Today was one of our first days without too many obligations, which really freed us up to enjoy Shanghai. We started out our day by spending a few hours at the school to prepare for some events during the upcoming week. I'm in charge of planning a Western Day for the kids which will include a campfire, among other activities (I'll write more about that in Monday's edition of the blog.) Jamie got to work on planning the Valentine's Day/Homecoming festivities which will commence next Wednesday. After our time was up there, we headed back to the hotel to enjoy some food. We've really become dependant on this hotel for food. It seems like whenever we go elsewhere, we really don't know what we're ordering and thus, get stuck getting something really spicy and completely unidentifiable.
After a brief nap, we decided to take in a soccer game at Hongkou Stadium, which was used in the 2007 Women's World Cup and will be a site for games in the 2008 Olympics. Thanks to Haifeng, who wrote us certain key places in Chinese, we were able to successfully navigate the Shanghai subway system to get to the stadium, after just 40 minutes. The mood outside the stadium was somewhat chaotic as there were street venders selling all sorts of tourist-trap type souveniers. There were also a lot of very pesky ticket scalpers. After telling one of them no (I had him talked down from 200 RMB to 50 RMB per ticket, or $29 USD to about $7.50 USD), he put his arm around me and continued to walk with me for about one block until he finally got the hint. Over the course of the next hour or so, Brian and I negotiated with various ticket scalpers and tried to find a restaurant that took Visa! Finally, we tracked one guy down who sold us 9 tickets for 350 RMB, which was about $6 USD per ticket, which wasn't too bad. It just sounds like so much more money when it's in foreign currency! (We needed 11 tickets, so two in our group decided they were going to wait until after kickoff to see if they could get a better deal.) After Brian and I bought these tickets, we were informed by others in our group that a British man had just tried to get into the game after paying 50 RMB to a scalper, only to be informed that his ticket was a fake and he could not get in. I was a bit nervous at this point, but we figured if they were forgeries, we were only out about $6 USD per person and could get tickets from the box office for 50 RMB. At this point, 9 of the group went to Pizza Hut to eat while Jessica and I did not want to miss a second of the game, so we went in. As we walked up, I was getting more nervous because everybody else's tickets were very shiny and ours looked rather worn. Thankfully, though, we were admitted in without any problems and we both breathed a huge sigh of relief.
After finding a Shanghai Shenhua FC jersey and a restroom, we made it into the stadium just in time to see the kickoff. I was rather surprised by several elements of the stadium and game. First of all, the field was incredibly hazy, due mostly to the humidity in the area, but also the constant smoking taking place in the stadium. At times it felt like I was sitting directly in the middle of an ash tray! The field looked rather worn and was in terrible shape. There were huge chunks of sod that would fly up anytime someone slid. It may have been due to the massive thunderstorm that we had earlier in the day, but I'm not sure. Finally, the stadium was, at most, 1/3 full. I couldn't believe that with tickets this cheap, there were not more people here. (As a side note, after the game, I ran into a Chinese man who was a huge soccer fan, but said not many people go to games because, as he said, "Chinese football sucks".) But on the positive side, the atmosphere within the stadium was absolutely electric. There were rather large sections of "supporters" behind both goals who sang, played drums, and yelled the entire game. Many of the songs they sang were to the tunes of popular US songs, such as "The Battle Hymn of the Republic". In many ways, the atmosphere resembled that of a European match. When Shanghai scored their first goal about 20 minutes into the match, the place just erupted. It sounded like there were at least 50,000 fans in the stadium, not 10,000. Shanghai's second goal, just one minute later, was an absolute beauty (about 30 yards out, one-time shot just inside the upper corner, far post). At half, the score was 2-0, in favor of the home team. (Somewhere in there, I lost my voice after screaming so long!) The score could have been 3-0 very easily, as a Shanghai player hit a beautiful bicycle kick from about 15 yards out with the keeper and a defender right on his back, only to hit the post!
Finally, the rest of our group finished their meal at Pizza Hut and joined us in the stadium. We noticed that as long as you were in the right section, nobody really cared where you sat, which is good because our tickets wound up being all over the place in that section. The pace of the game slowed down considerably in the second half with lots of fouls and deliberate play. Shanghai added a third goal (which made everyone in our group happy that they got to see a Shanghai goal), which was followed by a Dalian goal, which made the final score 3-1. Shanghai hasn't lost a game all year at home, which is rather impressive. Dalian, a team from Singapore, is typically very good, but is having a bit of a down year this season.
After the game, we found out that Bryce and Kylie never bought tickets, but were just let in for free with about 10 minutes to go, so they saw the final goal of the match. We then walked around Shanghai trying to get back to the subway station to get back. (Because of the number of people at the game, the authorities shut down the station outside the stadium to help keep order.) After wandering the streets aimlessly for about 45 minutes and realizing that we probably would not be able to take the subway back, we broke into three groups to take cabs back to the hotel. On numerous occassions, we'd try to flag down a taxi, only to get passed by and see the cab pick up some Chinese people further down the block. It was such a frustrating experience! Finally, after numerous failed attempts and everyone being drenched in sweat, we started to get in a taxi while others were getting out of it. I felt as though I'm losing my skills in flagging down a Shanghai taxi, but oh well.
The driver seemed really nice and wanted to practice his English with us and was driving us down the Bund, along the river, back to our hotel. He was laughing with us and wanted to play American music for us (some mix of the Backstreet Boys and other cheesy American bands). Finally, he dropped us off and told us the bill was 153 RMB (a little over $20), which in America would not be bad at all. However, Haifeng was waiting for us at the taxi and before I could pay, he began arguing with the taxi driver. Apparently, he had taken us for a ride, literally. He took us on a very round-about way of getting back to the hotel and a previous group had only paid 60 RMB, or about $8.50. (A travel book warned us that taxi drivers like to take advantage of foreigners like that, and given that we don't blend in very well, we're rather susceptable to this. Another note - taxis here pay by distance travelled only, not by number of passengers, and are strictly regulated by the government, meaning they all must charge the same amount.) Apparently, Haifeng threatened to call the authorities on him and started to write down his license number. Not wanting to get in trouble, the driver accepted payment of 80 RMB. We were incredibly thankful that Haifeng was there to help us out, otherwise we would have been ripped off big time!
So now we're just about to crash at our hotel. I'm still all giddy about seeing my first soccer game in a foreign country. Hopefully, it will be the first of many! It's time to get some rest and gear up for an adventure at the Shanghai Zoo tomorrow, among other things.