Two articles in US papers today were about something I've been noticing this week — the empty stands and poor food at these Games. In Beijing is Dressed Up but No One is Going, Amy Shipley at the Washington Post writes this:
to handle an unforeseen and baffling problem inside Summer Games venues
and at the showpiece Olympic Park.
Not enough people.
Two weeks after announcing they had sold every one of the record 6.8
million tickets offered for the Games, Olympics officials expressed
dismay at the large numbers of empty seats at nearly every event and
the lack of pedestrian traffic throughout the park, the 2,800-acre
centerpiece of the competition….
Officials and observers offered several explanations for the empty
seats. Some speculated that tickets reserved for sponsors and VIPs
might be going unused in preliminary or qualifying rounds as officials
with a claim to them wait for the finals. Chinese organizers provided
large state-run enterprises with blocks of tickets, particularly to
non-marquee events, to distribute to workers. Many of those employees
may simply be deciding it is not worth the hassle to use them.
rain showers that washed out some events Sunday — for keeping many
home. He also noted that some tickets include access to more than one
session, which could encourage the holders to skip the less interesting
events of the day.
Others said the more strict visa restrictions in place this year
could be keeping foreign ticket holders away. Across Beijing, hotels
and tourist sites are reporting below-average attendance for August.
Many of the foreigners in Tiananmen Square, under tight security for
the Games, are not individual tourists but part of Olympic delegations.
My money says that the biggest factor is the one about so many tickets being distributed to state-run enterprises, to distribute to workers. They did that, and the workers are not only not so interested in attending, but in fact are working hard to sell their tickets, at greatly inflated prices. Even now, there are lots of tickets that are being sold on the internet and other places. But they are ridiculously overpriced, so are not selling as well as had most likely been hoped for. So the stands are empty.
Then there's the nutty hotel situation, which I blame on a combination of the visa restrictions and outright greed. Hotels didn't just raise their prices for the Games, they shot them into orbit. I have some friends in town this week who are staying at a hotel where room rates are normally 170 yuan/night (app. $25.00). On August 1st, their rates shot up to 1500 yuan/night (nearly $200). We're talking about a Chinese 2 star hotel here. For 200 bucks????? And they wonder why business is bad.
China is famous for its culinary treasures, but its
Olympics are starting to be known as a dining disaster. Spectators
across Beijing's sparkling new Olympic stadiums are reporting long
lines and concession stands that have run out of even the most basic
snacks. At many, all that's for sale are saltine crackers, dry instant
noodles (no hot water provided), plain bread rolls and potato chips.
The shortages highlight one of the thorniest problems
of China's massive Olympic project. While impressive stadiums were
completed with dazzling speed, there's still a long way to go to
develop the know-how to run them.
At the opening ceremonies Friday, the only meal option before the event
was buns with a slice of bacon, ketchup and mayonnaise. On Sunday, the
few hot dogs and sandwiches available at the beach volleyball stadium
were already sold out when the evening session kicked off at 6 p.m.,
for an event set to run until midnight.
Hungry spectators are turning to other means,
including smuggling in pizza. Elyse Ribbons, a 27-year-old American
playwright living in Beijing, said one of her friends tried to buy the
hot meal off of a Chinese worker at one of the venues. First he tried
20 yuan. Then 50.
"But he wouldn't go for it," said Ms. Ribbons. "Chinese food is really good, and they could have just sold that," she said.
Tomorrow I'm off to beach volleyball. I think I'll be up all night tonight trying to figure out how to smuggle a peanut butter/jelly sandwich in with me.
If you don't hear from me again…..