Sunday, August 21, 2011

[CHAOYANG] Not Too Late for Beijing 2008

I arrived in Beijing at past 10 in the evening after spending 10 hours in that car, a ride offered to me for 300 yuan with a Mongolian family of three also in it. Think of it as a group taxi. The bus usually costs around 200 yuan and the normal 11 hour trip usually becomes 14, as per tourists who have done the Erlian - Beijing route by land. With that in mind I thought this was the better option, and the best thing was that it wasn’t a scam. As I would like to say, I’ve already reached my quota this year when it comes to getting ripped off. After late dinner at the guest house’s bar, I immediately fell asleep.

The next day was spent inChaoyang district where the 2008 Olympic venues are located. They did not wait for me! It’s been three years, and I expected to find no more traces of the Olympics except for deserted buildings. Well, what I found surprised me. The spirit of the 2008 games is still very much alive in Beijing. How? We’ll get to that. But first, let’s visit the Olympic Park.

I have no idea if the park existed even before the Olympics. Well, it is named after the games so the answer is probably “No” but it could also be the case that there was an existing park before and the name was just changed when the games came to China three years ago. Whatever, what I am sure of is that this park is huge, and you might have to spend the whole day in there if you want to see everything. To get to the South Gate, you have to ride Line 8 of the Beijing Metro, which was constructed especially for the games. There are three stops from Beitucheng, the connection to the main line. The stop at the entrance to the park’s south gate is the last one, named after it.

You will see ticket booths and turnstiles. Just ignore them. Entrance to the park is free; the security personnel by the entrance won’t block your way if you don’t have a ticket. Upon entrance you will be greeted by two big rocks and what seem like multicolored bamboo shoots of different lengths that serve as some sort of tribute monument to the Olympics. There are many maps everywhere you turn so there is no need to get lost. They will indicate some attractions that are supposed to be distinct like a certain “Dangling Platform” and various gardens. What makes this place interesting is its vastness, and the role it plays in the lives of Beijing residents, whether they are the young ones canoodling under a tree or the older ones trying to stay fit by following one of three jogging paths that vary in kilometers.

I know. Boring. Aside from the spitting, another common thing I’ve noticed about the East Asian Cities I’ve been to is that they just love parks. If they could live in it they probably would, like what some of the homeless people I’ve seen would probably do if only these parks were not guarded or what. Why sleep on the sidewalk when you can have a balcony view of the city, right? Anyway, these parks are not just there to make the city beautiful; they are there because people actually use them for various activities like the ones mentioned above. It is not uncommon to see some exercise equipment that look like a playground for adults. In East Asia, you can rest at their parks. You could jog in them, take photos, engage in PDA, walk. Go boating. There are many possibilities. But as I said, boring.

Boring, why? Because visiting a park is always part of my itinerary. I love and hate walking, and in parks I get to do both at the same time. I love the park because of the atmosphere that is so relaxing. I hate it because I do nothing in it other than walk. I am not a fan of boating. There is no one to be intimate with. I loathe exercise. So there’s nothing left for me but walk and sit down on a bench, take pictures and videos. That’s it. And since my itinerary has been continuous, flying from one airport to another, I can’t help but think that I am having an overload of gardens and parks, so I try to skip them when I am not in search of peace. Or if there is a theme park nearby, now that’s my kind of park.

I forgot to note that you can actually rent those tiny vehicles that look like golf carts but I wasn’t able to ask how much it would cost you. The charge must be per hour, I don’t know. Aside from grass and water, this park also has some plateaus where you can view the city below. Some notable landmarks to look out for are the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube, although the latter is harder to see. Somewhere in the west is a park with some steel structures that I can’t describe. They seem like steel cables in human form. They are within the same area as the Olympic girls seen as the primary picture of this article.

As mentioned, the park is vast and you will be seeing a lot of people, but not to the point where it would seem crowded. There is an area, for example, with a lot of trees and serves as a camping ground where you can pitch a tent. Again, I didn’t bother to ask how much because I didn’t have a tent! If you don’t get tired easily, then there is plenty of ground to cover and many hidden wonders to discover. Once you’re done you’ll realize that a few hours have already elapsed without you taking notice. This is the time when you exit the park and head south.

Where to next? We go to the actual site of the Olympic Games back in 2008. You will be surprised as to how the Olympic spirit has not died down all these years. Come to think of it, China is a huge country. Most of the tourists you’ll bump into are also Chinese, visiting their capital for the first time. Even the mascots are still doing their rounds at the area, and it’s always fun to see them swarmed by kids trying to get their picture taken. Fun.

Once you reach that part of the pedestrian avenue where there seems to be a tunnel but instead of a wide road down there you see a broad pedestrian walkway, you will have reached the next metro station which is Olympic Green. Here you will find signs written in Mandarin and in French, peddlers selling 2008 Olympic memorabilia, and a mall that seems to have just opened or had been opened way back in 2008 but became unpopular. The entrance to the mall makes it seem like a deserted place, but don’t be fooled. It is open to the public, and I ate a Yoshinoya beef bowl in there. There’s also a cinema.

Finally, cross the street where you will find what you really go there for: the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube. These two are awesome feats of architecture that have become some sort of symbol for the 2008 Games and were wildly popular during that time. Nowadays internet websites would tell you that they are falling to disrepair and have come to disuse. I don’t know the history of these buildings but from what I saw when I was there, the people still find them popular. But maybe that is not enough. Besides, a horde of tourists posing in front of them will not even generate any income for the upkeep. Maybe the Chinese government is already looking for other ways to make them useful. It’s their problem anyway. Besides, those are sports centers, and sports never go out of style.

The people of Beijing are still on Olympic mode and this is quite evident in the activities in the area itself. They have placed some sports facilities in the area such as some mini walls for climbing, obstacle courses, some basketball courts, even an area for rollerblading! Those, along with posters aiming to promote health and fitness through sports, abound the area, and the enthusiasm of the people is sort of contagious. Since that one shopping mall in the area is not yet totally opened, you’d probably be doing less shopping so I’d suggest you try some of the activities offered while you are there, just for fun!

There must be some sort of entrance fee for the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube. I no longer went inside because I was in a hurry to catch Mamma Mia! at the Centennial Theater, which I didn’t find. Good decision not to buy a ticket in advance! I don’t know if the pools of the Water Cube are open to the public. Just check it out yourself when you find yourself in Beijing. By the time you pass by these two buildings, you only have to walk farther ahead to reach the next metro station, Olympic Sports Center, which is the stop before Beitucheng of Line 10.

2 creature(s) gave a damn:

melvin said...

I entered the stadium and paid 50 yuan,it was worth it!at least i felt a fraction of what it must have felt during the olympics.i'm posting my beijing trip soon once i'm done with my thailand posts.can you pls make your pics bigger?

ihcahieh said...

@melvin - You could click on them to view a bigger picture at Photobucket, I think. Will look forward to your indoor pics of the stadium since I did not get to see its interior!

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