Beijing / Closed for business

This week is National Week in China, which means that everybody gets a whole week of public holidays … well, not a whole week really, as we have to work both days this weekend to allow for the rest of the week off.  That makes sense, right?

So, we took a trip to Beijing on the new super-express train … well, not a super-express train really, as it takes 5.5 hours to get between Shanghai and Beijing, not the four hours promised prior to the opening of the service.

Anyways, Beijing is a very popular October holiday destination, as the weather is great and lots of locals feel compelled (nay, obliged) to visit the capital during the national holiday period.  And like the locals, we were keen to see some of the city’s iconic sites, both historic and contemporary, while we were there.

Nice idea, shame about the reality.

First stop was the Forbidden City, where we discovered the entry plaza absolutely teeming with people.  They have a saying here to describe huge crowds – “people mountain, people sea” – and it was an apt way to describe the scene.  The line-up for entry tickets was incredibly long and slow moving and everyone in it looked pretty grumpy, so we cut our losses and headed to the next stop …


Tian’anmen Square.  We are fast learners, so were not at all surprised to encounter another mass of humanity that I would describe more like a “people glacier”.  The square itself was ringed with layers of fences, manned by thousands of police officers directing and halting the enormous crowds.  We even needed to join the end of a 10 minute queue to cross the street.

While we did get into the square itself, it was hardly a relaxing experience, navigating the crowds under the watchful eye of Chairman Mao, countless security personnel and cameras, not to mention our fellow tourists (the constant staring and pointing, badly-concealed photographing and requests for photos do wear thin pretty quickly…)

And forget about actually visiting any of the museums and memorials … bummer.  I was kinda keen on catching a glimpse of the Mao’s mummy, which is on display in a special Memorial Hall.


At this point, it was clear that we might need to focus on some more specialised tourist activities.  So, we hopped in a cab to the CCTV building, the headquarters of China’s state television network, designed by the master-of-archi-wackiness Rem Koolhaas.  It’s a great building, with forms that twist and cantilever in a thoroughly delightful way, but as an urban designer, I was mostly keen to see how it integrated with, and enhanced, its surrounding context.

Not long after the CCTV building was completed, a second Koolhaas building (a 30 storey hotel) was constructed next door.  During pre-opening celebrations, some wayward fireworks ignited the building, totally destroying it, killing a firefighter and injuring many others.  In a show of … lets say, resilience … the hotel is being rebuilt in identical form.  Which means that when we visited, the entire site (CCTV building included) was wrapped in hoarding and not accessible, least of all to a couple of frustrated tourists.


Nonetheless, we got to walk around the block (and what a huge block it was), checking out the building from all angles.  You can see why it has been given the nickname “the pants”.

And then there is the other modern architectural wonder of Beijing … the National Stadium.  And, if you have been paying attention, you would know how this chapter of the story ends. The whole Olympic site appeared to be closed, to the confusion and dismay of the crowds of people who had trekked to the northern edge of the city for a visit.


So, we took a two-hour walk around the site, searching for bridges across massive motorways and sneaky ways into the stadium.  Alas, we were only left with distant views across lanes of traffic and the heads of thousands of people.

People sea, car river, frustration tsunami.


3 Responses to Beijing / Closed for business

  1. Gizzard says:

    Ah the staring. The first time I went to Malaysia I remember throwing a tantrum at some point, stamping my foot and exclaiming “I just wish they’d stop LOOKING at me!!!”. In the end I just smiled and waved at anyone staring at me, and, mostly, the friendliness was returned. You see, where I grew up, staring at someone was an act of aggression, as in:
    Thug: “You was lookin’ at me, wasn’t ya??!!”
    Me: “Um, no, actually I was looking at that tree over there…”
    Thug: “Don’t get smart ay. Don’t ya fink I can fight?!”
    Me: “Well, yeah, I’m sure you can. Don’t you think I can run??” [runs away]

  2. I’ll try that smile and wave idea. When people take photos of me, I will now point my camera back at them, or give them a prolonged death stare. Funny thing is, people SEEM highly embarrassed when I catch them out, even though they just had the front to take a photo of a complete stranger.
    If your technique doesn’t work, I may resort to the ‘thug’ technique outlined.

  3. Pingback: Figuring out the last year … « That Look Crayzy!

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