PARKS, GREEN SPACES AND AMUSEMENT AND RECREATION AREAS IN BEIJING

JIANGSHAN PARK

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Winter Swimming
Jiangshan Park (opposite the Gate of Divine Prowess to the north of the Forbidden City, Subway Line 8, Shichahai Station, Exit C, walk about one kilometer) is located adjacent to the Palace Museum. The main purpose of Jingshan Park was for the emperors’ enjoyment, climbing hills, admiring the scenery and eating and drinking. Within the park, Jingshan Hill covers an area of approximately 57 acres and rises to a height of 144 feet, from which visitors can oversee the entire city of Beijing. It is considered the best place for a panoramic view of the whole city.

A royal garden of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 – 1911), Jiangshan Park is the home of Coal Peak, an artificial mound built from mud dredged from the moat around the Imperial Palace and used to stockpile royal coal. There are five peaks on top of the mound in the park and each one is topped by a pavilion. The best view, naturally, is from the top of Beautiful View Tower, which also is the park's highest hill. The Pavilion of 10,000 Springtimes also has nice views. There are views of the Forbidden City and Bei Hai Park. The hills serve as a windbreak for the Imperial Palace and block evil spirits.

One of the most famous spots in the park is the place where the Ming Emperor Chong Zhen hung himself from a locust tree after rebel troops broke into the imperial palace. A notorious opium user he left behind a suicide note in which he confessed “my own insufficient virtue and wretched nature caused me to sin against heaven above. I die knowing I am wholly unworthy to stand before my sacred ancestor.” The tree was accused of being an accessory to the Emperor’s death and as a punishment was bound with an iron chain.

Ice Swimming and Shooting an AK-47 in Beijing

Some Beijingers take regular wintertime dips in holes broken through the ice in Sichahai Lake north of Beihai Park, Houhai, the Summer Palace's Kunming Lake, the Kunyu Canal and the bodies of water in Yuyuantan and Longtanhu parks.. The swimmers contend that taking a daily dip in the icy water is good for one's health. In Harbin, swimmers do the same cut holes in the ice in the river. The custom was introduced by Russians. See Places.

China Daily reported: “Wintertime visitors to Beijing or northeastern China can join locals diving in icy lakes, clad only in pairs of Speedos....Peking's penguins flock to holes chiseled in the glacial crusts of ice pocking Houhai, the Summer Palace's Kunming Lake, the Kunyu Canal and the bodies of water in Yuyuantan and Longtanhu parks. [Source: China Daily March 19, 2009]

“Beijing Winter Swimming Club (BWSC) chairman Li Ling says the activity boosts energy levels, improves circulation and prolongs longevity. But perhaps best of all, he insists taking a dip in icy waters reignites the fire in one's loins. So much for the cold shower theory, eh?BWSC estimates that in addition to its 3,000 members, another 3,000-plus Beijingers are winter swimmers. The trick for newbies, it seems, is getting over cold feet and taking the plunge.

China International Shooting Range (Changping district's Nankou town) allows patrons to to shoot all kinds of military-grade weaponry, including AK-47 and M-16 automatic machine guns, mortars and even anti-aircraft cannons. The operators charge by the bullet, with larger ballistics costing more. The former military barracks feature displays of about 100 weapons from around the world and a paintball course. [Source: China Daily March 19, 2009]

Beihai Park

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Beihai Park (northwest of the Forbidden City, Subway Line 6, Beihai Bei Station, Exit B) contains several lakes and is a popular Beijing recreation area. In the morning, many people perform tai chi. In the winter the lakes are filled with speed skaters, figure skaters and children on ice chairs. Some Beijingers take regular wintertime dips in holes broken through the ice of the lake, asserting that daily dips in the icy water are good for their health.Other common sights around park are people practicing wushu, a form of martial arts employing a sword; street calligraphers; people playing classical instrument such as the erhu; children paddling around the lake in duck-shaped coats; elderly people sitting around chatting in the pavilions; and occasionally even couples necking behind the bushes.

Located to the west of Jingshan Park, Beihai (literally the Northern Sea) Park is one of the oldest, largest and best-preserved ancient imperial gardens in China. It was the former palace of emperors for successive dynasties. The park covers an area of 68 hectares, half of which is covered by a lake. The park's landscape includes artificial hills, pavilions, halls, temples and covered corridors, and is one of the best examples of China's classical gardens. It is a combination of the grandiosity of northern Chinese gardens and the refinement of gardens found in southern China. .

Beihai (Bei Hai Park was the imperial garden of the Liao, Jin, Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties, and is one of the oldest of the Chinese gardens. Its wide lake — Tai Ye Chi — is divided into three parts: Beihai Lake (in Beihai Park) in the north, Zhonghai Lake in the middle, and Nanhai Lake in the south. Beihai, the best known of the three, was turned into a royal garden as early as 1,000 years ago.

Beihai Park is the largest of Beijing’s municipal parks. It was established in the 11th century and became a place where the Emperors went with their families to amuse themselves. The lakes and the island are man-made. Much of the landscaping was designed by the Emperor Qianlong. Near one of the lakes in the park is Round City, a miniature fortress that contains a five-foot-high white Buddha and a 13th century Jade Basin, two feet deep and five feet across, that was filled with wine at big ceremonial banquets. Nearby is a 800-year-old pine tree described by an 18th-century emperor as “the Marquis de Shade.” Beihai was opened as a public park in 1925

On an island in the middle of one of the lakes is the 36-meter-high White Pagoda. Built in 1271 under Kublai Khan and rebuilt in 1651 in Tibetan style to commemorate a visit to China by the Dalai Lama, it is an impressive sight that dominates the local skyline and reopened in 1998 after a year of restoration work. It was declared a protected heritage sight in 1961. Location: No.1 Wenjin Street,Xicheng District, Tel: +86 10 6403 3225; Admission: 10 yuan (US$1.58) per person. Website: beihaipark.com.cn

Houhai Lake

Houhai Lake (northwest of the Forbidden City above Beihai Park) is one of the best places to see old Beijing. Along a maze of narrow streets and alleys in the hutongs here you can find old men fishing with incredibly long fish poles, traditional courtyard houses with intricate stone and wood work, trinket sellers, and vendors that sell meat-filled crackers, persimmons and potatoes. In the old days the waterways were used for transporting grain into the Forbidden City.

Make sure to walk across the Silver Ignot Bridge, which separates Houhai (pronounced HO-hi) Lake and smaller Qianghai Lake, the Drum Tower and Old Pipe Lane, an old shopping area, where old people play may-jongg on the streets, live crabs are sold from pot and small shops sell pipes, kites and cricket cages. Prince Gong’s Palace on Liuyin Jie is regarded as one of the nicest courtyard houses in Beijing. It has a nice garden used by an uncle of the Last Emperor Pu Yi. Song Qingling’s residence also has a nice garden,

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In recent years it the Houhai Lake area has become a bit gentrified and yuppiefied and been transformed into a nightlife area. Qian Hai (front lake) now boast some of Beijing’s hippest bars. Bars and restaurant her are tightly packed along a boardwalk that overlooks the lake. Many of the two-story structures have traditionally sweeping eaves, open air upper floors and roof decks. Paddleboats cruise by on the water. In the winter people swim in holes cut in the ice. The most pleasant hutongs are a little ways off the main drags.

Drum Tower (Houhai Lake area) is an imposing 45-foot-high, imperial-red Chinese structure that was built in 1420 to mark the hours of the day with drums. It lies on the imperial north-south axis that runs from the Temple of Heaven to the Forbidden City to the main Olympic site. It attracts tourists who climb the stairs for a sweeping view of the well-preserved hutongs around Houhai Lake. During the 2008 Olympics and tragic random murder took place here. See Olympics.

See Hutongs Above

Zhongnanhai

Zhongnanhai (a few blocks from Tiananmen Square) is the compound where China's top leaders work and live. Regarded as the Chinese Kremlin, it is generally off limits to foreigners and ordinary Chinese. Describing a visit there to see Mao in the early 1970s, Henry Kissinger wrote in Newsweek: "Inside the Imperial City, the road hugged a lake, on the other side of which was a series of residences. All had been built in the days of Sino-Soviet friendship and reflected the heavy Stalinist style of the period.

"Mao's residence appeared no different, it stood slightly apart from the others. On my first two visits, a small anteroom was almost completely dominated by a Ping-Pong table. It did not matter because I was always taken to Mao's study, a room of modest size with bookshelves lining three walls filled with manuscripts in a state of considerable disarray. Books also covered the tables and occasionally were piled on the floor." [Source: "Years of Renewal by Henry Kissinger, 1998, Little, Brown and Co.]

Describing Mao's bedroom, Mao's doctor Dr. Li Zhisui wrote: "It was huge, almost the size of a ballroom. The furniture was more Western than Chinese, contemporary and functional, and the four windows were covered in heavy velvet drapes that were always kept closed. Inside Mao's room it was impossible to tell night from day. The chairman was lying on a wooden bed half again as big as an ordinary double bed...Two thirds of the bed was stacked with books. Next to the bed was a large square table that doubled as a desk and dining room. Mao took most of his meals alone in his bedroom." [Source: "The Private Life of Chairman Mao" by Dr. Li Zhisui, excerpts reprinted U.S. News and World Report, October 10, 1994]

Ritan Park

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Garden fishing

Ritan Park (Subway Line 1, Yong'anli Station) covers 80 acres and is situated in Beijing’s busy embassy district. The park was founded in 1530 as a place for the Emperor to pay homage to the sun. Surrounded by skyscrapers and offices, it is a serene place where old men fish in lotus-covered ponds and children scoop up goldfish with their hands. Fancy restaurants and a German-style beer garden occupy some of the traditional buildings. In one area there are bumpers cars, a “bounce bed” and a merry-go-round. In another is a pavilion once used for preparing animals for sacrifice.

The Ritan Park is a public park located in Chaoyang District, Beijing, China within the Jianguomen area. The home of Temple of the Sun, it was renamed Ritan (or Ri Tan) Park in 1949 and opened to the public in 1951. In the 1970s, Ritan Park became part of the embassy district of the city. In the 1980s, the park was restored and expanded southwards with the Quchi Shengchun garden (or Yuxin garden). During the 2008 Summer Olympics, it was selected as one of the three protest zones. [Source: Wikipedia]

The site features extensive gardens and a small lake. On the opposite side of Beijing, to the west, is the Temple of the Moon, located in Fuchengmen. , and the Sun Mural was installed in the park to commemorate the opening policies of Deng Xiaoping and the end of Maoist policies. There is a Sino-Japanese Friendship Monument in the park, but it is hard to spot and not well indicated.

Ian Johnson wrote in the New York Times: “Since about 2000, I estimate that about 15 percent to 20 percent of the park’s area has been rented out to relatively high-end restaurants, an exclusive social club, a German beer garden, a yoga yard, a strange antique furniture store that is always empty (and smells of some sort of dodgy corruption scheme), a Russian restaurant and stores exhibiting wholesale wares for Russian traders — all commercial activities that don’t belong in this great old park. [Source: Ian Johnson, New York Times, May 1, 2017]

“With so much of the park’s area lost to these money-spinning activities, the Temple of the Sun has been reduced to the rebuilt altar in the center, a small hill, a tiny lake and one main path. With no entrance fees and no space, the path is so crowded that it sometimes feels like a fast-spinning hamster wheel that one enters and exits at one’s peril.

“And yet I still love the park. When I follow the counterclockwise flow, I keep an eye out for the skyscrapers peeking through the weeping willows, the Tai Chi master by the lake and the old pines that somehow have survived the tumult. I even listen for the screech of the tacky children’s amusement park with its half-broken choo-choo trains.”

Activities and Propaganda at Ritan Park

In the morning joggers hit the trails in black slacks and white dress shirts; women in their fifties do traditional yang ge ethnic dances; elderly men play croquet and badminton and gather in exercise areas and stretch, push and twist their bodies; young men engage in a variety of martial arts; and large groups sing revolutionary songs and favorites from the Sound of Music. At night couples gather to kiss and hold hands; families take lazy evening strolls and groups listen to music at the Stone Boat bar.

The “pay as you catch” fishing pond is about half the size of a football field and partly covered by pink lotus flowers. It is stocked with fish various kinds of carp. Fishermen pay about $1.00 a kilogram for the fish they catch. Some fishermen show up at dawn and take what they catch home for lunch. Many fishermen smoke while they fish and have special platforms to sit on that jut out into the pond. Using a hook baited with an artificial gum that emits an odor said to attract fish one fisherman told the Washington Post he was able to catch about seven or eight fish an hour. In many places the stocked ponds are the size of swimming pools.

Ian Johnson wrote in the New York Times: “But the park is more than a window into people’s daily lives; for the government, it is once again a way to increase its legitimacy. The authorities run a tiny museum that exhibits, as if real, recreations of the smashed altar pieces. It has also put a big steel fence around the altar to show its earnestness in protecting cultural heritage. And it has erected an information board explaining the temple’s history while excising all mention of the Mao-era losses. The goal: assuring Chinese that the Communist Party, which once attacked tradition, is now its guardian. [Source: Ian Johnson, New York Times, May 1, 2017]

“Over the past few months, this message has been reinforced by colorful propaganda posters lauding traditional ways to run a family. Famous theorists from past millenniums are introduced and their works given a quick explanation. We learn the virtues of obedience and of listening to one’s parents, and of course taking care of them, all preoccupations of a government whose decades of draconian family planning policies have left it with a rapidly aging population and a rebellious youth that ignores its parents.

“Once in a while, somewhat awkwardly, the Communist state even recreates the old rituals. In March, some friends of mine, retirees who are amateur singers and musicians, were hired as extras for a ceremony on the spring equinox. About 30 of them dressed up in gowns and Qing dynasty-era hats and marched solemnly to the altar. Accompanied by a small orchestra of musicians playing gongs, cymbals and kettle drums, they strode up to a table filled with imitation dead animals laid out for sacrifice. A young man dressed as the emperor then kowtowed and made the ritual offerings, all under the strict guidance of experts from the local cultural affairs bureau who had read accounts of the ancient practices. Later, videos streamed around social media platforms like WeChat, reinforcing the popular idea that the past is returning.”

Changes at Ritan Park

Ian Johnson wrote in the New York Times: In the 1980s Ritan Park was “one of the few places where homesick Westerners could buy chocolate and postcards. In the post-Mao era, China was opening up, and so it built embassies and modern apartment blocks to house foreign diplomats and journalists. This area became an international hub, with a “Friendship Store,” an International Club and a western-style hotel that had one of the city’s few bakeries. I came for the croissants, but stayed for the tree-lined streets and the Temple of the Sun. [Source: Ian Johnson, New York Times, May 1, 2017]

“I remember walking through the park, its altar recently reconstructed, but many of the buildings so dilapidated that the grounds seemed abandoned. A few Beijing residents ventured in occasionally to fly kites from the original stone balustrades, which were cracked and discolored like old bones. Diplomats’ children would run around the altar’s low peripheral wall testing its acoustics; if you whispered into it, a friend could hear your voice a dozen feet away.

“In 1994, I returned.... I ended up moving into one of the diplomatic compounds and the neighborhood became my home. Again, I was drawn to the Temple of the Sun. Back then the park had an entrance fee that kept it relatively empty, especially in what was now a crowded, bustling city. It cost only 50 cents to enter, but China was still relatively poor and people weren’t inclined to spend their time on exercise. You worked, you went home, you rested. Parks were for special occasions. It was possible to walk the roughly one-mile perimeter path and encounter only a few people, often diplomats from the nearby embassies or spooks keeping an eye on things. The Temple of the Sun wasn’t just empty of people but looked barren. This was a time when Chinese parks rarely had grass. Instead, the hard-packed dry earth of arid Beijing was raked by crews every few days. It was odd but had an austere beauty that set off the ginkgo and persimmon trees that lined the paths.

“By the time I returned to China in 2009...all of this had changed. China had enjoyed three decades of fast economic growth and government coffers were overflowing. Besides aircraft carriers, the Olympics and high-speed rail, it spent its money on parks and greenery. The Temple of the Sun gained grass, new trees, flower beds of tulips in the spring and geraniums in the summer and stands of bamboo that are so foreign to this colder part of China that they have to be laboriously bundled up against the cold each autumn.

“Best of all — or worst, depending on your selfishness — the authorities also got rid of the entrance fees. Suddenly the park was part of the city, embraced by residents eager for activity. Unlike years ago, many Chinese want to exercise, and so the park is now filled with joggers in black spandex sprinting past restaurant workers in greasy smocks.

“But this need for green space clashes with another trend in China: the surrender of public areas to the rich. Just as Beijing’s bike lanes have become turning lanes for cars and its sidewalks overrun with motorbikes delivering hot meals to the upper-middle class, huge swaths of the Temple of the Sun have been sacrificed to benefit a wealthy minority.”

Zhongshan Park

Zhongshan Park (southwest of the Forbidden City, Subway Line 1, Tiananmen West Station, walk east for 5 minutes to the south of the park) is a former imperial altar and now a public park Of all the gardens and parks surrounding the Forbidden City, Zhongshan is the most centrally located. It is home to numerous pavilions, gardens, and imperial temples such as the Altar of Earth and Harvests or Altar of Land and Grain, which was built in 1421 by the Yongle Emperor, and it symmetrically opposite the Imperial Ancestral Temple, and is where the emperors of Ming and Qing dynasties made offerings to the gods of earth and agriculture. The altar consists of a square terrace in the centre of the park. [Source: Wikipedia]

By 1914, the altar grounds had become a public park known as the "Central Park". That park was renamed after Sun Yat-Sen (Zhongshan Park) in 1928 after China's first revolutionary political leader who helped bring about the first republic era in 1911. Many parks in China are named Zhongshan Park. The one in Beijing has various halls and pavilions built for the members of the imperial family, stone archways and a greenhouse which houses fresh flowers on display all year round. The greenhouse includes 39 varieties of tulips presented to the park in 1977 by the Princess of Holland.

Parents in search of mates for their children gather around the pavilion and exchange notes on height. wealth, education, food preference, Chinese animal sign and even birthmarks and blood type in their search for a good match. Parents representing daughters often outnumber parents representing sons by a margin of 10 to 1, mainly because of the biological clock and those with older sons don’t waste their time, and 90 percent of teh children the parenst are seeking mates for are in their 30s. Parents with tall sons with good jobs or a degree from a prestigious university are often mobbed. The Los Angeles Times reported one 80-year-old woman at the park looking for wife for her 51-year-old son.

Chinese children have different view about their parents search for mates for them in parks. A 27-year-old artist told the Los Angeles Times, “I’m not happy about this. I told my mother not to go to the park. I don’t need her help.” A 23-year-old nurse said, “I have a pretty small circle of friends and no one in sight as a boyfriend. If my parents found someone I’d probably take a look at them.”

Green Area and Suburbs of Beijing

Songzhuang is a trendy suburb in eastern Beijing that attracts the nouveau rich and artists with money.

Zhongguancun, a western region of Beijing, is where several universities are located, including Peking and Tsinghua universities, China’s top two academic institutions. What used be a collection of brick buildings set among fields, is now a major commercial hub with shopping malls and glass-and-steel office building used by technology companies like Google and Microsoft.

Yizhuang (outside Beijing) has been trying to rebrand itself with the name E-Town. Yizhuang was a royal hunting ground under the last emperor, but, as E-Town, it has the sweeping asphalt vistas of a suburban office park, around blocks of reflective-glass buildings, occupied by Nokia, Bosch, and other corporations. Local planning officials have embraced the vocabulary of a new era; E-Town, they say, will be a model not only of e-business but also of e-government, e-community, e-knowledge, and e-parks.

Nan Haizu Milu Park (a few kilometers outside of Beijing) covers 250-acre and occupies the southwestern part of the former Imperial Hunting Park. It contains a herd of introduced P're David's deer. The last native herd kept in the Imperial Hunting Park, a walled in 144-square mile royal preserve, disappeared after two tragic events. A severe flood in 1894 breached the walls of the Imperial Hunting Park and allowed many deer to escape into the surrounding countryside, where they were killed by starving peasants. Six years later, foreign troops shot the remainder during the bloody Boxer rebellion. The introduced heard has grown from 20 to 55 animals in ten years. See Animals.

Beijing’s Top Universities

Peking University is known in China as Beijing Daxue, or Beida for short. It was established and run by Americans in 1889 and was located near the Forbidden City in Jingshan Park until it was moved to its present location in the far northwest part of the city in 1953. Its students were at the forefront of the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen Square demonstrations. Beida is underfunded and short on supplies. Sometimes students have to take exams standing up because there are not enough chairs. Many students share a four-square-meter dormitory room with five others.

Peking University is known for its long history, outstanding academic resources and beautiful campus. The campus of Peking University, also known as Yan Garden, has been unofficially dubbed by many as the mini-Summer Palace for its great scenery near the Weiming Lake area, which was once part of a Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) royal garden. The Boya Tower to the south of the lake is illuminated at night and its reflection in the lake is considered particularly beautiful. In warm days, students can be seen reading and studying beside the lake and in winter they skate on it. The campus is also renowned for the beauty of its traditional Chinese architectures, similar to those inside the Forbidden City. [Source: Lu Na, China.org, March 31, 2011]

Tsinghua University was founded in 1911 and is considered by many to be the best university in China. Covering 356 hectares, it is also one of the largest universities in China. Many celebrities have graduated from or worked at Tsinghua, including Nobel Laureates Tsung-Dao Lee and Yang Zhenning, China's former president Hu Jintao and writer Wen Yiduo. Located on the site of a Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) royal garden, the campus retains Chinese-style landscaping and buildings, as well as Western-style buildings that reflect the American influence in its history. The campus was named one of the most beautiful in the world by Forbes in 2010.

Bird’s Nest Stadium

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Bird’s Nest Stadium (Olympics Area, Subway Line 8 to Olympic Sports Center Station, Exit B2) is the nickname of the National Stadium, which hosted the opening and closing ceremonies, the track and field events and important soccer games at the 2008 Olympics. One of the world's most famous new structures, is was designed by the Pritzer-Prize-winning Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Piere de Meuron, who became famous when they converted London’s dour Bankside Power Station into London’s Tate Modern museum.

The Bird’s Nest name was given by the Chinese public to the stadium as it being built because it resembled a nest. The name was considered a compliment because bird’s nest soup is a highly-valued delicacy associated with special occasions. The architects originally likened the design to the finely cracked glazing on Chinese pottery.

Design of the Bird’s Nest Stadium The Beijing Olympic Stadium is 330 meters long, 220 meters wide and 69.2 meters tall and covers 250,000 square meters and has 91,000 seats and a capacity of 100,000 people. It is a complex, slightly off-kilter, elliptical 42,000 ton lattice work of steel surrounding a concrete stadium bowl. Construction took place between March 2004 and March 2008. It was built with 36 kilometers of unwrapped steel, with a combined weight of 45,000 tons. Travel Information: Open Hours: 9:00 to 6:00pm; Admission: 50 yuan; 25 yuan for students Getting There: Bus 386, 656, 660, 689, 696, 740, 753, 939, 944 or 983 to Yayuncun Stop; or take subway Line 8 to Olympic Sports Center Station, Exit B2. Web Sites: Official site ; Beijing 2008 ; Wikipedia ;

Bird’s Nest Stadium After the Olympics

After the Olympics about 10,000 tourists a day paid $7 for a tour of the stadium and a chance to walk on the stadium floor and climb through the expensive seats. Within a few months the paint was already starting to peel. The only event booked for 2009 was a staging of Puccini’s opera Turandot, directed by Zhang Yimou, on the one-year anniversary of the Olympics opening ceremony.

The stadium costs $19 million a year to maintain and finance. It has no permanent tenant after the Beijing Guoan Football Club backed out, saying it would be embarrassing in a 91,000-seat stadium with only 10,000 spectators. In February 2009, it was announced the area around the Bird’s Stadium would be turned into shopping and entertainment complex over the next three to five years.

The original plan called the Bird’s Nest stadium to have about 10,000 seats taken out to make way for shops and restaurants and a hotel to be placed in the upper concourse. A shopping mall already sits below the stadium that is reached by broad ramps. There are also plans to market the Bird’s Nest name. Already it has raised $14.5 million from sponsors such as 3M and Bayer. Some have suggest having rock concerts there. It will difficult to recoup the cost.

Visiting the Bird’s Nest

Visiting the Bird’s Nest stadium a year after the Olympics, Johanna Yueh wrote in for China.org: “The iconic stadium remains a sight to behold. While not as tall as the skyrises that surround it just the next block over, the Bird's Nest's break from conventional Beijing architecture makes the stadium seem gargantuan. Then again, built to seat 91,000, the stadium is gargantuan. What's such a large stadium to do when its raison d'être has come and passed? [Source: Johanna Yueh, China.org, July 3, 2009]

“Well, for starters, it removed 11,000 seats. But the still-giant complex still has had trouble booking events. Chinese football teams won't play matches there because it would be embarrassing how many empty seats there will be. Rumors that Beijing Guo'an football club would move there have been denied, mainly because it would be almost impossible for a Chinese Super League club to raise enough money through ticket sales or sponsorship for the move.

“The Bird's Nest has opened its doors to tourists, who have been providing a steady stream of business. For 50 yuan (US$7.32) each, people can enter the stadium, sit in the plastic red (or white) seats and watch nothing. Exciting? Wait until you hear about our day.The stadium's mangle of twisted steel beams towered over visitors as they milled around outside. Thousands of visitors flock to the Bird's Nest every day....Most of the ones we saw were Chinese on vacation tours to Beijing, and you could tell which group each belonged to by the color of his baseball cap. They came from all over the country--Zhejiang, Hebei, Qingdao, to name a few. Some visitors were Not Chinese, meaning they were white. They hailed from places like Texas and France.

“People steadily streamed through the entrance gate, down the steps, onto the field, back up the steps--pause to take a picture with the Olympic mascots, Beibei, Jingjing, Huanhuan, Yingying and Nini!--then into the gift shop and out the exit gate...Most visitors didn't seem to be bothered by the lack of anything to watch. Despite the 50 yuan ticket to see and do more or less nothing, the Bird's Nest continues to draw visitors because, well, it's the Bird's Nest. It's not just an architectural design wonder and delicious eye candy for Herzog and de Meuron fans, it's a proclamation that people want to hear and a history that people want to be part of.”

Water Cube

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Water Cube (Next to the Bird's Nest Stadium, Subway Line 8 to Olympic Sports Center Station, Exit B1) is the nickname of the National Aquatic Center, which hosted the swimming, diving, water polo and synchronized swimming competitions during the 2008 Olympic Games. Designed to look like a collection of water molecules, it is covered by bubble-like outer sheathing that is iridescent blue in color. Although the building looks Western its creators insist it has many Chinese elements. The rectangular shape and north-south orientation, for example, are not unlike that of the Forbidden City. The International Olympic Committee called the building “nothing short of staggering."

The Water Cube held 17,000 people at the time of the Olympics. Forty events were held there. It was unveiled in January 2008 after three years of construction. Designed by the Australian firm PTW, it may have cost as much as $200 million and was designed to cut energy cost by 30 percent. Money to build it came largely from donations from overseas Chinese.

The Water Cube is a box of irregular “bubbles” or “pillows” shaped like slices of 12-sided and 14-sides polyhedrons. The bubbles are made of ethylenetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) that are only 0.008 of an inch thick. ETFE is a very strong translucent polymer similar to Teflon. It is 99 percent lighter than glass and far more efficient providing insulation and transmitting light. The pillows are inflated within a steel frame to mimic foam. Their pattern and color give people inside the building a sense of being underwater and looking upwards towards the surface. The Water Cube comprises over 100,000 square meters of ETFE foils, making it the single largest, most complicated and most comprehensive ETFE structure in the world. In daylight, the Water Cube shines as a translucent blue spectacle; while at night, the glow of its LED bubbles creates a spectacular visual effect

The frame is composed of 22,000 steel beams. The way the bubbles fit together is based on a discovery in 1993 that 12- and 14-sided polyhedrons fit together more compactly with less surface areas that 14-sided ones first proposed by the famous physicist Lord Kelvin more than a century ago. The membranes are functional, designed to collect heat and water that can be used in the venue. A total of 353,000 cubic feet of rainwater can be saved annually by collecting water that falls on the facility and the surrounding paved areas.

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Washington Post architecture critic Philip Kennicot wrote the bubbles and the frame create “a delightful set of contradictions: The building is rectangular, even severe in shape, but the outside is soft and inviting. The pillows, some of them 30 feet across, are strong enough to walk on, but also vulnerable to piercing. And the entire cube is surrounded a water moat to keep sharp objects away, It is also translucent and the effect at night, when it glows a rich aqua blue, is stunning. Elegant, minimalist gate entryways, enhance the simplicity of the shape.”

Many like the design. Some criticized it for not being Chinese enough. Swimmer liked it because the pool was very fast. Sports fans liked it because the lighting and acoustics were good and the air temperature was comfortable,

Water Cube Pool and Water Park

The Water Cube Pool was very fast. Swimmers at the Water Cube broke 25 world records during the 2008 Olympics. Among the features that made it fast were wave-flattening lane markers with spinning plastic baffles that sucked the energy out of waves; edge gutters, that allow waves to wash over the edge rather than bounce back into the pool; and a heating and cooling system that kept the water at ideal temperature around 80 degrees,

The pool was three meters deep, a meter deeper than usual top-level pools preventing waves from bouncing off the bottom. The pool had 10 lanes rather than the standard d eight, leaving empty lanes on the side allowing the waves to dissipate. All these things helped create a calm pool with a smooth surface, which is easier to swim through quickly than a choppy pool.

Despite its nickname, the building is not an actual cube, but a rectangular box. After the Olympics, the building underwent a 200-million-yuan (US$31.53 million) revamp to turn half of its interior into a water park. The building officially reopened in 2010 as a glorified public pool. Sometimes, the Water Cube is used for a light and sound shows with dancing fountains in the swimming pool that Michael Phelps won all those gold medals. Admission: Bird's Nest: 50 yuan (US$7.88) per person; Water Cube: 30 yuan (US$4.73) per person. Web Sites: Official site ; Beijing 2008 ; Wikipedia Open Hours: 9:00 to 9:00pm;

Water World in the Water Cube (south area of the Water Cube) boasts to be the biggest and most advanced indoor water theme park in Asia. It is equipped with the world's top slides, including RideHouse, Aqualoop and Tornado. Its intelligent temperature control system adjusts the indoor temperature according the change of seasons. The colorful slides and the transparent plastic film walls and dreamy lights and music, create a scene like the undersea world, bringing freshness, excitement, mystery and happiness to tourists. Hours Open: 10:00am-9:00pm, all the year round Admission: 200 yuan/adult; 160 yuan for kids at the height of 1.2 meters-1.4 meters, kids shorter than 1.2 meters free for entry Location: Olympic Park, Beisihuan Middle Road, Chaoyang District. Getting There: take Subway Line 8 to Olympic Sports Center Station, Exit B1. Take bus routes No. 696, Yuntong 113, 689, 658, 753, 660, 839, 944, sub line of 944, 656, 983, sightseeing bus No. 1 and 2. Or, Buses 386, 656, 660, 689, 740, 753, 804, 827, 939, 944 or 983 to Beichenqiaoxi Stop;

Water Parks in Beijing

Hi Space (at Hot Spring Leisure City Resort, Beiqijia Town, Changping District) is an indoor water recreational hall with a retractable roof and glass walls, with a maximum capacity of 3,000 tourists. The hall is equipped with standard swimming pools, man-made waves, surfboard, drifting canals, beaches and kids water pools. The most notable is the liftstage in the water, where dances, water wedding ceremonies and fashion shows are often held. Hours Open: 9:00am-10:00pm Admission: 168 yuan; 100 yuan for kids between 1.2-1.4 meters tall; free for kids shorter than 1.2 meters Location: Zhenggezhuang Village, Beiqijia Town, Changping District Getting There: Take bus routes No. 3 or 23 and get off at Wendu Water City Station. [Source: Elaine Duan, China.org, 07 20, 2011]

Morui Water World ( Dongwei Road, Chaoyang District) was created by Tulip Hot Spring Garden Resort. It is a 0.35-hectare indoor water recreational park built in the idea of "Northern Hawaii." The park claims to house the coolest water-screen film in Beijing, the highest indoor water slides and the most thrilling spiral pool in China. Fun recreational pools and castles are available for kids. Slate baths and spas are also offered to ease the fatigue of the day. Hours Open: 9:00am-10:30pm. Admission: 168 yuan; 60 yuan for kids between 1.2-1.4 meters tall; free for kids shorter than 1.2 meters. Getting There: Take bus routes No. 672 or 640 and get off at Yujinxiang Garden Station.

City Seaview at Xiedao Resort (1 Xiedao Road, Chaoyang District) is the biggest man-made seaside bathing beach in China. It's a good choice to escape the urban summer heat and enjoy the sea view within reach. The park boasts a miniature tropical seaside landscape, with large man-made wave pools and vast beach areas surrounded by coconut trees. Entertaining facilities are available with fees. Hours Open: 9:00am-9:00pm, May 27-September 4 Admission: 60 yuan; Getting There: Take bus routes No. 359, 418, 641, 813, 835, 935 and get off at Xiedao Resort Station.

Water World in Qingnianhu Park (Anding Gate, Dongcheng District) is a 1.5-hectare outdoor paradise of water recreations, with a maximum capacity of more than 3,000 tourists. It features slides in different shapes, kids' water slides and other entertaining facilities for kids. Water World is also a perfect place for daytime office workers to relax and cool down after work. The floodlit pools at the Water World keep the park open into the evenings during the peak summer months. Hours Open: 9:00am-9:00pm, June 1-September 1 Admission: 30 yuan; 20 yuan for kids shorter than 1.3 meters Getting There: Take Line 2 on the subway to Andingmen Station and come out from Exit A, or take bus routes No. 27, 44, 104 and get off at Ditan Station.

Tuanjiehu Park (16 Tuanjiehu Nanli Road, Chaoyang District) is an ideal spot for great summer fun. The park features a large swimming pool with a wave machine and a tiny but hot man-made yellow sand beach surrounding the pool. Additional kids activities at the park includes boating and roller skating. The park has free locker, but showering at the park is a big challenge, because only cold water is offered here. Hours Open: 6:30am-9:00pm, May 28-August 31 Admission: 40 yuan on workdays and 50 yuan on weekends Getting There: Take Line 10 on the subway to Hujialou Station and come out from Exit B, or take bus routes No. 113, 350, 402,405, 420, 421, 503, 627, 705, 707, 801 and get off at the west gate of the park.

Happy Magic Watercube (11 Xiaotun Road, Fengtai District) should not be confused with the Water Cube at the Olympic Village in Beijing. The Happy Magic Watercube is located on the far west side of the city. , opened this summer. Occupying an area of 33 hectares, the park claims to be the biggest water park in the world, with a maximum capacity of 30,000 people. It houses more than 50 waterslides and 18 attractions like "The Tornado" and the "Octopus Racer." The park mixes up the traditional Chinese architectures with the modern American breath-taking water entertainment items and a European classical spa concept. Hours Open: 10:00am-7:00pm (June 16-June 30); 10:00am-10:00am (July 1-August 31) Admission: 200 yuan; 160 yuan for kids shorter than 1.5 meters Getting There: Take Line 1 on the subway to Yuquanlu Station and come out from Exit D2. Walk to the south to take bus No. 338 or 507 and get off at Meishikou Station.

Sun Park (downtown Beijing, 1 Nongzhanguan South Road, Chaoyang District) boasts Beijing's biggest outdoor water park, with a 2000-square-meter water recreational pool for kids, two mushroom baby pools and a large recreational area. The renovated standard swimming pool has swimming lanes that are up to international standards. Recreational items like balance balls, bumper boats and remote controlled boats are available on additional fees. Hours Open: 6:00am-9:00pm Admission: 5 yuan; 15 yuan for the outdoor swimming pool. Getting There: Take bus routes No. 976, 406, 350, 750, 988, 731, 729, 758, 831, 834, 815, 847, 608, 302, 705, 117, 703, 710, 419, and 31 and get off at the south gate of the Sun Park

Beijing Zoo

Beijing Zoo (Subway Line 4, Beijing Zoo Station) boasts giant pandas and 600 animals from 500 other species. The pandas are the stars of the zoo. They are spoiled and given a comfortable enclosure. The other animals suffer in their relatively small spaces. The zoo covers an area of approximately 124 acres. Beijing Zoo has also been the home of the Beijing Aquarium since 1999.

Built in 1906 and opened to the public in 1908, The Beijing Zoo is the oldest zoo in China. Animals from China include Manchurian Tigers, brown bears, golden snub nosed monkeys from Sichuan and red pandas from China as well as hippopotami, zebras, giraffes, chimpanzees, lions and antelopes from Africa, parrots from South America, birds and polar bears from the Arctic, bison from Europe and apes from Asia.

Beijing Zoo offers a park like setting with a traditional Chinese garden style. It was founded on the site of an Imperial Manor from the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644). Later plant and animals were cultivated and grown here during the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911). Location: 137 Xiwai Street, Xicheng District, Tel: +86 10 6839 0274 Website: beijingzoo.com

Blue Zoo Beijing (near the Workers Stadium, Subway Line 6, Dongdaqiao Station, Exit A, walk 700 meters, or Subway Line 2, Chaoyangmen Station, walk 1.1 kilometers) is the first salt water aquarium in Beijing and features the longest underwater acrylic tunnel in Asia. There are more than 10,000 ocean creatures, including sharks, stingrays, seahorses and starfish. The new Beijing Aquarium (just north of the Beijing Zoo) also has a lot of sea creatures.

Amusement Parks in the Beijing Area

Beijing World Park (southwestern Fengtai District of Beijing, 17 kilometers from the center of Beijing) is a theme park with miniature replicas of famous landmarks around the world. The idea is that you see the world and take photos of famous sights without having to leave Beijing. Opened in 1993, the park covers 46.7 hectares and welcomes 1.5 million visitors annually. The layout of park is modeled after a globe, with area for the four major oceans and the continents of Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, and South America. There are 109 scaled-down replicas of famous landmarks from nearly 40 countries. It was featured “The World”, a 2004 film directed by Jia Zhangke. Website: http://www.beijingworldpark.com.cn/

Some of international landmarks featured in the park are the Pyramids of Egypt, Pharos Lighthouse of Alexandria, the Sphinx, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Taj Mahal, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, A Dutch windmill, Big Ben, London’s Tower Bridge, the Empire State Building, the World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty. The entrance to the park is made up of a Gothic castle, Roman corridor, and granite relief sculptures. Among the famous statues in the Italian-style terrace garden Copenhagen's Little Mermaid, Michelangelo's David, and the Venus de Milo.

Happy Valley Beijing (Chaoyang in eastern Beijing) is an amusement park in Beijing built and operated by Beijing OCT, which has amusement parks in other Chinese cities. Opened in July 2006, it has more than 40 rides, 10 of which are extreme rides, an IMAX theater with seven screens as well as a shopping complex. There are of six themed areas: Atlantis, Ant Kingdom, Aegean Sea, Firth Forest, Lost Maya, and Shangri-La.

Atlantis is the focal point of the park with its towering Crystal City acting as the central portal. Its theme revolves around the discovery of the legendary lost city of Atlantis. The marque rides are the Crystal WingFlying Coaster (length: 853 meters, with a 30 meter drop); Extreme Rusher (length: 850 meters with a 60 meter drop); the Golden Wings in Snowfield; Suspended Looping Coaster; and the Himalayan Eagle Music Roller Coaster.Full-price ticket 260 yuan / person; child ticket 195 yuan for kids between 1.1 meters and 1.4 meters in height. Getting There: takes several buses or driving in traffic. Website:bj.happyvalley.cn

Beijing Shijingshan Amusement Park (Subway Line 1, Bajiao Amusement Park Station) is a theme park first opened in 1986 that is currently owned and operated by the Shijingshan District government. It is located in Bajiao, Shijingshan District, Beijing.

Universal Beijing (Liyuan Town in the Beijing suburb of Tongzhou) is slated to open in 2021.. It will be Universal Studios’ biggest theme park, covering 2.02 million square meters, and will have a theme park, a water park, a Universal CityWalk retail-entertainment complex, and the world’s first Universal-themed resort hotel. Subway Line 7 will be extended to the park, and Universal is putting their best efforts into the project, recruiting Steven Spielberg to help with the park’s design. Website: https://www.universalbeijingresort.com/en/home

World Chocolate Wonderland (north of the Bird's Nest stadium) is the first chocolate theme park in China. Opened in, 2010, it is the home of the world's biggest chocolate model of the Great Wall of China and a replica of the famous Terracotta Army with 500 life-size figures made from chocolate. The chocolate BMW is made from two tons of chocolate and required ten craftsmen six months to build. The theme park 20,000 square meters in size and contains exhibitions that are made from 80,000 kilograms of chocolate. Admission is 80 yuan (12 dollars).

Image Sources: 1) CNTO (China National Tourist Organization; 2) Nolls China Web site; 3) Perrochon photo site; 4) Beifan.com; 5) tourist and government offices linked with the place shown; 6) Mongabey.com; 7) University of Washington, Purdue University, Ohio State University; 8) UNESCO; 9) Wikipedia; 10) Julie Chao photo site.

Text Sources: CNTO (China National Tourist Organization), UNESCO, Rough Guide for Beijing, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in May 2020

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