Monday, June 11, 2007

[The Life of Shaun #126] Beijing

Wow, had a fantastic day in Beijing today!  Got to see several very cool things in this monolithic city.  The last speaker in the symposium cancelled at the last minute so we had more of the day to explore, which was great.  I wanted to see a few of the new buildings that I saw a couple months back on this show talking about Beijing's wild modern architecture, so I suggested it to a couple classmates and we set out.

Just for background, until relatively recently, Beijing was filled with old, one-story neighbourhoods; these have, with few exceptions, been erased from the central areas.  Instead there are the broad, car-choked avenues connecting soulless buildings that are the mark of modern Beijing.  But along with these shames of China's hyperactive need to prove itself to the world are some bold icons that would never get built in more stakeholder-conscious countries.

So, with that we set off to see the Olympic stadium under construction, aka "The Bird's Nest" - *stunning*.  I'd seen the plans on TV and in print, but it is magnificent enough that when we rounded a bend and saw it there, all four of us gasped audibly.  It's enormous, and so intricate and fine.  Really, honestly, an instant landmark that can change your image of the city.  Next was the aquatic centre next door, which is meant to be less dramatic as to not detract from the stadium, but it distinct on its own.

This is the artist image of how they'll look at night next to each other:

Beijing has been willing to go out on a limb with the best of the West in terms of architecture, bold iconic buildings that no one in the West is brazen enough or in control enough to pull off any more.

After that we headed off to my next building site (BTW, 80% of the cranes in the world are in China right now - there is frenetic construction everywhere), the new opera house.  This is a very cool, very modern building right by Tienanmen Square.  It looks like half a dome sticking up out of a lake -- there are no doors or windows on it, and you get in by taking a tunnel that leads under the man-made lake.

And what it'll look like when it's done:

But on the way there we stopped in one of the older parts of the city that is still left (for now) and saw a little more traditional, oldy-worldy Beijing.  Very cool to see that side, too, and it gave the city a little more of a heartbeat.  These streets are obviously not well-touristed as when we were there, the Chinese were taking pictures of us!

One last cool building, the new Central Chinese Television headquarters - it's just behind our hotel, but unfortunately is only about 1/2 done, so couldn't get a shot that shows what it will be like at all, but you can check it out here:

Really.  Cool.

It's been very cool so far.  The first night I went to dinner with many people form the class, then headed out to a popular bar area for a few drinks and had some at a very austere, but colourful, local spot.  Sunday was amazing; well, first we went to the Forbidden City, which is very big and very barren.  But that night on the Great Wall was, despite my assumptions of hoakiness, unbelievable.  Impossible to describe what it was like there, seeing the wall stretch over the hills on either side of us, watching the lights come on as the sun set.  Really, really awesome.

One drawback, the smog!  It's filthy, and *so* much worse now in the work week than it was when we arrived on a Saturday - I can't believe difference it makes.  Check out these two pics taken from my hotel room, the first is on Saturday and the second is today; nothing has changed but the day of the week, it's just that much dirtier with all the cars on the road and factories in full swing again!

So having a great time!  We're off to Shanghai tomorrow, so the start of the next adventure...  just thought I'd share the Beijing bit now.

Favourite sign so far at the Forbidden City: "We beg your pardon for any possible inconvenience caused by the construction of ancient monument."

I'll post all the pics later - this connection is too slow!

Hope this finds you well!


Shaun Coley
Clerkenwell, Islington
London, UK
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