Guo An

Yesterday I did something new, I went to watch a soccer match!

Some friends decided to organize a little group of people to go. While not really interested in watching sports, going to a Guo An game once in your Beijing tenure is pretty recommended for the cultural experience. It turned into quite a large group, in fact, 16 of us to be exact, all though of course no one actually knew how many people would show up because no one ever RSVPs anymore like real adults.

We started the evening with a happy hour at Big Smoke, a restaurant that I had heard a lot about but never been too, on Xingfucun Zhong Road. They just recently opened a brewery in the restaurant, Jing A. I’d been told good things about their IPA, but they only had one glass left of it, and gave it to a regular customer (sitting next to me, he let me try a sip, it was pretty good). Unfortunately, the one beer that was available on tap that evening, the Cascade Amber, wasn’t great. Also, it was 35RMB (happy hour discount included!) for a very, very small glass of it.

The food was decent but again, overpriced for small portions. We ordered grilled mushrooms, homemade chorizo, empanadas, and salt and pepper squid with chipotle mayo to share. There wasn’t anything negative about the experience, but I’m not sure I’ll go again. There are better, cheaper places to eat and drink here.

From there, we somehow made our way as a group over to Gongti (the stadium). I know, objectively, that getting a large group of people to move efficiently is difficult, but with frisbee people it just feels like herding cats. But eventually, we made it. We pooled our money (decided the very highest we’d pay was RMB 100) and then gave it all to the two native Chinese girls in the group to approach the scalpers. Preliminary research (askin another probably-clueless laowai) informs me that scalpers are pretty much the only way to buy tickets, that there used to be a website and a phone number you could call, but its devolved into scalpers buying all the tickets and thats how everyone except like, season ticket holders and skybox important people get their seats.

None of the scalpers had enough tickets for all of us, but the girls managed to get them for RMB 60/each. After some rearranging of bags and whatnot, we advanced through security.

So here’s where it starts to get silly. So, I was the first person to arrive in the vicinity of the restaurant, and not knowing how many people were showing up, decided I’d kill some time and make a quick run to April Gourmet before the game for some stuff I needed at home (namely, a couple water bottles because Watson’s ordering system is stupid). So I had a couple bottles of water and a can of soda to bring home for later, along with all my stuff from work, and Ginny, fearing a pat-down at security, last minute stuck a flask of whiskey in my bag.

So we put our bags through the x-ray machine, everyone goes through the metal detector (which didn’t detect shit, I had my phone in my pocket). In the confusion of 16 laowai descending on two security stations, maybe 1/3 of the people got a light pat down? Then they stopped my bag, and pulled out the water bottles, soda, and flask. Apparently, even though I was told I could totally bring in drinks just not liquor, they weren’t going to let me bring in the unopened water or soda. Then the security guard waved the flask at me.

Security Guard: “What’s in here?”
Robot: “Um…Water?”
Security Guard: “Prove it.”
Robot :”Excuse me? What?”
Chinese friend, in English: “She wants you to prove that it’s water. Take a sip.”
Robot: “Um, okaaaay.” **stone cold no-facial reaction healthy swig of whiskey**
Security Guard: “Ok, you can take that in, but I’m keeping these bottles and the soda.”

What the what! How did that even..I don’t even…What?! Keep on keeping on, my Chinese security friends, you just make our world a better/safer/more weird place….

Honestly, I bet she just wanted my delicious Cherry Dr. Pepper and ice-cold water without having to leave her post and buy a drink. Hmph.

So since we had to get our tickets from several different scalpers, we were seated in three different sections. The first security guard first gave us conflicting directions about where to go, and then he refused to let us enter all in one group. So we walked down to the next entrance. The next security guard was much nicer. She put up one small protest that I was entering the wrong section (after BG told her he was going in the wrong entrance but would walk around) but we all sort of pleaded, spoke in Chinese and told her we were together as a group. She was tickled that we spoke Chinese and let us all through. Then we walked around trying to find a section where we could all sit together. It took us a while, and eventually, we had to walk all the way up to the top row, walk three sections over, then descend 15 rows. But, there were no stairs, we had to climb over empty seats and at one point, walk down a railing incline. The slanted concrete was already pretty steep, but since I came straight from work, I was wearing heels, which made it twice as bad. I had to cling to the railing and shuffle down precariously before landing in a safely horizontal empty seat. And then climb over three more rows of chairs.

But after this adventure (which literally KILLED my hamstrings, I could barely stand, or move from standing to sitting, without immense pain), we situated ourselves, started drinking, and got into the spirit of things.

I don’t remember much of my time from playing soccer in elementary school, mostly because I was always the tiniest person on the team, and many times my coaches would just tell me if anyone got near enough to touch me, pretty much it would knock me over so I should fall on the ball and get a penalty kick. I don’t even remember how many people are supposed to be on the field. And everyone tells me soccer is incredibly boring to watch. But I was amazed at how many people were filling the stadium on a Wednesday night against some inconsequential team from Shandong. Only 2 sections were empty, the rest were packed! There were throngs of people with flags, everyone wearing green (one tiny section was filled with orange-red shirts, the opposing team colors), there were literally drums going on to lead two sections in synchronized cheering and chanting and jumping. One entire section, all dressed in black and green, literally jumped up and down and chanted the entire 90 minutes, lef by three very enthusiastic flag wavers. It was crazy. The guys obviously got into the spirit of cranky drunk old Chinese men by taking their shirts off to wave around, shouting obscenities in Chinese, and in general, being fools, but the people around us loved it. The crowd even managed to generate a wave that went the entire way around the stadium twice. I was impressed.

One thing I noticed that I’m pretty sure isn’t standard (although I could be completely wrong) is that the entire field was surrounded by military policy security. They sat in pairs: One guard seated facing the field, one guard directly next to him facing the audience. I wonder if they flip a coin to see who faces what direction, and if they switch halfway through or something. But they sit there, completely immobile, the entire time. I assume they are there to prevent soccer riots, which are a thing that I’ve heard of happening in places that are not the US.

At one point I thought the security guards would have to do something. During a very close save, the goalie got kicked by the other team in what looked like the face/head. He was down for quite some time before shaking it off like a pro. But the crowd was not having it, they were jeering Shandong pretty murderously, and then, quite a few people tried to hurl their drinks at the players. Most was caught by nets strung up around the field, but a few full cups actually made it onto the field.

To be left there for the rest of the game. Like, seriously? The ref, who really wasn’t doing much of anything, couldn’t have gone over and kicked the three or four cups to the side? None of the players cared? It just seems like that sort of thing would a) not be allowed and b) be cleaned up right away.

But anyway, the Beijing team ended up winning 3-0, which I am told is rare because Guo An mostly loses. We made our way out (far less exciting than our way in) and I repeated something that three years ago, I swore I would never do again. My bike was locked up pretty far away so BG, who had his bike right outside the entrance, offered to bike me there. Wearing heels, my muscles crazy sore, it seemed like an excellent idea. And about thirty seconds later I remember it was a terrible idea. First, you have no control, no balance. Secondly, pretty sure I was sitting the wrong way, because I was trying to position myself to hold on. And lastly, there’s no where to rest your feet, you have to hold your legs off the ground with sheer muscle power.

Really this time I mean it, no more riding as a passenger on bikes.

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