Stranded in Beijing

Well, they did it—China managed to pull off an absolutely spectacular Opening Ceremonies for the 29th Olympiad in Beijing last night. It's not surprising, really, since Chinese culture excels at and revels in ceremony and ritual and pageantry and performance.  I did not attend the ceremonies live (although someone offered to sell me a ticket last week for $4000), but did the next best thing.  A bunch of us gathered at the 9th floor home of a friend who lives within a mile of the stadium and the Olympic Green.  We ate dinner in a local restaurant, then settled in for what turned out to be a very long night.  I absolutely loved the opening sequences with the drummers and the undulating character type-pads, and the dancing on the scrolls.  I could have done without the Elvis look-alike at the piano and the goose-stepping soldiers hoisting flags.  The Parade of Nations according to character stroke-order was brilliant, and we entertained ourselves for those two hours consulting our character dictionaries trying to figure out who was coming next.  Even though it didn't happen until August 9 (well after midnight here), I loved the way they lit the torch, and was rather proud of myself for having predicted that the one to light the torch would be Li Ning.

Then there were the fireworks.   No words to describe that and TV didn't do them justice.  I know because we could see them all from my friend's front window.  Whenever we would see them start to explode on TV, we'd just turn and look out the window to watch.  To give you an idea of how close we were, the TV helicopter was over our building most of the night.

When things finally ended around 1230, 9 of us began the trek home.  We had thought (hoped really) that there would be taxis in the area waiting to take throngs of people home.  We were wrong.  They were obviously at home watching on TV as well, and must have either had too much beer and baijiu or simply decided to go to bed, because the streets were empty of vehicles—only masses of people looking for taxis. 

Realizing it was hopeless, we decided to walk about a mile south to a new subway line, which we could take west toward our section of town.  We figured (hoped really) that there would be taxis in Zhongguancun.  We were wrong.  When we emerged from the subway station at Suzhou Jie, we saw the same sight — dozens of people straggling around looking for non-existent cabs and buses.  The city had made a big deal of announcing that the subways will run 24 hours a day during the Games, but that doesn't give much help to those of us whose homes are no where near a subway stop. 

By this time it was after 1:00AM. We huddled under a street lamp to contemplate our options:  walk the 4 miles home? Get back on the subway and return to our friend's house and bunk there for the remainder of the night?  Get back on the subway and go to another station where we may or may not find taxis waiting?  Get back on the subway and just ride it all night? At least we'd be in air-conditioned comfort!  Lie down on the sidewalk for the remainder of the night and wait until the buses start running at 6AM? As you can imagine, not one of the options had any appeal.  But we were all fast turning into pumpkins and our brains to mush, so we had to think of something fast.

Finally one of our party managed to break through the fog in her brain and come up with an idea—why not call Driver C, the one with the van, the one who had taken some in our pathetic party touring earlier in the day.  Call a driver????  At 1:15 in the morning???  That's insane.  And brilliant.  And of course since I was the only Chinese speaker in the group (as usual), they all decided that I should call Driver C., even though I had never met him.  Wow.  This was going to be fun.  HELLO MR.  C.  IT'S 115AM.  YOU DON'T KNOW ME BUT I AM SO AND SO'S FRIEND AND WE'RE STRANDED AT SUZHOU JIE.  WOULD YOU MIND COMING TO PICK US UP?  Like I said, insane.  But brilliant.  I sucked my teeth and made the call, my only comfort being that he had probably been watching the opening ceremonies as well and was either still awake, or had only gone to bed shortly before. 

Mr. C. was kind and said he'd be happy to come rescue us–that he'd be there in 20 minutes.  Sure enough, 20 minutes later he pulled up in his nice white van.  We happily climbed in, leaving behind dozens of hapless, sleep-deprived souls wandering the streets. 

I don't think I need to tell you that we paid him A LOT of money!

Go to this site, and scroll down to see some fantastic photos taken of the ceremonies.