The sun has finally made an appearance on our second full day in Beijing. Our local guide Debra, led us on a exciting morning excursion to investigate and explore contemporary Beijing. We began with a visit to the city’s Urban Planning Exhibition Center where we were able to see a great series of architectural models of all the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic venues.
Olympics fever has overtaken Beijing and our Study Leader, Dr. Elvira Hammond tells us that it has been this way for quite some time. There is a huge countdown clock in Tiananmen Square, as well as in several other places. There are “official Olympics stores” throughout Beijing, where you can buy just about anything with the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics logo printed on it.
The Urban Planning Exhibition Center provided great context for understanding the meticulous planning that has gone into the Olympics, as well as providing an incredible overview of the master plan for the city of Beijing.
It is tremendously interactive and the architectural models of the city include many parts of greater Beijing, not only the iconic places like the Forbidden City, but also for significant buildings throughout the city, as well as those Olympic venues which will certainly have reached the iconic stage in the weeks building up to 08-08-08, when the Summer Olympic Games begin.
From the Urban Planning Exhibition Center, we walked just a few short blocks over to Tiananmen Square. The space, which we were told is the largest public square in the world, was teeming with people on this bright sunny winter day. Many people were in a swiftly-moving long queue to get into Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum, where they were able to see the Chairman’s remains in a crystal casket. Other groups, including ours, stood around the square taking pictures of the building, their companions, children, and colleagues.
A festive energy seemed to flow all about. After hearing Debra describe the various buildings surrounding the square, we all wandered off to make the best of our 15 minutes of independent exploration. A few of us headed to the “front” of the square where we could get the best views of the Forbidden City building across the street, where the Chairman’s photo hangs in it’s place of honor. We encountered a barricade, which someone explained was there to allow for preparations for the ceremony to be held the next day to welcome the Olympic Flame to China for it’s five month journey throughout the country prior to being placed in the Olympic caldron at the Opening Ceremonies.
Following our visit to Tiananmen Square we headed off to lunch, and on the way to the restaurant, we were able to get very close to many of the new Olympic venues. All in the final stages of completion before the games, there appears to be no worry about anything being completed in time, as there was in Athens in 2004. “The Nest,” which is the nickname that has been given to the new Olympic Stadium is even more awe-inspiring when you’re up close than it is in any of the photos that you might have scene in the press.
We passed the “Water Cube,” which will be the home of the majority of the swimming and diving events, as well as the Olympic Village where the athletes will live, the hotel being devoted entirely to visiting press, the media center, and the venue which will host one of the favorite sports of any summer games — gymnastics.
The afternoon found us joining “The Sistas,” for a lively tour of Factory 798 in the Dashanzi neighborhood, which is the home of Beijing’s ever-growing contemporary arts district. The Sistas, are Megan and K.C. Connolly, two American young women who have lived in Beijing for sometime and who have developed quite a business of helping visitors navigate this amazing part of Beijing and they took us on a great tour of the most important hot beds of avant garde art, which included a wonderful visit to several artist’s studios and galleries.
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