Saturday, March 7, 2009

Olympic Park

The seats are designed like they were in the water cube, though I'm not sure why. After all, earth doesn't splash up, unless it's lava I suppose.

Today we went to the Olympic Village. It's not the first time I've seen the Bird's Nest and Water Cube, since I walked around them about a week after I got here. This time, however, we got to go inside them. The Jingshan School takes every exchange group on several outings to all the really touristy places in Beijing, like the Forbidden City, Great Wall, and the like. Our group, being the first to go after the Olympics, is the first to be taken to see the stadiums by the school.

We arrived at the school at around 9am, and hopped on a bus to take us to the village. When we got there, we walked to the Forest Park. The Park is at the northern edge of the Olympic Village (called ao yun cun, 奥运村 in Mandarin), and I have to say it isn't very exciting. It's called a "Forest" Park, but there's not that much forest to speak of. It's more like a lot of brown grass with a tree planted every few meters or so. We found a coffee shop near a lake, and got lattes. Then we went back.

Walking down from the Park to the Nest/Cube, there are these really funky looking lampposts everywhere. Each of them is outfitted with speakers, and they kept broadcasting the same three songs over and over. It was a little weird to be hearing music outside like that, but it was fun to dance to it.

The Water Cube was our first stop. You've all seen pictures of it, so you know that the outside looks like bubbles. When we first stepped inside, it was very bluish-white looking, which I guess you'd expect. What made me laugh was that they were selling bottled water. It seemed somewhat ironic that bottled water was on sale inside a giant "water cube". Anyways, we promptly walked into the room with the pools. It looked just like it did during the Olympics and in pictures online, though today it was noticeably more serene. The seats are colored so that towards the pools there are more blue seats, and the farther you go up the less blue there is. It's designed to look like splashing water. Becky and I decided to sit down and absorb the atmosphere for a while. We sat and listened to the music, which was very peaceful and relaxing. After we were finished taking pictures (literally everyone had a camera. Usually I feel too touristy in these situations, but everyone else was taking pictures, so I didn't feel weird) we sat and almost fell asleep it was so nice. I kept thinking to myself, "This is where Michael Phelps won 8 gold medals. Here he defeated that guy by 0.01 seconds. That actually happened in this room. Holy crap." It was a somewhat surreal feeling.

Next stop was the Bird's Nest, site of the opening/closing ceremonies and the track and field events. I'd read before that during the Olympics it had a seating capacity of 91,000 people, although post-Olympics it has been decreased to 80,000. That's still a ton of people, and for some regional perspective Fenway Park had a capacity of around 35,000 (granted, that was built in 1912, when I'm sure attendance at sporting events was smaller. If only Boston could ever make plans to rebuild that darn thing. That's another tangent altogether). As we walked towards the main field, it looked to me a lot like the stadium for the Washington Nationals in DC. That is until we made it onto the field. My first impression was that it was gigantic. I mean like epically big, so huge you can't imagine it. We walked around the stadium, where there were the Olympic Mascots (called Fuwa). There was a jumbo tron playing the same sort of video as in the Water Cube. The Olympic torch was noticeably gone. On one side, people dressed up in the mascots put on a little show for the audience. It was hilarious, because the music was really funny and those poor people could barely move in their costumes. As we exited, we walked through the gift shop where I considered buying Olympic paraphernalia, but reconsidered thinking what my host brother brought to me in America was sufficient.

After that, we had lunch and went home. It was a really fun experience and I'm really glad the school took us.

One last thing. I was talking with my mom (my real mom) last night, and she said she saw a news report by one of the networks about how Beijing is struggling to find a use for the Bird's Nest and Water Cube post-Olympics. I can attest to that. The city spent millions of dollars on these facilities, even building a 3-stop subway line for easier access to them (although I'm sure the subway was extremely packed during the Olympics). Now, however, they lie there more or less unused, their only purpose being to charge visitors to see them. I really hope the city finds some use for them, since it would be a real shame to let such fascinating and amazing facilities go to waste.

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