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Great Wall, Bird Nest, and Water Cube

We took a day tour yesterday visiting the Great Wall at Badaling and then to the Olympics compound. In between, we’d also stopped by a wax museum featuring the Ming Dynasty period. While learning about the Ming, I noticed many important historic events taking place in and around Beijing. I really wished I had brushed up on my Chinese history before roaming around.

National Aquatics Center (aka Water Cube)


Following the 2008 Olympics, the Water Cube was closed for remodeling, with the goal of making it more usable to the public. After two years, it re-opened with water slides, a wave pool, and other water rides. With it lit at night, it is even more beautiful.

Tons of Chinese people visit it at night. Peddlers also litter the area selling light snacks, kid toys, and memorabilia. I was impressed some vendors offering to take a photo and print it onto a mug – all within about 10 minutes! This must be capitalism with Chinese fervor. Mind you, this was around 9:30pm at night. I have never seen such product/service anywhere else in the world

National Stadium (aka Bird's Nest)

Adjacent to the Water Cube is the National Stadium, or the Bird’s Nest. (Here is a post back in August 2008 with sequence of images showing various stages of the stadium’s construction.)

While having been to Wangfujing, Qianmen Dajie, and now the Olympics compound, doesn’t matter day or night, it feels like Beijing is endless in venues for visitors and residents alike.

The Great Wall at Badaling

The Great Wall was first built during the Qin Dynasty (221BC-206BC) under the reign of Qinshihuang. Its purpose was to protect China from northern nomadic tribes. In subsequent dynasties, the wall gradually expanded. The Badaling section was built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) to protect against the Mongolians.

If anything that stood out during our trip yesterday it was the fact that there were so many Chinese tourists. I recall the very first time I visited Beijing in the 90’s, I felt the proportion of visitors to the Great Wall and the Forbidden City were higher of foreigners than compared to today. This time around, Chinese visitors make a flood. Foreign visitors seemed like a trickle, even though tourism statistics show their numbers are increasing steadily each year.

It is interesting to see the Chinese visitors reactions to these landmarks. There is no doubt they are proud. This group is generally forward-looking; they are the more successful ones who have taken advantage of the growth in the last 3 decades.

While on the tour bus, it felt like the different parts of China are finally talking with each other face to face.

(Some of you might wonder if we were dragged to shopping. We did, knowing that day tours are subsidized that way. I can imagine one day there will be a day tour that is “free.” China may be a first place to do that.)

  1. silentvoice
    April 19th, 2011 at 11:09 | #1

    Your first picture reminds me of this article:
    http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/bizchina/2010-02/12/content_9467778.htm

    It gives another meaning to the words “养晦韬光” isn’t it? In terms of (literally) not using so many lights and save electricity in the process.

    Also, these exhibitionist architecture we’re seeing in the photos aren’t necessarily great architecture… in the sense that they are totally removed from the historical and environmental contexts, super expensive to built and maintain, and do not always follow the dictum “form follows function”. What I’m referring to is the scholastic debate about post-mod vs modernist architecture styles; regionalism vs internationalism and environmentalism. There’s a large group of us who don’t really like Icon-creating disneyland architect-clowns like Frank Gehry. But the political elite in China (and elsewhere in Asia unfortunately), in their desire to show that “Asia has arrived on the world stage”, readily embraces these brand-name architects while at the same time showing little respect for homegrown architects and architecture style. It’s sad because that only exposes their own insecurity and immaturity.

  2. Charles Liu
    April 19th, 2011 at 14:30 | #2

    do you see people swimming at the Water Cube? It would be a shame if it’s not used. unlike
    @silentvoice, I like the modern stuff. Take Paris as an example, it has a lot of avant-gard architecture in a traditionalist setting.

  3. April 19th, 2011 at 16:01 | #3

    We didn’t go inside so don’t know. There are high-end apartments near that area. Perhaps in hot summers the water facilities will get used more.

    Went to the McDonalds right next to it just because we were hungry. I remember feeling a bit bizarre seeing McDonalds at these various high end places throughout China.

    I kinda agree with the view that so much electricity is wasted with so many lights on at night. The Chinese seem to enjoy this much more compared, say, to the Americans.

    High efficiency bulbs are used basically everywhere. While waiting in traffic, our taxi driver even turns off engine to conserve fuel. Over-all, I feel the average Chinese is very energy conscious.

    Anyways, it’s hard to compare. For example, a pass time in the U.S. is auto racing. The amount of CO2 per NASCAR race might equal an entire city’s CO2 for a day.

    On architecture, I would say Beijing has a lot of character. I don’t see anything wrong with embracing brand-name architects. Beijing’s skyline is hard to match anywhere else on the planet.

    A good way to preserve traditional looks is for cities to designate certain neighborhood heritage sites and residents not allowed to alter the external appearances of existing buildings. This practice is common around the world.

    I was browsing a real-estate brochure in Beijing and the villas showcased were SuZhou style homes with gardens and ponds. I’ll provide a link once I find it. Absolutely beautiful.

  4. April 19th, 2011 at 22:40 | #4

    When I was in Beijing last year, the outside of the water park – at least at night – was well used. That walk-through water fountain in front of the cube was especially popular, with children playing and running through the maze of water columns.

  5. wuming
    April 22nd, 2011 at 06:09 | #5

    My daughter swam in the Cube when she was in Beijing. Only practice pools are open to the public.

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