The Beijing Olympic Games are (finally) over.
The analyses have begun concerning China’s ability to put on a beautiful show with little or no interference from all the protesters, activists, smog-emitters and terrorists who threatened to spoil the party.
Naturally, for some members of the Western media, this success proves the Games had no effect on China’s model of governance. They say China’s “oppressive control over its people” will continue unabated and there is nothing we can do about it.
But I believe the view that the Games had no effect on China is simplistic and wrong. Mainstream media just didn’t know where to look.
An example: in this story in the NYT, the writer deplores the lack of spontaneous partying in Beijing during the Games.
I thought so too, at first. When I walked through Tiananmen Square after the Opening Ceremony, it was quiet and the crowds were sparse. My crew was the loudest and most obnoxious group in the square.
We took pictures, sang “Beijing Welcomes You” and screamed “Jia You” (Go! Go!) at everyone we saw.
Within minutes the few people seated around the Forbidden City joined us and we had a mad picture taking session with about 100 people. Cops rolled past in cruisers and flashed the thumbs up sign.
Fight For Your Right To Party
As the days rolled by, Beijing loosened up and the streets came alive.
For many of the journalists covering the Games, tickets were not an issue. Most of them had all access passes, which meant they could get into most games and venues. When these journalists weren’t interviewing and taking pictures, they were in the Media Center sending off stories.
These stories tended to focus on blocked off apartment buildings, petitioners and empty protest zones.
For the rest of us, the most spontaneous, raucous, rule-defying and globalized exchange between China and the world took place in small time hustling circles throughout Bejing.
You could call it the quest for tickets.
All major sports events have scalpers. The Beijing Olympics were especially good for scalpers due to the scams that put a dent in the ticket supply, and the lack of a central distribution center for tickets.
Opening Ceremony tickets were going for as much as 5000USD around the Bird’s Nest on the first day.
The scalpers were not just “pros,” but also bands of Chinese peasants from rural areas surrounding Beijing, lottery winners hoping to cash in, VIP employees who had gathered a few extra tickets and a host of multi-national opportunists who would rather watch the ceremony on TV than sit for four hours in the stadium.
A UN Convention Of Hustlers
More than 200 separate agencies and offices received tickets from BOCOG (Beijing Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games).
These shipments were often influenced by national sentiments: the Dutch received water polo, handball and field hockey, while the Americans got athletics and basketball. Slovenians, Brazilians and others had to seek trades to get the tickets they wanted.
Even the US Embassy got into the Game. Like Darth Vader employing the bounty hunters in Star Wars, I witnessed clean-cut Embassy employees comparing a list of their tickets with a gang of professional scalpers from Liverpool. Both sides made a healthy profit.
Swimming tickets were gold. So were USA basketball tickets, which went from 400USD to 2000USD apiece.
Spaniards, Lithuanians and Americans gathered in circles with Chinese, French and English, everyone trading, selling and buying.
The scalping business boomed in the first ten days. In front of the Bird’s Nest a UN Convention of hustlers gesticulated, whispered and shook hands throughout the day.
I saw a cop buy basketball tickets for his family. The deal was struck, money exchanged hands and both parties went away smoking each others’ cigarettes.
The ticket scalping was pure, raw capitalism with no protectionist barriers, no trade wars, no violence or robbery and little to no interference from the government. This gave way to another form of raw, uncontrolled revelry.
Heading For The Climax
It took a week for the various nationalities to come out of their shells and start looking for love in the bars and discos of Beijing.
By the last night of the Olympics, the bar district of San Li Tun was a heaving, dancing, singing melange of nationalities.
Thousands of smiling faces spoke to the success of the street-level exchanges that defied any and all attempts at control.
Africans had an impromptu drum and flute circle, orange-clad Dutch chanted arm in arm with Aussies and revelers from a hundred different nations wandered from bar to bar, finding love in the lights and shadows of the night.
Groups stopped every five feet to take pictures of each other and trade national clothing.
The flashing police cars rolled through the district slowly, more to watch and take pictures than to control anything. The spectacle was something many locals don’t normally get to see.
The climax was the last Budweiser Party, where athletes groped each other under national flags, then headed to San Li Tun for a street by street dance session.
Towards sunrise, silver medalist swimmers from Australia were undressing an American in an alley, taxi drivers peeped in amazement at what went down in the back seats and several shades of people strolled away to their hotel rooms, holding hands in the hazy light of dawn.
Were you at the Olympics? What did you think of the cross-cultural exchange? Share your thoughts in the comments!