06 June, 2012

Marathon Saga...

I don't like to be negative. I've tried my hardest to leave my negative feelings off of this blog. I worry that one negative sentiment could erode peoples' views of China and my experience, even if the other 99% of my time is as awesome as a chimpanzee wearing two tuxedoes.

However, there are some things that do frustrate me from time to time. Life in China can be stressful.

This week has been particularly awful. I don't want to bore you with all the details, but the biggest stress has been dealing with the Lanzhou Marathon.

I registered to run the half-marathon months ago (that's another long, stressful story for another time) and was told to pick up my race materials in June. Fast forward to June: I was supposed to pick up my stuff 6 June at a location across town (seriously, it took me two hours on multiple buses). I arrive at 9:30 a.m., a half hour after it opened, only to find a large mob of Chinese people hollering and waiting impatiently.

Now, as much as I love China, this scene is not new or surprising. I should have expected it... After a half hour of mob mentality, they started passing out numbers. I got number 114; now serving 21. So I waited. And waited. And waited. Now serving 34. After a long while of this, I was pulled out of the crowd by a man who spoke decent English. He said that I shouldn't have to wait any longer.

Often in China, I have come to dislike the foreigner treatment I get everywhere I go. It is rarely something that doesn't teeter on invasive or uncomfortable, but this was one time I was grateful for it.

The man, I later learned, worked there. He gave me the "go directly to Boardwalk" card, and I was going to buy it. However, upon arrival, I discovered I didn't have the money. In this convoluted metaphor, what that means is they had no record of my registration. According to their database, I never registered for the marathon. It was their computer versus the receipt I had saying I paid to run the half-marathon. After one man searched all the spreadsheets for my name, my Chinese name, other variations of my Chinese name and my passport number to no avail, they argued about what to do. They bought over another, glasses-wearing man who looked to be part of the tech crew. He proceeded to search all the spreadsheets for my name, my Chinese name, other variations of my Chinese name and my passport number.

I couldn't believe it! There it was! My troubles were over!

But seriously... Yeah right. His futile attempts did nothing but waste another fifteen minutes. After more arguing, the nice people decided that since I paid to run, they should let me run. They gave me the bag, the numbers and a shirt in the size I wanted (at first, they were nice enough to insist they knew what was best for me, and I should wear a large). The one complication: they didn't have a timing chip for me to wear when I ran. They said they would get some more and I could pick it up on Friday.

While I wasn't looking forward to another trek across town, c'est la vie. I am going to run my first half-marathon.

If only that was the end of the story...

This afternoon, in the middle of my class, I checked the time on my mobile, only to discover that I had thirteen missed calls. THIRTEEN. I decided at that point that it might be important, so I answered fourteen (and class was over, so it wasn't an interruption). I was greeted by some broken English telling me they found my registration form. 


I was not allowed to run the half-marathon because on my registration form, it says that I will run the 5K race. 

His English was pretty broken, so the conversation was coming to a screeching halt. One of my students, seeing the look of panic and fury in my face, stepped in to talk to him. He informed me that I must go back tomorrow to return my half-marathon stuff and pick up the 5K stuff. 

Because the student helping me was a meek little girl, struggling to pass the information as accurately, I didn't want that to be the time where we sort out this difference. I plan on going tomorrow and shouting. The problem is that I have no one who can go with me and translate my shouting into a language they will understand: all of my students have classes in the morning and I have to give a final in the afternoon. 

UPDATE (THURSDAY, 7 JUNE): I spent another morning across town. I found a post-graduate student I taught last fall who was free in the morning to come with me. On the lengthy drive over, I prepped him with the abridged version of the story, and told him I was ready to fight anyone who told me I wasn't running the half-marathon. As we approached, the people recognised me and hurried me upstairs. They told me I was signed up to run the 5K and showed me the participant list. 

I just said no with a fire in my eyes.

Phillip, the post-grad who came with me, started in. They talked furiously for a while (to me, Chinese often sounds furious; they speak remarkably quick most of the time) and Phillip said that they would let me run the half-marathon in a "participation" mode because they said they didn't have a timing chip for me. 

They said they would give me a timing chip on Tuesday, and I didn't pay a tenth of my monthly salary to only "participate"; I could run thirteen miles anytime I wanted. It wasn't good enough

Phillip went back to them again. At this point, I was considering going into some sort of diva-mode, but I didn't think it would do any good, as most of them would have no idea what I was saying. They talked for quite some time. I didn't know what I was going to do if they weren't going to give me the chip. 

Another woman came over and Phillip talked to her for another length of time. Full disclosure: it could have only been minutes, but because I was so fraught, it felt like hours. While Phillip was talking with this woman, he glanced at me and quickly flashed me a thumb up. After another few minutes, he waved me over. He started pushing me toward the stairs. 

"Quick. We're getting out of here before they change their minds."

It turns out the woman is one of the directors of the marathon, and Phillip managed to sway her. She said I can run the half-marathon, and they would make sure I had a timing chip. 

Now I have to return on Saturday to retrieve my timing chip. So, this blog could BE CONTINUED... Check back for updates. I just hope their won't be. I plan on having a new, happier blog entry about the marathon itself.