I have a close friend who lives and works in Beijing. He wrote me an email about his experience getting tickets for the Olympics today, and he said it would be okay to share this with the rest of you- I thought you would find the contracts between his report and the AP interesting.

The Ticket to Chaos in Beijing

July 25 was the first day the general public in Beijing could buy Olympics tickets. As reported in the media, the experience was quite colorful. The trip began well on the newly completed, Line 10 train. The station was clean, a platform was not crowded, and the air-conditioned train took me to my final destination very quickly.

Things changed the second I left the modern embrace of the subway. First of all the ticket area was a very long walk away from the train station. Since it was smoggy and 34¢XC, with no shade, it was not fun hiking around the 2 km barrier set up by the police around the ticket office. After walking several antiaircraft missile batteries, I finally got to my destination. It was not a pretty scene. There was a huge crowd standing in a dirty fenced off area being held back by at least 100 police. It was a sea of light blue normal police and green clothed military police pushing back against the hot and unhappy crowd.

Although I tried to be inconspicuous, the police noticed my camera and assumed that I was a journalist. In one second, I changed from just another white face to a threat that required at least five police officers to take control of the situation. Their immediate response was to tell to leave the area and to say that I could only take pictures in a far-away but somehow authorized place. This is a good metaphor for life in China: In general, the authorities let you do what you want but if you cross a line, force comes out quickly and in numbers. A possible journal story on a near riot during ticket sales would be an embarrassment to China so they did not want me there recording it. Oddly, locals were free to take pictures of everything. Of course, the western press found a way to record the event anyway! I have pasted an AP story below.

Unfortunately for the police, I was not their biggest problem since the crowd was looking increasingly agitated. One woman collapsed from heat while things were becoming a pushing match between people and the police. Seeing that things were venturing too close to violence, I chose prudence instead of valor and went to another venue to get tickets. The good news is that I actually succeeded! There were also lots of happy locals around ¡V some intended to see the games while others bought tickets with the hope of reselling them at a huge profit later. Between buying great but horribly expensive tickets from someone I knew and surviving the heat and humidity to buy more tickets, I’m the proud owner of four Olympics tickets. Best of all, no one confiscated my camera or hit me. Not everyone was so lucky.

Here is the AP Story about the same event!

Ugly Scenes as Beijingers Snap up Last Olympic Tickets

– Associated Press

Violence broke out on Friday among the more than 50,000 people who queued to grab the last batch of Olympic tickets on sale in Beijing, as police struggled to control the frustrated fans. The mood was tense and strained as angry people — some of whom had been queuing for two days — jostled to maintain or improve their place in the long line. At one point the surging crowd broke through a control barrier and lurched towards the ticket counters.

In hot and dusty conditions, some groups in the crowd chanted insults at the police who were seen dragging people out of the line and kicking and punching them before leading them away. “The police didn’t have a clue how many people would come here and there was no organization at all, it was chaos,” said Wang Zhongliang, a delivery worker for UPS.

It was the last chance for Chinese to buy tickets for the Games, with 250,000 on sale at several locations in Beijing from 9:00am (0100 GMT) for events including athletics, diving, and gymnastics.

Demand was so high that more than 10,000 people were in the line by Thursday at one of the main ticket selling centres near the Olympic Stadium, district police chief Xiong Xingguo said. By early Friday huge reinforcements of police were moved in to maintain order as numbers ballooned to between 40,000 and 50,000, Xiong said.

Xiong conceded that police had been taken by surprise by the numbers. “The situation was chaotic and difficult,” he said. “Once the newspapers released the news about the ticket sale, too many people came at once so we had a security problem.”

A Hong Kong journalist was detained by police on Friday while covering the chaotic scenes, organisers and an AFP witness said.

Despite the pushing, jostling and discomfort, Xu Wengang, an information technology expert, said that he thought the method of ticket sales was fair.

“This way everybody gets a chance. But that’s also the problem, because so many people came. It’s a lot of trouble but it’s fair,” said Xu, 30, looking for tickets for the synchronised swimming. There were smiles too from people like 23-year-old Lei Peng, who had slept on the footpath for two nights.

The engineering graduate from eastern China‘s Anhui province was close to the head of one massive queue and managed to score two seats to one of the hottest event of the Games ¡V the final of the men’s 110m hurdles.

Chinese hopes for an athletics gold medal rest on Olympic and world champion Liu Xiang who is defending his 110m hurdles title.

“It was hard but worth it,” said Lei, who had been queuing since midday on Wednesday. Han Ruxiang, 76, had spent two nights sleeping on a bamboo mat so that he and his 67-year-old wife could see the finals of the diving competition.

“How can you be Chinese and not go to the Olympics when it is in China?” he said. “I am tired but so happy.”

Unlike Han, others were not prepared to queue for themselves. Ding Ye, 27, said she had got two tickets for the diving competition for her boss who runs a food supply company. “He sent me in his place,” she said.

There is a flourishing black market in selling tickets at a massive profit, even though scalping has been outlawed. Police have arrested 60 touts over the past two months, according to state media reports.

Outside Beijing, 570,000 tickets for football matches went on sale in football competition host cities Tianjin, Shanghai, Qinhuangdao and Shenyang. Altogether around seven million tickets were up for sale for the Games, with around 75 percent going to China‘s vast domestic audience, with the rest made available overseas through each country’s National Olympic Committee.

Friday’s release of tickets was the fourth and final round of sales for the August 8-24 Games.