The 16th Asiad is winding down here in Guangzhou. I’ll be honest, first I was excited about the event, then angry at all the construction, then angrier that I couldn’t get tickets, then excited again, then confused, then hungry, and finally back to excited. Now I find myself sad that they will be ending soon, and plotting my trip to Korea for the 2014 version of the event! I was lucky enough to take in six and a half events over the past two weeks.
For all the issues they had planning, and running this event. I can say from my own experiences as a spectator, it was fantastic, and the city and country should be pretty darned proud.
What experiences you ask? Well just read on to find out!
November 16 – Hockey
It all started innocently enough. One of my students asked me if I liked hockey. Being a red and white blooded Canadian I said “Of course!”, thinking he was talking about my countries national frozen sport. He then tells me that he has two tickets to see hockey that night that he couldn’t use, since his mom had to go out of town, so he offers them to me. I hurriedly accept and reimburse him for the tickets, even though he tries to refuse the money. Looking at the tickets, I realize that he meant field hockey, which is something that I had actually never seen played before. Nonetheless I accept.
That evening, my girlfriend and I arrive to the venue with anticipation, unsure as to what to expect exactly. Just that day I had read on BBC that the venues were both sold out and empty. The Aoti Field Hockey Stadium was somewhere in between the two extremes. There was a respectable crowd, but certainly room for more spectators. After arriving five minutes late, we see that the score is 2-0 for South Korea leading Oman. Apparently South Korea’s team is good, who knew?
A few spectators sit behind us and talk a little loudly in Chinese. My girlfriend starts to laugh. She tells me that one of them said after looking at the Omani team “I didn’t think that there were black people in Asian”. To which the other replied “No stupid, they’re Indian”. Had I understood I would have added “Warmer…warmer…”
Volunteer’s start to address the crowd and lead cheers for both countries. South Korea is the only one to respond, as they run up the score. With the score 8-0 in the dying minutes the crowd gains new life. Oman made a few dashes towards the goal, and the crowd loved it. The spectators drew incredibly raucous as Oman pressed on making last shots. The clocked ticked down as another Omani chance was stifled, much to the chagrin of everyone not Korean, Oman loses 8-0.
As we prepare to leave, the announcer comes on and tells us that in half an hour the second game featuring China and Singapore will start. Unsure what to do, we stay still, figuring that someone would tell us to leave if we had to. Nobody came, and the majority of spectators stayed. Apparently we had tickets to a double header.
With China on the field, there was no split cheering, and no hopes for the underdog to score a goal. Everyone was all PRC, and I loved it. The first half went by with no goals, but a ton of “Jia Yo’s”. The five rams came out and danced, but everyone wanted blood, or at least a goal.
Eventually the patience of the crowd paid off and the stands erupted when China scored the first of the game. Cheers grew louder as play got fiercer. China eventually added another to send everyone home happy with a 2-0 win. As the crowds poured out I wondered how many fans understood the rules of the game (note: I sure didn’t), but I certainly didn’t wonder how many people enjoyed it.
I was reminded of an old joke I have had for almost 15 years with my friend Troy. He and I are both huge hockey fans and it has been our main topic of conversation for the duration of our friendship. Whenever talks switch to another sport like basketball, one of us always asks “Do you know what would make [Sport X] better?” to which the other replies “If it were hockey”. Field hockey may be better to me if it were on ice, but it was still pretty darned great.
November 17 – Artistic Gymnastics
The first day did it. We had Asian Games fever. The only prescription? More tickets!!
Looking at the schedule, Gymnastics was the one to go to next. While I’m impressed with the art and athleticism of the sport, it has never really done it for me on a wider scale. My other half on the other hand, loves it. When she found out about the Asian Games, that was the one thing that she wanted to see. Being the loving man that I am, I wouldn’t let a simple thing like not having tickets, or having to go all the way to Panyu get in my way of giving her what she wanted.
We make the lonnnnnnnnnnnnnnng trek out to Panyu in an attempt to scalp some tickets. I had read that it wasn’t that difficult, and many people were selling some tickets at cost. After looking up that the tickets for Gymnastics were 200RMB, I figure that this should be no problem, right?
Well we show up on the look out for the seedy characters who have tickets to move. Things start off well as we get off the metro. Someone immediately tries to sell us tickets for 810RMB each. Not bad, just a 305% markup, comparable to the Pearl Market in Beijing. Undeterred we press on, finding the clear “seedy corner” of the area, where we get offered tickets on a bi-minutely basis.
Sadly though, the prices only go up, peaking at around 1000RMB per ticket, to which I had an inappropriate two word reply. We tried to get them to lower the costs, but to no avail. They went as low as 600RMB, but it was after the event started, and they said “If we promised that, they’d look for it.”.
Defeated, we made the long trek back to civilization and called it a night.
November 20 – Sepatakraw
Had you asked me what sepatakraw was two weeks ago I would have answered either “A character from Harry Potter” or “Your mom’s a sepatakraw”. Now I would answer it with “The Superbowl meets Christmas”!
Like most stories, this one starts with “A Friend of a Friend”. See, a friend of my friend was working as a volunteer for the Asian Games and had two free tickets to see the Thai sport, which is best described as “volleyball with feet”. Now my friend, Ryan (not the one associated with this site, I do have friends not on the internet) had two tickets, but there was a problem, nine of us wanted to go.
We arrived, thinking that we could scalp some tickets. We failed last time, so why not try again? Surely it was possible! Little did we realize that a very sizable Thai population showed up to watch their women’s team take on the Chinese in a Gold Medal showdown. Tickets were unavailable.
But non-internet-Ryan went out and asked his friends for more tickets. It didn’t look good, so this Ryan and another guy went in. Then after a tense few minutes, more tickets surfaced, and eventually we were all allowed in. My ticket was one step above being scribbled on a napkin, but it did the trick.
What followed was perhaps the most intense and exciting few hours I’ve ever spent.
We ended up seated in the Thai cheering section. While it felt strange to cheer against the country that I live in, it would have felt weirder to cheer against the people I was surrounded by. I’ve been to Thailand a few times, and loved it, so why not?
The Thai’s took to us just as much as we took to them. The invited us to join every cheer, and dance along with them after every point. Like a crazy college game in North America, a few Thai spectators were dressed up. One had a wat on his head, one was a one man band, and one had fashioned a four headed hat so he could watch the game no matter which way he turned.
What struck me the most was how different the cheering styles of the Thai and Chinese spectators was. The Chinese all chanted in unison, while the Thais would play songs and dance and chant very freely and loosely, but will with collective joy whenever Thailand scored a point.
As the game wore on, I grew more and more excited. As Thailand was closing out the game, I had a volunteer tap me on the shoulder.
“Excuse me, where are you from?” She asked
“Canada” I replied
“Then why are you cheering for Thailand?”
“Because that’s were the seats were”
Just saying it out loud made me feel kind of silly, but apparently it satisfied her. All silliness went away a few minutes later when the Thai national anthem started to celebrate their Gold Medal. Although I had no reason to be, I sure was proud.
That concludes my first two and a half events at the Guangzhou Asian Games. A second portion of this article will be out in the coming days detailing a Korea vs. Korea Showdown, the chirping of crickets, lopsided scores, and aquatic endurance.