Who says time travel is impossible? I’ve set the Wayback Machine for 22 September, 2007, the place, Tianjin, China. Some photos by me, some by D.
It really was just coincidence that the Women’s World Cup was taking place in China at the time while D would be here. But it was a happy coincidence, and we took advantage of it. We saw a couple of games in Portland, Oregon back in 2003, including that embarrassing match where the US lost to Germany in the semifinals.
The first game that fit the travel schedule was on 22 September in Tianjin. As is usual with such things, we didn’t know what teams would be playing at the time the tickets were purchased. Buying them was a little adventure on its own. Tickets were available through Emma, one of Ticketmaster’s partners here in China, but they haven’t been upgraded to our computer systems yet. I first went online to buy tickets, and managed to get to the event and pick out my seats. But when I went to pay, I found that they couldn’t take a credit card online, so I selected the option to reserve the tickets and pay for them at the local Emma box office, which happens to be close to where I live.
I went into the box office the next day with an appropriate amount of cash and showed the woman my printed receipt. She looked all over in the computer and could not find my order. So I finally decided to just order again – it’s not like I’d paid for them yet. We found the seats and she printed out the tickets for the equivalent of about $25. I should mention that the temperature in the box office was extremely uncomfortable and I’m glad I didn’t melt in the time it took.
There’s a nice new train that runs between Beijing and Tianjin several times a day, so we opted for that. It’s only about a 40 minute trip, but getting to it turned out to be another adventure. A coworker who is from Tianjin told us there was no need to buy train tickets in advance – just go to the Beijing station and get tickets there. What he didn’t tell us is how many thousand other people would be doing the same thing at the same time. There were 20 or so ticket windows open on the outside of the station with a huge mob of people crowded around them more or less in lines. The signs were all in Chinese, and while I know the characters for Tianjin, any instructions about what could be purchased where were completely indecipherable.
We went around the side and eventually found another set of ticket windows. One of them was labeled in English TICKET SALES FOR FOREIGNERS. The line was not that long, and I purchased two tickets for Tianjin on a train leaving in less than an hour, from some track or other that I couldn’t make out on the ticket. We followed the crowd into the station proper and up the stairs to the waiting areas. The signs were confusing and we ended up waiting for a while in entirely the wrong place. I eventually found an information booth, showed them a ticket, and asked “Where?” in Chinese. They pointed my in the right direction. As we made our way to the track, we passed a nice little booth selling Tianjin tickets. If only we’d known.
The train was pretty nice, a lot like the shinkansen in Japan. We had reserved seats, which were spacious and comfortable. Unfortunately there’s not a lot to see along this journey.
The station in Tianjin was quite a contrast to the one in Beijing. For one thing, it’s not a building. There are stairs and ramps to take you over the tracks to the platforms, which are covered but not enclosed. I can imagine this is pretty unpleasant in the winter time. The taxi area there is a massive free-for-all, with dozens of aging little Chinese cars crowded together and drivers shouting out for passengers. In Beijing the taxis are all Volkswagens, Hyundais, and Citroens, and even the smallest of those is bigger than the average Tianjin taxi. We picked one at random and showed the woman the hotel’s address. She took us on a long roundabout path that seemed to circle the outside of the entire city before heading into town.
It was my goal to save some money on the hotel in order to have more available for other travel, but the tactic backfired in this case. We were at a Home Inn, which is like China’s equivalent of a Motel 6. Chinese friends have told me they are simple but clean, and reliable around the nation. This one was kind of run down and in the midst of refurbishment, with the smell of fresh paint permeating the building. The staff spoke almost no English, and my Chinese wasn’t a lot of help. Somehow we got checked in and the proper foreigner registration papers got filled out.
See for yourself. Not exactly what we’re used to.
By the time we were checked in and settled, it was mid-afternoon. I hadn’t made any plans for the part of the day before the game started, so we wandered around looking at the city. We came across this – I’m still not sure what it is.
Notice the window washer guys up on the slope.
And the elaborate safety system they have to avoid falls.
There were people with radio controlled boats in the pond.
Before too long we were getting hungry, so we headed towards what looked like a commercial area. We found hotels, shops, and banks, but not a single restaurant that was open between lunch and dinner.
There was a cool little food street off to one side of the main street, but the only place that was open had a big private party going on. Starving, we finally decided to just find a taxi and head to the stadium, reasoning that there must be food in that area.
It turned out to be a pretty short taxi ride, and there was a shopping center across from the stadium grounds with a few restaurants. We picked Mr. Pizza, where they had a really strange selection of pizzas, and, luckily, beer as well.
When we finished eating, it was still a little early to go to the game, so we wandered around the shopping area for a bit and then made our way to the ticket gate.
Tianjin Olympic Stadium is a very nice looking futuristic structure set way back from the street. They could use a shuttle bus to take attendees from the ticket entrance to the stadium.
In what I’m learning is typical Chinese fashion, there are very few concessions located inside. They had soft drinks (which they pour out of the bottles into paper cups for you) and popcorn. That’s it.
There were a few pitifully stocked souvenir stands, but mostly the huge concourse was just open space. I wonder if they’ll make any changes for the Olympics – certainly Americans and Europeans are used to having more options (and opportunities to spend money). D reported unhappily that the restrooms featured only Asian-style squatters – no Western-style toilets at all – another thing that could use some attention before hordes of foreigners arrive next summer.
We got to our seats pretty early – pretty much the first to arrive in our section, so we got to watch other people come in. One thing we noticed was security. Each section had two security guys in the front row as well as one in the back. At each gate entrance there were a few more, and a bunch down on the field. Mind you, these are not burly, gun-toting ruffians, but mostly young guys in ill-fitting uniforms. Many of them were in a more casual uniform consisting of a polo shirt.
There were no smoking signs, and an announcement was made that smoking was prohibited inside the stadium, but we seemed to be located in the chain smokers’ section. All around us for virtually the entire game people were puffing away. The security guard behind us paid no attention to that – I think he may have even lent his lighter to someone. Smoking is so pervasive here, and Chinese people so oblivious to (if not outright contemptuous of) behavior laws, that such rules come off as mere window dressing, much like the security procedures at the Barcelona game. In fact, trains and subways are about the only places I haven’t seen anyone smoking. As an aside, I’ve noticed lately that many taxis in Beijing now have green stickers in them for no smoking, but most of them still reek after years of it.
It’s easy to fraternize with the enemy when you’re actually from a neutral country.
One of the more entertaining parts of the event (at least at first) was a big British guy wearing a read and white wig and with a flag draped over his shoulders. He was continually shouting England slogans, starting football songs, and bad-mouthing the Americans. His loud swearing probably would have got him kicked out of an American venue, but since it was in English and not Chinese, he was allowed to carry on. Our section seemed to consist mostly of England supporters, though a lot of them were Chinese.
At halftime, Mr. England was quite the celebrity. Lots of people wanted their picture taken with him.
I spoke a little with the guy next to me (the one with Mr. England in the earlier picture). He was a student at Tianjin Sports University (or something like that), and some of his classmates were down on the field chasing the out of bounds balls. He was pretty non-committal about the two teams, though he had some England gear.
He pointed to a big group cheering for the US above us, and said they were also classmates.
And this picture is just too cute to leave out.
Oh, yes, there was a football match, too.
As any of you know who pay attention to such things, the US stomped the Brits handily. The poor English team just never got their act together, and the keeper in particular made some hideous bumbles. I expect she was weighing her alternative career options after the ordeal ended.
Even the most enthusiastic fan felt the pain of England’s poor performance.
After leaving the stadium, it took quite a while to catch a taxi, but eventually we got back to the hotel and ended up watching a part of some old black and white Chinese movie that seemed to be glorifying the revolution.
The next morning we checked out early, which turned out to be a chore. I had used a credit card for the deposit but wanted to pay the bill with cash, but nobody seemed to know how to void the credit card transaction. Plastic money is still a fairly new (or at least relatively uncommon) thing here, especially in places not frequented by foreigners.
I was not surprised that the taxi ride to the train station was much shorter than the one when we arrived. In the waiting area, we sat as far as we could from the restrooms, but the urine and cleaner odor was still pervasive and there wasn’t much ventilation. And unfortunately, the odor followed us onto the train. The nice new high-speed train had a very smelly restroom on it, and whenever someone left the door open to the end of car area (which was basically anytime anyone passed through since it didn’t close by itself) we got a stench like a Honey Bucket that hasn’t been emptied in weeks combined with the sharp edge of industrial cleaners.
Upon arrival back in Beijing, we found the chaos of the train station unabated. The taxi queue was an unorganized mess of shoving, so we crossed the street to try our luck there, only to find zones where taxis are apparently not allowed to stop or have to pay to pass. After what seemed like ages we finally caught one willing to pick us up, and we were on our way back to Seasons Park.
All in all, it was an exhausting and rather unpleasant weekend aside from the football match itself. Tianjin was not a very impressive city, but I’m willing to believe we just ended up in a dull part of town and it actually has something to offer. But I’m in no hurry to find out.