Thursday, August 21, 2008

3 of us @ Olympics 2008

View full set of pix here.

It was a very fulfilling day for Wayne and I on Tuesday as we caught some Olympic action (we did not want the tickets to go to waste even though Wayne's parents could not stay around to watch the events) - we both took half a day off work and headed off right after lunch to enjoy a leisurely trip to the event venue (even though our events started at 6pm). As we weren't sure whether the roads around the Olympic Green were open to public transport, we took the subway (my first time in many, many months), where we then had to walk about 200m to catch a connecting train (Line 8) right to the doorstep of the Olympic Green.

I was wondering prior whether Beijingers would be civic-conscious enough to offer their seats to a pregnant lady on the train. On my first ride, I stood in front of a couple in their late 30s/early 40s, who continued chatting on happily, oblivious to my tummy, until about 5 minutes into the ride. The woman gave up her seat, and (hopefully) the man was embarrassed enough and also gave up his own seat to his girlfriend/wife - shame on him, tsk tsk!

The new train stations in Beijing are very, almost like Singapore, and we even took shots at the Line 8 station which had special porcelein-like paintings on the walls/boulders/notice boards. The train rides weren't as scary as I thought, and on the Line 8 trip, a man nicely gave up his seat immediately for me (his wife even joked that his tummy's as big as mine)! However, I'd heard alot beforehand about the strict security measures/checks, and true enough, there were alot of security posts set-up before we entered the Line 8 station, where they checked on your tickets (only those with tickets to Olympic Green venue on that day were eligible), and that you do not bring any food/drinks in (Wayne and I had to finish off the packet of milk and apple I brought, right after a filling lunch - BURP!). However, the volunteers all have to be commended as they were all very friendly, knowledgeable, and efficient - kudos! And I've long heard about the various scalpers who positioned themselves strategically at the entrance to Line 8 - in spite of signages all over the place stating that scalping is punishable by law - haha!

After coming out from the train, we arrived at the door step of Olympic Green, where if yesterday's reports are anything to go by, we experienced Beijing enjoying its cleanest air for 10 years (and the blue skies are set to continue long after the Olympics), according to a top environment official. It wasn't sweltering hot, but luckily I had my shades and cap on, as I'd read before that there aren't too many sheltered areas in between the various sporting venues, and the walks can be quite long.

We were lucky to be minutes from the start of a float parade of the various Olympic mascots, where they displayed the 'Fuwas', and had dancers dressed according to the themes of the five dollies. The poor dancers were all so 'chao tah' (blackened), presumably from being under the hot sun for so many days. My photos/photo-taking was not helped by alot of brollies poking into my view, and of overly-excited aunties wanting to get a good view (had to tell an aunty to stop pushing me).

The reason we'd gone earlier than needed (other than the fact that we didn't want to have to rush during peak hours on public transportation) was that we'd heard of the various hospitality tents of the sponsors, and were eager to get into them and have a look-around. (Note: tents here do not refer to the canvas stuff you put up for sports days/company BBQs, but are actual, nice buildings put up to hold sponsors' exhibits/showcase.) Just a few days ago, I was reading in reports that the sponsors were piqued that there was not enough traffic, but from the massive crowds Wayne and I witnessed on Tuesday, looks like the organizers took the complaints seriously and there were throngs of people around, with snaking queues outside each tent!

In the end, we only ended up viewing the Omega tent, since that was the only one that did not have a queue. My guess is that the "higher powers" have instructed for the crowds to organize visits to the tents, as when we were queuing up at security checks, there were old aunties/uncles with "visit passes" (not for events) that they said were handed out by their companies - state-owned companies, I presume; and we saw volunteers/army boys milling around. Not exactly target audiences of a sponsor like Omega, but still it added loads of people to the place - guess the sponsors have nothing to complain about anymore!

So after a twirl of the various sponsors' tents (I just took photos of the exteriors of them, for memory's sake, haha), we proceeded around the various venues like the famous Bird's Nest with the lighted Olympic Torch (or perhaps infamous, depending on if you are somebody like Liu Xiang and have bad memories of the place, poor thing), the Water Cube, the International Broadcast Centre, the Beijing Olympics Broadcasting Tower ('玲珑塔')... I was quite impressed with the layout, massive space, upkeeping, and the grandeur of the various architecture - am sure this place will remain a huge tourist draw and source of national pride long after the Olympics is over.

Only grouse is there weren't many areas for proper food - they only sold snacks like Chinese hot dogs, ice cream, cakes, instant noodles (at an exhorbitant SGD6 a bowl!). Well, they had two McDonald's restaurant in the whole area, and I was hoping to hitch a ride on the trolley bus to get to the restaurant in time to grab a burger before the event (such rides are only for the pregnant, elderly, and kids - but these "golf carts" have limited seating space and we gave up waiting). In the end, Wayne walked over to the nearest McDonald's and also similarly gave up...there was a long queue to get into the restaurant, and ANOTHER queue to place your order...

Well, we then decided to head on in to the National Indoor Stadium where our events were held - see me gloating with my tickets in hand! There were more snacks sold inside so Wayne bought us bread and a Snickers bar, heh - have to prepare for my hungry tummy as we were going to be in there from 6 pm till 9 pm!

Upon entering to get to our seats, it was quite awe-inspiring to see such a huge stadium, and with all the flags of the participating countries hung up. We were 37 rows from the top gallery, so you can imagine how small the athletes looked below. Luckily there were large screens around, and we had a small pair of binoculars (that made me have a headache from straining to focus...).

The seats were mostly filled (since it was the finals), and the next three hours can only be described as shiok!, as China went on to sweep golds in three of the four events we watched (men's parallel bars, men's horizontal bar, and men's trampoline - got a bronze in last event too, and China also managed a bronze in women's beam). This meant that we stood up to sing the Chinese national anthem three times (I only knew how to sing the last line '前进、前进、前进进!' - 'forward, forward, forward!'). But still, it was a very overwhelming experience to see and hear Chinese supporters cheering loudly for Team China, and seeing the Chinese flag in top place for three of the events. Speaking of supporters, the family sitting next to me was particularly loud/vocal, with the Daddy decked in red and cheering China on, and his daughter was dressed up in Chinese costume and dancing enthusiastically (also caught photo of German fans with their mohawks)...

There was a five-minute interval between the gymnastics and trampoline events as a group of 16 helpers matched out to set up the trampolines... in military precision - was an interesting watch. Also, I tried to take photos of the Chinese athletes doing their sequences, but most were blurred or too small.... I was particularly irked by the many people who used flash photography despite being reminded countless times by the volunteers that it will affect the atheletes. So irritating and inconsiderate...

After the events, we headed out to eat McDonald's (situated near the subway station), and since there were so little seats indoors, we packed the food outside to eat on the benches - yummy as I was practically starving by then, haha! The McDonald's here seems to have a slightly different menu from the usual outlets - seems more Americanized and healthy (e.g. has chicken salad). We were lucky to capture some nice night shots of the place and various sporting venues - looks nice and different at night!

In total, we'd spent about 7 hours at the Olympic Green, including catching a wonderful series of gold-studded events, and capturing day and night scenes. By the time we headed home, I was frankly quite tired from a packed day (with alot of walking and sun), but I think it was all worth it. Before coming here, I was not keen on attending any of the events for fear of the crowds and noise, the hassle, as well as wondering if Beijing's security levels at such an important event/venue were safe enough for a pregnant woman like me (I saw no more than 10 pregnant woman at the grounds, heh!).

I guess all my misperceptions have been corrected, and my fears put at ease, heh! The Chinese have really done their country proud... I'm glad I took the trouble and brought Rosabelle (no doubt still in my tummy) and enjoyed a day with Wayne - his first time there was brief since poor Dad was feeling unwell, so he at least spent time touring the place and soaking in the atmosphere on Tuesday.

I'm proud to have been a part of the Olympics in my own, small way, and to enjoy the experience with my loved ones - absolutely priceless.

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