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Right: The Cube Aquatic Centre

As I had a day to spare before attending the show,

I decided to take in some of the local culture. At one place of interest a street vendor set me in her sights. Just an old lady selling socks, but she provided me with a great lesson on the power of China. It was a fantastic deal straight away and there was no

need for bargaining – seven pairs of socks for less than a dol- lar. If I was in the market for some socks, I’d have snapped them up. But I didn’t want them. I didn’t need them. And I was on the way to meet a friend. The old lady kept up with my fast walk. She already had

seven pairs in a bag and was holding them out to me. I made the mistake of asking to see a pair. I couldn’t believe the price and assumed they were poor quality. She took them out and stretched them, shouting “Big! Big!”. Tiring of my refusals, she offered me the seven pairs for

fifty cents. An absolutely crazy price that I couldn’t imagine would yield her any return whatsoever. I kept walking. “Eight! Okay, eight!” I couldn’t help but

laugh and still said no. She sensed the kill though and kept walking. When she threw 10 pairs in the bag I didn’t have the heart to refuse. I paid 50 cents for 10 pairs of cotton socks. For days after I wondered at this transaction and how

China has made manufacturing anywhere else uncompeti- tive with the cost of production here being so low. It was a simple purchase on a Beijing street that spoke volumes for the global economy. When it was time to return to the hotel, taxis proved

elusive. The Chinese don’t like to queue and simply made their way further up the road to jump ahead of us. The hotel provides a card with the details of where you are going written in Chinese as none of the drivers speak English. It is an exercise in good faith that some attendees at CIBTM fell foul of, as the occasional driver runs the meter by taking the ‘scenic route’. I took in a tour of some temples and heritage sites with

the hosted buyers. Now I like history as much as the next man, but I struggled to digest the barrage of significant facts and events, from Peking man through to Ming, Qing and Mao. One fact that did stick in my mind though was that our guide’s name was Frank Wong – one of 64 million Wongs in China. I have just checked and the population of the UK in 2009 was less than 62 million.

80,000 capacity at The Bird’s Nest

At the Laoshe Tea House we were treated to

lunch, tea, stage performances and then a puppet show behind a screen. Entertainment in China before DVDs, PlayStation and Nintendo. The stage show was a hoot. It started off with

‘Four men, play five instruments’ and we witnessed a line-up of a quartet of men sitting close together playing a mix of string instruments. With crossed arms, one strummed while the next man selected the notes. Incredible dexterity and it was very amusing. Except all of this is taken very seriously – the concentration and the pride they take in their task is something to see. The tour provided a glimpse of old and new

culminating in stops at the ‘Bird’s Nest’ Athletics Stadium and ‘The Cube’ Aquatic Centre. Three thousand acres of residences were cleared in a space of two years to make way for the Olympic facilities, involving the relocation of 40,000 people. Development and building of The Cube alone for the Olympic Games cost US$125 million. The bulk – US$100 million – came from Chinese overseas worker contributions. We took a tour of The Cube, which is still a

Our guide’s name was Frank Wong – one of 64 million Wongs in China. I have

just checked and the population of the UK in 2009 was less than 62 million

18 /

major attraction owing to its waterpark. Unlike other waterparks there were no snaking queues for the slides, but the wave pool was a sea of peo- ple in rubber rings and arm bands enjoying the waves and a stage show of young female Chinese dancers – a few overzealous boys splashed them as they danced in precarious platform heels. All of the stops we made on the pre-CIBTM

tour can be used for various scale events, includ- ing The Cube. The Bird’s Nest is also available for commercial hire, but with a capacity of 80,000 spectators, it would have to be large-scale to jus- tify the space, and no doubt, the cost.

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