Torch Madness


Originally uploaded by ryanocerosk.

Sheer madness. I can barely survive the crowded Hangzhou buses much less today’s 8AM outbreak of Olympic fever. The Olympic Torch Relay hit Hangzhou this morning, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it.

I arrived late at 7:45AM. People were lining the streets as early as 6AM, with the barricades and police setting up overnight. The route was never officially announced anywhere but most people knew it would entail rounding the streets between the Dragon Stadium and West Lake. Road blockades were in place creating a massive web of pedestrian only areas. And that was the only way to get anywhere: on foot. I had a smart cab driver that got me close and then I made my way in to the crowds.

Every street corner had at least five to six vendors of Olympic gear. Flags were the most popular. 3 kuai (around 42 cents USD) for two flags (one china flag, one beijing olympic flag). But shirts and stickers and temporary tattoos were all available. The Olympic logo, the Beijing Olympic logo, and the five fuwa (mascots) are all copyrighted so everything sold on the street (minus the china flag) was illegal. But it provided a boost in spirit to the crowds which were all wearing red (China’s traditional lucky color). I got strange looks with no flags, no headbands, no stickers on my cheek, and wearing no red whatsoever.

I spotted some of the best t-shirts from the past few weeks. The Tibet shirts (“Tibet was, is, and always will be part of China”) made a comeback today. “One world, One China” was popular too. Free Olympic sponsor (Coca-cola, Samsung, and Lenovo) shirts were available for those who got there early enough. “I heart China” was classy enough too.

The actual running past was not quite as fast as, say, the Tour de France. But it lasted a good minute or so as people chanted “Zhong guo, Jia You!” (literally, “China, Add Gas”).

For the most part, the crowds were well behaved even though it was packed like I’ve never experienced before. The only time I got a little scared was when, those who didn’t manage to catch the runner going by started running down the street trying to get a glimpse of it. The problem, the sidewalk runs out at one point so running people had nowhere to go. Police were in heavy attendance with barriers in place to help out. The police stationed actually in the crowds had no equipment more than maybe a whistle, if that. They seemed useless among pushing Chinese people vying for space.

The fallout for Hangzhou is that the city is still (at 1:30PM, five hours later) snarled in traffic. Smart business owners should be open today as consumers are out for a day on the town post-torch-watching. I walked by a Pizza Hut with a line out the door and a 30 min wait. Convenience stores are experiencing hefty traffic with folks looking to buy a cold drink in the sweaty heat.

Wow. If this is Hangzhou, then what will Beijing be like? I shudder at that proposition…

Photo of the Day: A Child runs down the street to get a glimpse of the Olympic Torch. His father trails behind with flag in hand.