Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Asian Winter Games 2011

(Picture is of the Stadium used for the Opening Ceremony)

The Asian Winter Games came to Kazakhstan this year, which was a very big deal. Billboards and posters were everywhere tooting this event, saying in 3 languages, "Unity of Spirit." An adorable snow leopard is the mascot.

This is the first time the Games have been held in Kazakhstan, and the first time, I think, that they've been in a country other than China, Japan, and Korea. The skiing events would be in Almaty and the skating events in Astana. Three new, huge, stadiums were built in Astana for this purpose.

The principal's wife bravely volunteered to get tickets for everyone--she printed out a list of the events and times; we signed up for what we wanted; and we gave her the money.

Yes, this is Kazakhstan, where nothing is as easy as it should be.

Over the course of several days, she went to several different places (several places each day), all over town, trying to get tickets. Some tickets were not being sold yet. Some were just not being sold at the location she was at (at least not on that day at that location). At least once she was told that she couldn't buy as many tickets as she wanted in seats that were next to each other. She had to divide the large group into two smaller groups and get 6 seats here, 6 seats there.

She managed to get me tickets for a speed skating event and a figure skating event. Another day, I went with a student's mother to Khan Shatyr (big tent-like mall) to get tickets for the other figure skating event that I wanted. We couldn't get them there, but later she found them at another mall. (By the way, the principal's wife had already tried both these locations, with no luck, for the same tickets.)

The ridiculous thing was--none of the events were sold out!!! The figure skating event that I had had so much trouble getting tickets for, was so empty that they'd covered huge sections of seats with giant "Astana-Almaty 2011" tarps. And they weren't selling tickets at the door.

On Sunday, 30 January, was the Opening Ceremony, the most expensive event at 7500 Tenge per ticket. (Most events were around 1500 Tenge - $10 - per ticket.) We didn't go, and we missed seeing the torch being run through the city. Sophia and I walked on the river not long after the torch obviously passed through--a path was laid out, with "Astana-Almaty 2011" flags--for the torch-bearer.

I learned later that the Opening Ceremony had been on TV--oops, we hadn't thought of that.

I also learned that it was an amazing and spectacular event, kind of like an elaborate circus. And that the city hadn't fully planned on transportation. Everyone had to ride buses to the stadium, they got on the buses at various locations around the city (mall parking lots, etc.) At the end of the event, everyone poured outside of the stadium in the freezing cold, masses of people waiting for the buses. The buses had little signs on them saying where they were returning to. (If you parked your car at Asia Park Mall, you wanted to ride that bus back, of course!) Crowds of people pushed and shoved to get near the buses as they approached, people straining to see if it was their bus, pushing and shoving to get on.

My friend waited about an hour in the freezing cold before finally spotting a regular city bus that she knew would take her near her home.

So, definitely an experience, but I'm OK that I missed it!

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