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From Barcelona to Beijing
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Going to the Olympics without a ticket in hand might seem a risky and stupid idea, and, in fact, it is.

But when you get one, it's like gold.

The golden tickets!

These are my four tickets for the 2008 Olympics: men's qualification Subdivision 2 and women's qualification Subdivisions 1, 2 and 3. I'm still trying to get a ticket to men's Subdivision 1 since Spain is in it. It would be sad to be in Beijing and not get to see my fellow Spaniards competing. If you know of any extras, I'll be hanging around outside the arena wishing I was inside.

I've been in China for 10 days now. I attended an IOC symposium in Guangzhou, and I figured this was my chance to go to another Olympic Games after first attending in Barcelona 1992. The Olympics have taken over all of China. From the airport, to the hotels, to the restaurants to the souvenir shops. Everything is Beijing 2008. The logo is everywhere, on TV it's 24/7 talking about the Olympics. Yesterday there was a huge announcement on weather predictions for the upcoming days that was live on lots of channels. Apparently, they don't expect rain during the Opening Ceremonies, which is great, since I'm probably going to a park to watch it in a giant TV screen. (Tickets for the Opening Ceremony are harder to come by than tickets for men's Subdivision 1).

There's a great channel CCTV Olympics where Athens 2004 is being rebroadcast, and I got to see the women's all-around final. They even analyzed vault finals, showing how the score was obtained and explaining the differences between a Tsukahara entry and Kasamatsu entry (that was really helpful! I always tend to mix them up) and how and why the deductions were applied. It was in Chinese, but if you know the language of gymnastics, you'd understand it.

Beijing is an amazing city. It's so huge and vast although everything seems reachable in a 25-minute taxi drive. Cabs are really cheap, but you need decent Chinese pronunciation or skill writing Chinese characters, or otherwise there's a big chance that you'll end up somewhere else. You know, Chinese pronunciation is not one of my strengths... but fortunately technology is. My new method of surviving in Beijing is through my mobile phone. Once I decide where I want to go, I hit the Internet and find the Chinese characters that represent the address, save those in a Paint file and I send it via Bluetooth to my mobile phone. When I get into a cab, I open my mobile phone and I show the driver the Chinese characters of where I'm going. See? Easy. The other way to get around is using the metro. The underground system is really great although it's on the crowded side (to not say overcrowded). The single journey ride it's only 2 RMB and if you have an Olympic ticket, you get to use it for free on the day of that ticket's competition.

The air pollution that's been talked so much is not much of an issue, in my opinion. It's not a fresh-air city by any means but it's OK. When I was in Guangzhou I couldn't breathe for more than 10 minutes — that was air pollution! I think the athletes might be fine with the air here. They just need some time to adapt to the high humidity and temperatures around. I'm used to high humidity and temperatures in summer, but here, sometimes it's unbearable. You can't stop sweating and it's something that you can't avoid.

Before the competition starts I'm doing the usual tourist sightseeing. Today it was time for Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Hutong area surrounding it. I took the metro and I stopped at Tiananmen West, and to my surprise I just found myself in the middle of the Olympic torch relay! There were thousands of people on the street with flags, t-shirts (one of the most popular is "I love China")... As a tourist I was a little annoyed, but as an Olympic fan I was delighted. I've never seen a torch relay live before so it was really great to see so many people into it, cheering and waving flags. It put me into an Olympic mood that I hope I don't lose until my departure next Monday. When the torch relay was over (I think Yao Ming was there), I get this picture of a gymnastics' figure.

The Olympic gymnastics logo in a garden

Also, in a moment that seemed less crowded I managed to take a picture (with my cell phone) of the Olympic logo and the Forbidden City entrance.

The entrance to the Forbidden City

After that unexpected moment I entered the Forbidden city and I was amazed. That's a huge and beautiful complex with some very nice views and temples. I walked for a couple of hours until I was too exhausted and I ate an instant soup and an ice cream. I'm in a budget, afterall, with tickets still to be found... Then my camera batteries ran out and I was not able to take any pictures of the Hutong area! It's a shame there are less and less Hutongs these days, because those streets, little houses, the calm... it's wonderful. It's like another Beijing inside Beijing. I really enjoyed my walk there.

Then it was time to go on my tickets' hunt. I had e-mailed several strangers on the Internet about tickets, but there were only three people who replied with available tickets or who seemed legitimate enough for me. (You never know if you are buying authentic tickets or not, but I always do my research on the sellers just in case there are problems later.) So I had the cell phones and I opted to pick up the tickets myself, so I now also know the direction of their workplace or house. I'm not saying how much I'm paying but it's a little bit more than what it says on the official ticket... But I believe the expense is worth it, afterall, it's the first Olympics with the new open code and I'm really looking forward to the battle for the medals. So, after an hour and a half in a taxi, I have four tickets and fewer yuans in my pocket.

By nightfall, I went to the Houhai Lake area where I had a nice dinner, although I didn't eat snake or baby turtle like it was suggested on the menu. I took a walk around the area and I found the Russian Club, that apparently is like the official Russian party/drinking meeting point. They have their own mascot and official cars and t-shirts. I didn't enter it, but I think it's restricted to the Russian delegation. (And no, there were no gymnasts, as far as I could see through the terrace.)

Tomorrow is Great Wall time! I'm ready for a long walk!

再见 Bye!

Albert Minguillón i Colomer is a gymnastics fan from Barcelona.

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