The Olympics are over and as I mentioned in an earlier post I had a great time. The organization was almost flawless, but there is one thing that China can still improve on: crowd control. Just a few examples that I encountered yesterday.
Early in the morning we went to watch the Olympic Marathon. We chose a spot in the last corner before the stretch to the Olympic Stadium and arrived early to secure a good view. The police already put fences up around the whole area, so we chose the best spot. But two minutes later a police guy came over and told us we could not stand there. I did not really understand why, because we did not hinder anybody. So I asked the guy why we could not be there, and he answered that there was no reason but that we could not stand there. So I told him that if there is no reason we should be able to stay, right? He did not say much and walked away. But two minutes later he was back and told me again to leave. The same discussion as before was held, but to no avail, we had to go. I asked for his boss because I wanted to understand what the problem was of us standing there, but he told me he had not boss (right!). Anyway, we decided to go. Some other Dutch people there did not want to move and just stepped back for a few minutes. They were also told to leave but did not do so. So what did the police do? They just put some military guys right in front of them so they could not see the runners. Well, this is not the way to handle spectators, but it’s typical of how crowd control went during much of the games. An officer gets an order and fulfills it without questioning it or without even trying to understand it.
In the evening I went to McDonalds on the Olympic Green before the Closing Ceremony would start. The McD in the middle of the Olympic Green had huge lines, literally hundreds of customers were waiting in line. I hate to wait and decided to walk to the McD at the north of the Olympic Green (a 10-15 min walk). I guessed that walking back and forth would be faster than waiting in line, and at least I got some exercise at the same time as well. I arrived just before 6:30 PM at the other McDonalds and noticed a small crowd in front of the door. The McDonalds was almost empty, just some people eating inside and no lines in front of the cashiers, so I was wondering why there was a crowd. It turned out that the BOGOC (Beijing Olympic Games Organizing Committee) had decided in all its wisdom that for safety reasons the McDonalds had to close early (some government officials would be passing by soon).
Well, the crowd did not like this and was literally fighting to get in. How can you close a restaurant at 6:30 PM before the Closing Ceremony? Everybody wants to eat in advance and you cannot bring any outside food into the Olympic Green. Inside the stadiums there is no good food either and it’s usually quickly sold out as well. Eventually BOCOG gave in and within minutes the restaurant was crowded again. After I got my meal I asked the US manager what all the fuss was about. He said that he agreed with BOCOG and that if safety was an issue of course they would close down. I first thought he was joking, but he was serious. He wanted to close his own restaurant down at prime time, just because some VIPs would pass by!
After the Ceremony was over I wanted to walk home, but crowd control had (seemingly randomly) closed several exits and did not want to let me through. I asked how I could get to the western exit, and the volunteers told me to follow the crowd to the north. I asked them if they were sure, because it seemed the wrong direction, but they told me that was the way to go. After walking a few minutes I realized they had given me the wrong information and I would end up either at the metro station or at the eastern exit (which would force me to walk an additional few kilometers around the Olympic Green). So I walked back against the crowds (not easy I can assure you) and managed to get to my exit in that way. It turned out the volunteers had no clue, and lots of people probably ended up at the wrong place…
Anyway, most of the Games were organized flawlessly and these minor things don’t bother me much. It’s actually funny to observe and I am sure the BOCOG will learn from its own mistakes. It’s not an easy thing to organize these Games and overall they did a pretty good job.