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Monday, July 28, 2008
REPORTING FROM ...
THE BEIJING BUREAU



This isn't legal Chinese tender, but it might as well be.

Ten days until the Opening Ceremonies. Got your ticket?

The fourth and final phase of ticket sales started Friday and ended Sunday, with booths operating at various locations throughout the city. It was complete with all the predictable travails accompanying low supply and high demand: general confusion, pointed chaos, miscommunication, etc. Add to that some hot and muggy weather and you have a recipe for certain discontent. All told, however, the three-day sale went off without much incident. It was smoother than Phase 1, anyway, when a computer overload caused BOCOG to switch from a first-come, first-served basis to a lottery system. That time, with 1.85 million tickets available, organizers underestimated demand by a factor of eight. This time, only 250,000 tickets were available for Beijing-based events, and it would be all first-come, first-served. Madeleine Wilcox, a Penn student studying at Tsinghua University, was one of the 30,000-plus who went to the main ticket office on Friday, where some had been in line two days before. There was a mass of people squeezed together in the stifling heat, forming no semblance of a queue, guarded by officers. Only sporadically would they inch forward, apparently towards an area where small groups would be allowed to enter a real "line" leading to a ticket window. "Does this happen back in the States?" a Chinese man behind Wilcox asked. "No," she replied. "Zhe shi yi ge Zhongguo de tedian," he laughed. This is a Chinese specialty.

Others were not so good-humored. As Wilcox was leaving the queue, she noticed a group of a few dozen cops moving to the front of the crowd, where an incident was brewing between a group of Hong Kong journalists-cum-paparazzi and Beijing police. There was disobedience followed by shoving, grabbing and a paddy wagon (footage here and here but ultimately no harm. Perhaps as a sign that the Olympics really are near, apologies were even issued from both sides. By 7 p.m. Sunday, all tickets for Beijing events were gone. Among the original 6.8 million tickets, only a few thousand remain (for soccer matches outside the city and equestrian in Hong Kong). There will be no half-filled venues like in Athens, where a little more than two-thirds of the 5.3 million available tickets were sold. On the Internet, tickets for premium events like the U.S. vs. China basketball game have been sold for up to 100 times their face value—all very illegally, of course.

Maybe that's why, for lots of people, the wait last weekend was worth it. For seven hours, Callie Wang and three of her friends battled crowds and the heat, put up with constant grumbling about lack of organization and other wacky ordeals (it involves sprinting from gate to gate in front of Workers' Stadium). But when she finally got the tickets she wanted—a pair for women's soccer—"We were so excited," she says. "One-hundred-and-fifty kuai [$21] each. For 150 kuai each, we got Olympics tickets. "It was definitely worth it."

ALSO ON THE PODIUM

Torch relay update: Just passed: Anyang City in Henan, China's most populous province. Next up: Shijiazhuang, a scenic city abundant in resources with both a deep history and a keen eye on development, owing to its favorable location relatively close to big cities (Beijing and Tianjin), mountains, the sea and coal mines alike.

For more of the Beijing Bureau, CLICK HERE