There are various ways in which China will be tested to see if it is "ready" to host the Olympics. For instance:
- buildings, venues, stadiums -- these are well underway, they look impressive from the outside, and everyone seems to assume they'll be great;
- physical infrastructure: the new terminal at Beijing's airport has just opened, countless subway stops are scheduled to open in time for the games, I would imagine that this has been well-planned and will work out;
- social infrastructure: posters appear every day reminding people to spit less, stand in line more, be gracious hosts, etc. There's a big push that seems to have a willing spirit behind it. Over the months I have encountered exactly one Beijing taxi driver who knew more English than I know Chinese, but a big effort in teaching taxicab English is reportedly underway. And all subway lines have signs and announcements in English as well as Chinese.
- natural environment: here's hoping!
Then there is the general and hard-to-pin down question of simply handling the Olympic-scale volume -- for traffic, crowd control, whatever. One proxy is the system for ordering Olympic tickets. Residents of China (foreign and Chinese) had their third opportunity to order tickets starting at 9am China time today -- 45 minutes ago as I write. My wife and I are trying to order some tickets to the rowing events, where (a) huge numbers of tickets are available, and (b) we have some friends involved in the competition. After the jump, a real-time chronicle of how it's going.
(Update: summary of chronicle below is that two and a half hours after the experiment began, the transaction failed and the web site invited me to try again from the start. Five hours after that, at the end of its first business day of operation, the system still wasn't working. Obviously the ticket system is overwhelmed by the volume of traffic coming at it all at once. But that brings us back to the original question about being ready to handle the predictably huge, surge-style peaks of Olympic-related volume. We'll see...)
Extra-final update: Success! At 6:45pm China time, only nine hours and forty-five minutes after first logging on, I landed three bargain seats for the rowing heats, @ 20RMB ($2.85 -- the 30RMB seats must have been sold out). End of the chronicle.
9pm May 4: Successfully and easily establish my on-line account for ordering tickets. (All times China time).
9:00 am May 5: Try to reach the main ticket site, here. Request times out.
9:01 am: After hitting Refresh, reach the site successfully!
9:02 am: Log into my own account!
9:10 am: After a number of refreshes, get to the "Order Tickets" screen. Wow!
9:10-9:35 am: Repeated error messages when trying to order tickets. Message says, "system undergoing maintenance." Apparent place-holder for handling too much volume.
9:35 am: Get to the order screen! Ask for 3 tickets (the maximum) for second-day heats of the rowing events! Click box to say that I will pay with Visa card, only authorized credit card.
9:36 am: Screen says "We are currently working on your request." A second line for the savvy: "If you now refresh the current page or hit the back button, you will lose your place in line." Update bars and other gizmos show that the connection is active and hasn't just died. That message is still showing now, 9:48am, when I save this item. Updates when anything else happens.
9:52 am: Page definitively times out. Main message says: "THE CONNECTION HAS TIMED OUT. The server at www.tickets.beijing2008.cn is taking too long to respond." Back to square one.
9:56 am: Get back to the site, re-enter my account name. It remembers which tickets I was requesting! Impressive. Press the "pay on-line" button again.
10:10 am: "We are currently working on your request" message still showing. Message of my own to any Atlantic comrades in the head office: hey, I'm also doing "real" work while this churns along in the background.
10:30 am: Same message as at 10:10 and as at all times since 9:56. At least it hasn't officially timed out. Have to go some place for a few minutes, will let this percolate along.
11:00 am: Back at the computer. No change since 10:30 -- which means that the same "we're working" screen has been displayed for the last hour-plus. At least it hasn't timed out...
11:30 am: No change. No matter where things stand, I'm going to have to quit at noon.
11:32 am: Ah, we have results! After churning for more than an hour and a half, the screen tells me this: "We’re sorry, we’re unable to process your request. Please try again." Maybe another time.
After years of planning, are the systems ready for the volume of the games? I guess we'll see.
Another update: My friend Adam Minter of Shanghai, an Atlantic author and creator of the wonderful ShanghaiScrap blog, also passed the morning waiting in vain for soccer tickets. But he reminds me that the online "ordering" system is the product of high-level foreign expertise: in specific, the wizards at Ticketmaster. Nice going, foreign experts!
4:30 pm update: Just revisited the site, still not working. Obviously the problem is the swamping effect of so much volume. But, as noted above, that brings us back to the original question: of whether things in general are ready for the predictably huge, surge-style, peak volumes of Olympic events. This part of the system obviously is not.
6:45 pm: Success! Nothing to it....