Cheap Food, Socialism Prevail


What might well prove to be the last gold medal baseball game in the history of the Olympics featured Cuba and Korea. Who would the Chinese cheer for? Their socialist brothers? Their neighbors and fellow Asians?

During the previous match, the Japan-U.S. bronze medal game, the Chinese contingent in the crowd had mostly favored the Japanese in the early innings, but had switched to supporting the Americans when they rallied to take the lead.

As it happened, on the day of the final the baseball stadium in Wukesong was filled to the gills with Korean fans and only a couple of dozen Cubans. From the first inning, it became clear that the considerable number of Chinese spectators would mostly be supporting Cuba.

Maybe socialist brotherhood does count for something. Earlier in the week, a cab driver, with a facetious twinkle in his eye, had told me that it was no coincidence that injured Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang had ceded the gold medal to Daryon Robles of Cuba.

“Friendship first, sports second!” he said.


The light-up scoreboards occasionally took a hiatus from being purveyors of objective information to switch into adjective mode. When a player hit a great shot, one of a few English words would flash on the screen: fantastic, wonderful, great!


I was pleasantly surprised by the prices of the concessions at the Olympics. I was expecting $10 sodas, but I found that the food, like most of the tickets, was priced for the average Beijinger. We watched gymnastics prelims while sipping 73¢ Budweisers and munching on 58¢ Snickers bars. That’s not much more expensive than your average corner store.

The food choices, however, left something to be desired, at least for those with a Western palette. One particular line on the concessions menu seemed to taunt me: pizza/sandwich/hot dog. In nearly a dozen trips to the Olympics, never once were those foods available, as the sweet-faced volunteers informed me. Maybe a ravenous band of Britons had already bought all the sandwiches? Maybe they had never even existed? My friends spun complicated tales of corruption involving the IOC and a distant provincial pizza factory.

Because Olympic events invariably occurred during meal times, we were forced to turn to other parts of the menu for sustenance. “President snack noodles,” a bargain at 29¢, turned out to be ramen that you eat dry, right out of the package. “Sausage”: a bright red cold hot dog. For three days in a row, my dinner was “bread,” an item that varied in type and price at each venue. At gymnastics, it was lemon-flavored muffins. At volleyball, it was a huge white bun.

Once in a while, an incredible smell would waft through the venue as an intrepid spectator returned from his journey with a bag of real, hot food. At swimming prelims, heads turned as two American teenagers walked up the steps, two at a time, to a chorus of cheers from their waiting friends. The crowd around them sniffed longingly as they unwrapped double cheeseburgers and filet-o-fishes from the only restaurant on the Olympic Green, a vast, sparkling McDonald’s.


By the end of the Olympics, a number of snapshot traditions had emerged. The first, a descendant of “I’m holding up the Leaning Tower!” depicts the subject holding the National Stadium torch in her hand.

The second depicts a group of subjects jumping in unison in front of the National Stadium or the National Aquatics Center. I can’t really explain this one, but I think I understand the feeling behind it.

I’m at the Olympics, and I’m really happy.


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