Saturday, October 18, 2008
Running into Mayhem
Tomorrow is the 27th Beijing International Marathon and I've signed up for the 10K run.
I did it last year, and despite my frustrations in dealing with one of the organizers, Octagon, I had a good time at the run and decided to brave the logistical problems and do it again.
But this year the whole process has been wearing my patience thin. Thinner than paper.
The injustice of foreigners having to pay US$55 to run in anything other than the marathon still stands. But as I am also a Hong Kong resident, we get the benefit of registering for only 30RMB like local Chinese.
That's what I did, but had problems communicating with Octagon with regards to payment. I emailed my concerns on their website, but they claimed they never got those emails. How can you have a comment/query section on your site and yet not make sure it works?
After complaining in the phone I had to rush down to their office after work to pay the registration fee by cash, instead of through a bank transfer which would have been another fiasco in itself.
Then a few days ago for some reason my emergency contact and not I received an email telling me where to pick up my runner's kit.
He forwarded it to me, but it turned out I wasn't the only one and then two days later Octagon sent a mass email with everyone's addresses on it about the date and time to pick up runners' kits.
Today was the first of two days to go do that so I went after work last night.
It was utter chaos.
When I arrived at the Chiqikou subway stop, south of the city, I bumped into a European woman who had just picked up her kit.
"It's crazy up there," she said after telling me the directions. "I waited for two hours. Oh and they put up a notice on their website today saying if you registered after September 15, then you're not on the list."
Two hours? Not on the list?
And then when I went up the non-descript mall, up the stairs in darkness did I see the masses of people jostling for attention and pushing each other.
I expected it to be disorganized, but not as insane as this. But coupled with few lights and no air circulation, tempers easily flared. Foreigners were completely overwhelmed by the situation and were too scared to rock the boat.
I managed to get my way to the front and showed them my registration number. Apparently that was the wrong number. I had to go back out and look at lists of names taped on pillars to see what my NEW number was.
But I went through the lists and couldn't find my name in Chinese or English.
Meanwhile back in the crazy scene in the sports shop, a young Chinese girl started loudly complaining, threatening to contact Chinese media to tell them how disorganized this whole thing was.
Staff, who were probably contracted by Octagon to distribute these kits, tried to soothe her, but really, there was no sense of order or realization that their current system was not working.
After ranting loudly for several minutes she finally got her kit and then shut up.
She wasn't the only one.
Another older woman with a Coach bag complained too. Then her foreigner husband arrived and that's when a shouting match erupted.
She said she was here to pick up three kits and only got two. Why is that? He tried to say in Chinese too, that they had paid, so give them the other kit.
I don't know what the people were saying, but eventually a young woman in a black top and jeans helped them out, speaking broken English.
I decided to use the English card and get her to help me too.
I explained to her that I couldn't find my name on the lists. She looked frightened and stressed out, and said, "I will try my best. Do you trust me?"
After a long time she finally found my name on a list but then had trouble finding my running number.
By then it was past 8pm, the time when to pick up kits was over. But there were a few stragglers.
The staff, mostly older men complained about working non-stop since 7am and how this was worse than the Olympics. They said they had hardly had anything to eat or drink all day.
The young woman came back but still couldn't find my number.
I was beyond angry and frustrated, just tired. It was so stressful dealing with the situation that I stood there passively and just wanted to go home.
In the end she returned with another number for me, the runner's guidebook, T-shirt, certificate and bag.
"Thank you very, very much," I said in English.
I had no more energy to deal with the subway and took a cab home instead.
On its website, Octagon claims it manages 3,200 events. But I don't know how Octagon Beijing gets away with organizing this one that has turned out to be an incredible logistical nightmare.
We didn't sign up to be subjected to having to fight for what we registered for. We signed up to have fun.
And yesterday was far from fun.