Friday, September 05, 2008

Our Unexpected Paralympic Adventure

So there we were, sitting in Starbucks, catching up on emails, bills, news, and so forth. (Did we mention that the Internet is down at our apartment? Apparently, our landlady didn't pay the bill...) On our "to do" list was getting tickets to some paralympic events. This didn't seem like a hard problem, as there was an Olympic volunteer station located right outside the building where we were sipping our frappaccino. (There are these kinds of stations all around town. For weeks, we have been wondering what all of the "volunteers" actually do with their days. Little did we know we were about to find out...)

While Desi typed away, I strolled out to chat up the volunteers. (A good chance to work on some Chinese...) Knowing that (for some reason) tickets are being sold at select Bank of China locations, I asked the crew assembled there where the closest branch is located. This led to conflicting advice. One ayi told me to get on a certain bus and go one stop. Another told me not to do that, but to head to a Zhongguo Yinhang located within walking distance.

Into this mess stepped Wang Xiansheng (as you'll see, we spent enough time with this volunteer that we learned his name...and a lot more...). Mr. Wang, in an authoritative yet kind voice, said that I needed to walk over to a metro station near the Olympic Green (about fifteen-minutes away). He also said he would accompany me...right now! Quickly, I explained to him that my wife was over at the kafei guan and I needed to coordinate this sudden outing with her. Ten minutes later, we sauntered back over to the volunteer station and off the three of us went.

This was an exhausting trip. For one thing, Wang Xiansheng walked really fast. In addition, we were chatting the whole way, which took a lot of mental energy, keeping up with his clear but rapid Chinese speech and figuring out how to respond in a semi-intelligent manner.

In no time flat, we arrived at our destination. Wang Xiansheng, though, was clearly perturbed at the lack of open ticket booths. After conferring with a security guard, it became clear that we needed to move on. Wang Xiansheng, not wanting to let his waiguoren down, wasted no time redirecting us to a bus that would take us to a Bank of China where tickets were in fact being sold. This turned out to be several miles away (Beijing = big city, remember?).

When we arrived, we were greeted with quite a scene. It was one of those take a number and wait things. Behind these thick glass plates were tellers. Some were doing regular personal banking transactions. No lines there. Then there was this one window where Olympic tickets were being sold. This was the teller you needed a number to see. Wang Xiansheng informed us, after conferring with yet another security guard (wearing one of those hard, green combat helmets), that the wait was about one hour. But...and here's the good news...since we are waiguoren, we could jump to the front of the line. It's good to be a waiguoren! (I think there was a man who wasn't too happy about this. He and Wang Xiansheng had a brief discussion and they were using words I didn't know...)

At the ticket window, things were going smoothly. Until, that is, the teller asked me for our passports. Uh oh. You see, a university official needed our passports today to make some headway on getting our still elusive residency and work permits. So I pulled out the xerox copies we were carrying around today. This didn't go over too well. Then Desi suggested pulling out my Beida ID card. (Remember...Beida is the Harvard of China and the mere mention that one is a professor there gets exclamations of amazement.) Good call, Desi! That did the trick. We got our Paralympic tickets (ping pong at the Beida gym and track and field at the Bird's Nest).

His job well done, Wang Xiansheng could have gone his separate way. But he was not done with us yet...

~Steve

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