This is an ongoing series of Olympics cultural reports Sunny Wu is filing from Beijing. Check back twice a day for 'The Buzz' and 'Nightlife.'
BEIJING — The sidewalk outside the Beitucheng subway station, the transfer point for spectators entering the Olympic Green, was buzzing Monday.
"Do you have a ticket for handball?" said a man from Denmark.
"I need a ticket for beach volleyball for tonight," said a tourist from Holland.
"500 (RMB)" answered one Chinese woman when asked what she wanted for her ticket to weightlifting, a 400-percent markup.
All along the sidewalk, groups huddled to negotiate, buy, sell and exchange tickets as Olympic volunteers and a handful of security guards stood nearby. Although officials have warned that scalpers of Olympic tickets will be severely punished — they've threatened to send scalpers to reeducation camps — business was brisk and on display.
But that didn't mean all scalpers could operate unmolested. Police put a Chinese scalper in a headlock, placed him into a squad car and whisked him away.
I asked a man who appeared to be associated with the arrested scalper what happened. "To sell tickets here is not allowed. I don't know," he said. That was all he would say before he walked away and frantically dialed his cell phone.
The arrested scalper was led past other groups that were exchanging and selling tickets. The police ignored them, and commerce continued, many ignoring, or oblivious to, the arrest.
Rebecca Martz from Los Angeles, who was seeking a ticket to the day's water polo matches, was at the sidewalk the day before and had witnessed how some scalpers were taken away, while others were left to keep operating.
"[Sunday] morning everyone was tight-lipped, saying they were only exchanging tickets," she said. "By the afternoon it opened up. But it doesn't seem there's a rhyme or reason why they hassle [certain] people."
Standing a few feet from Martz was Benny Daniel, a professional ticket broker from Dallas who had come to Beijing with a few other colleagues to make a profit. His sign had "I need tickets" in English and in Chinese characters. He had a stack of tickets in his pocket.
"I could probably make what I'm making back in the U.S. But I get to travel around the world and be here," he said as dozens of people asked which events he had tickets for. He sold a ticket to handball for 400 RMB while he talked.
Was he worried that officials would crack down and arrest him?
"It just looks like they're targeting the Chinese [scalpers]," Daniel said. One of the volunteers, however, had walked up to him minutes earlier to warn him that police could be cracking down soon.
"Perhaps they're trying to make a case against us," he said. "Maybe I'm going home early."
Some fans were wishing they were home — so they could see their favorite events on TV. Not only were tickets highly inflated, many couldn't find a ticket for the event they wanted. Supply could not meet demand. Buyers, however, knew that tickets were floating around. They had seen the empty seats at the venues, despite the official pronouncement that the Games were "sold out." Somewhere, a ticket was being unused.
"The problem is you go to the stadium and they're not full," said Sam from Detroit, who was trying to unload an extra handball ticket (he refused to give his last name). "People who want to go can't see the games. It's a shame."
"There are probably tickets sitting on a coffee table in Norway," said Martz, who came to Beijing with a group of friends. Few of them had bought tickets before they arrived, believing it was going to be an easy affair.
"Many of them went to Athens and they said it was so easy," Martz said.
She had been standing on the sidewalk for more than an hour. Her friends had already scored water polo tickets and entered the Ying Tung Natatorium. She was willing to pay 700 RMB for a ticket with a face value of 50 RMB. Even with a broker trying to play middleman, she had no luck.
She walked to the Natatorium, which was nearly a mile away from the subway station, hoping someone, anyone, had an extra ticket. After another hour of waiting she was on the verge of giving up.
"It's going to be a bust," she sighed. "Maybe I'll go to the Lama Temple, light some incense and pray for tickets."