me and get my attention.  The guy who talked to Chris pulled me over to the curb of the street and yelled at all the other guys to leave me alone I guess, so they just stood there lurching behind me.  Creepy.  He had his little entourage of 5 or 6 guys with him, and he handed me 10 tickets.  I looked at them, counted them, and said how much?  He took my piece of paper and wrote down 2,000.  That’s only 200RMB/ticket, which was much cheaper than what Michael got, so I said okay and got out my money.  I counted out 2000 RMB.  I handed it to him to re-count and he handed me the tickets.  I still had at least 100 in my hand, because I hadn’t put it all away yet.  He started to re-count and all of a sudden he just put the money down and turned away from me, and all the other guys disappeared in to the crowd.  Not really knowing what was going on, but feeling that it wasn’t good, I turned around to see three cops standing right there.  It is very illegal in China to scalp tickets, I knwe that.  One guy still standing there grabbed the other cash out of my hand and ran, and one of the cops reached for my tickets and I just ran the opposite direction from the guys.  They ran, so I just ran the other way!  I didn't know what else to do - it's not like I had time to sit there and process what I should or shouldn't do at this point!  This all happened in about 1.5 seconds and with lots of loud yelling from the cops.  Two of the cops went after the guys with the money, and one came after me.  Talk about an adrenaline rush!  I was freaking getting chased by a cop in Tianjin, China!  I was TOTALLY freaking out and had absolutely no idea what I was going to do if I got caught or what I was going to do when I got to the busy intersection a few blocks ahead that I had to cross to get to the stadium…I was just running and dodging Asians as fast as I could!  I don’t even know how far he chased me, I’m sure they were more mad at the Asians for selling the tickets, but I jut kept running right through the intersection, which was pretty much at a complete stand still with traffic so it wasn’t that hard…just around a couple of taxis and I could see my group standing there.  I came sprinting up to them, completely out of breath, and drenched in sweat.  It was about 90 degrees (seriously) and probably 90% humidity – typical China summer – so I was dying.  The cop was gone by known from what I could see, but I was still a little worried, so I said we needed to go in quickly before they spotted me again.  I wasn’t too hard to spot…in my red white and blue USA shirt and bright red socks up to my knees, and a short jean skirt! :)  The other taxi still wasn’t there yet, but after explaining what had just happened, we decided to move over to the side of the street – away from the middle of the intersection.  Michael had got a text that the other taxi got dropped off at a totally different section of the stadium, so we went off to try and meet them…all set with tickets now and still a little hyped up from my chase! :) 

The stadium was HUGE…I took lots of pictures! 

(The Asians LOVE me!)

 Not all of our tickets were together, so we kind of split up, and decided to meet at a bank across the street from the stadium after the game.  We got in and found our seat right at half time of the first match, Japan versus Nigeria.  Those boys from Nigeria could run forever!  The Japanese were no match for them.  In between games we went down to the souvenir shop and tried to find a bathroom and some food.  The bathroom was a hole in the ground, no toilet paper, no soap, and no paper towels.  Pretty typical, but still disgusting!  I don’t remember what they had for food, but it was terrible.  I took a picture of the concession stand sign and all the weird food they had to offer.  I ended up eating a snickers bar for my lunch/dinner. 

USA played the Netherlands and it was SO SO exciting!  There were little pockets of Americans throughout the stadium, and we all waived our flags and did U S A chants.  There was a big group of crazy Americans that ran around the stadium waving flags everytime we scored.  It was just so cool to be there.  The whole crowed went nuts anytime there was a goal, and turns out the Chinese LOVE doing the wave! :)  The US was up the whole game, but during extra time there was a penalty shot (with literally like 5 seconds left) and the Netherlands scored!  The game ended up at a tie 2-2.  A little disappointed it ended like that, but it was still really cool and fun to be there. 

We chartered a bus to take us back to Beijing, because the last train left at 9:30pm and the game didn’t get over until 10:30pm.  So we found our little tour lady we had hired and started walking to our bus.  Along the way, I saw three young guys wearing red white and blue and found out they were from the US and living in Beijing (working).  They were also looking for a ride back to Beijing, so they followed us to our bus and we squeezed (and I mean squeezed) them on.  Over three grueling hours later (after sitting at a police check on the highway for 45 minutes) we made it back to our hotel in Beijing around 1:45am.  I pretty much crashed that night!  It was raining in Beijing all day and night, so I slept with my window open and it was just like a summer night back in Kansas! :)

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