Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Beijing: The Olympic Games

(This is part of a series of posts on our recent trip to China. We'll be posting throughout the summer as we bum around at or near home.)

Believe it or not, the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games is only two days away--right smack in the middle of our long odyssey back to Seoul (thank heavens for Tivo). To celebrate the end of China's long wait, and to provide some upbeat counterbalance to all the negative press China's been getting these days, here's a roundup of the Olympic sights in Beijing.

First, there's the ubiquitous Olympic countdown clock. This one is on the steps of the National History Museum, which is currently closed for "renovations" (I'm told it's closed more often than it's open, the Party rewrites its history so much). As a result, this clock can be seen from almost anywhere on Tiananmen Square.
But these babies are everywhere--most major tourist sights, big department stores, a few restaurants . . . I even spotted a small one on sale for use in the home.

These fellows are also everywhere: the Fuwa, or "Friendlies," Beijing's Olympic mascots. Below you can see Nana with a four-foot Huanhuan, an anthropomorphic torch.

There are five Fuwa in all: Beibei the fish, Jingjing the panda, Huanhuan the torch, Yingying the Tibetan antelope (I see what you did there!), and Nini the swallow.Together, their names read "Beijing huanying ni," which means "Beijing welcomes you." Each of the Fuwa is associated with a specific set of events. We can only be eternally grateful to the person who gave shooting to Jingjing the panda, because--well, see for yourself.Each of the events also has a symbol done in the style of ancient Chinese oracle bones, which sport the oldest extant form of Chinese writing.
Nana is apparently boxing. I should watch out! (On a side note: I wonder how the Chinese and Japanese feel about Taekwondo, and not, say, Kung fu or Aikido, being included in the Olympic games.)

The centerpiece of the Beijing Games, however, is the Olympic Green, a park on the north side of town that's home to both the National Aquatics Center (aka "The Water Cube") and the National Stadium (aka "The Bird's Nest").
Both buildings are impressive feats of modern architecture and engineering. The Water Cube is an enormous open space enclosed by inflated plastic bubbles held up by a complex web of steel struts. The building has some green features: it will heat itself through the greenhouse effect in the winter and needs almost no electric lighting for daytime events. It's use of structural bubbles also makes it many times lighter than it would normally need to be, which cuts down on material use. At night, the bubbles themselves are lit with small, energy-efficient LED lights (I think--as I vaguely recall a TV special on the building telling me), causing the whole structure to glow.
The Bird's Nest is also an impressive architectural achievement. It uses a similar "chaotic" steel structure to distribute weight more efficiently, thus reducing material costs and, in the process, giving the building a pleasing facade. It's within walking distance of the Water Cube, which makes Olympic Green the only place outside of Tiananmen Sqare where you can walk between two major sights in anything less than half an hour.
The building above, which will house both foreign and domestic media during the Games, has received less fanfare. It's not hard to tell why: a looming skyscraper shaped like a torch is a bit tacky, even for Beijing. That the tower distracts from the Olympic Green beside it only makes things worse. Why not keep it low or at least low-key, like the Olympic offices behind it?

Anyway, enough kvetching. Here's a shot of Nana and me on a footbridge in front of the Bird's Nest, and then Nana with Shasha below.

No comments: