With the Expo soft opening happening next week and the Expo itself drawing ever closer, even my procrastinating butt decided it was time to try and wrangle tickets. Then I read this article from City Weekend telling me that “single-entry ordinary day tickets are… sold out.” Well, after calling around frantically, turns out that’s not quite true (read on for more). But the calling around frantically also produced some interesting results. So if any of you want to try buying tickets by phone – so here’s a short guide for what to.
There are only four agents allowed to sell Expo tickets in the Chinese mainland – China Mobile, China Telecom, the Bank of Communications and China Post. I got their Expo hotline numbers from Shanghai Daily and – so that I could emulate the less Mandarin-inclined of my readers – I faked not being able to speak Chinese and tried to buy tickets online. The results, from worst to best, follow:
China Telecom Hotline number: 114
My first call to China Telecom put me in touch with a person within a minute. At first I thought this was fortuitous, but then, as I began explaining my plight in English, they directed me to a different number. This different number (4008200114) turned out to have very little to do with Expo stuff – it was a directory/translation service instead. Calling back, I asked once again for an English speaker, this time in halting Chinese (有英文服务吗? you yingwen fuwu ma?).
After asking me to repeat myself a couple of times and asking me if I could please just have better Chinese, the employee finally gave up, telling me that there WAS no English help. I’d just have to go somewhere else. If you have no Chinese skills whatsoever, don’t go through China Telecom.
So I went for China Mobile, the other telecom company. This time around, I was directed to an automated menu – but one that had an English option. Oh glee, I thought, this will be easy. It wasn’t. I asked about the availability of single day tickets.
“Oh, if you want to buy tickets,” the customer representative said in very commendable English, “I suggest you go through our Chinese hotline. That will be easier.”
Easier for whom, I thought. I replied that I didn’t speak any Chinese and was afraid I really needed an English speaker to sell them to me.
“Maybe you have Chinese friends? That would be the best way – have your Chinese friend buy them for you.”
Well, okay then.
I had the least trouble getting to an English speaker using the Bank of Communications hotline. You press 8 and then 1 for English once you reach the automated menu. There was a strange silence for a while (I guess maybe their automated music somehow didn’t start?) but then a person came online to help me out.
Are there peak days available, I asked. Yes, they replied, but only on May 2 or May 3 – everything else was sold out. That’s fine, I said, how about standard day one-day admissions?
“Yes, we have those. Would you like to give me your bank card number? You can buy it right away.”
I didn’t expect it to be that easy, so it took me a moment to catch my breath and tell them that, no – I just wanted to make sure. I would try to buy the tickets later from a branch office if that was okay. She chirped brightly that if I could give her my cross streets, she’d find the closest branch office to me.
Turns out it’s super close – but then again, I’m in Jing’an district and branch offices of banks are almost as omnipresent as Haibao shrubbery.
This time, I got an automated phone menu again. Surprsingly, the first time I heard it, all it had were Chinese options. The second time I called, it was option 9. Maybe this could be blamed on bad reception on my part. Even when I didn’t get the English option, pressing 0 took me to a real person who, when she heard speaking English, replied “Just a minute, I will transfer you to our English service representative.” And so I was transfered.
My English service rep was able to tell me the following information: They DO still have peak tickets available, but only for May 2 and May 3. All the other peak days were sold out. No matter, what I wanted to know is if I could still buy single standard-day tickets.
And yes, they were still available for 150RMB each. China Post would deliver them to my house (payment on delivery), but it would take about a week. If I wanted my tickets today, she suggested I go physically to a China Post outlet.
Without prompting, she asked me my address and pointed me to the nearest China Post that would be selling tickets, adding that their opening hours were from 7am to 7pm and giving me their phone number for good measure.
The best two outlets for buying Expo tickets if you’re a foreigner that doesn’t speak Chinese seems to be China Post and Bank of Communications. Tomorrow (since… well, I’m STILL a procrastinator and it seems like the dry-ish weather will hold out until then), I’ll document how to actually buy them in person at either one of these locations.