Sunday, 28 October 2012

Beijing Day 3 - Olympic Park & Qianhai Lake

Empty Nest. The Legend of the Seeker of the Egg. The Toilet Index. The Call of Nature. The Sun Also Sets.

sunny 21 °C

Another day as bewdiful as yesterday with a few degrees cooler and more breezy. I must have got up the right side of the bed (even though I actually got out the left side of the bed). Dandy.

I wanted it to make today the modern Beijing theme day, and a day of leisurely pace after yesterday as there aren't a whole lot to see in the Olympic Park.

Since it's a bit of distance from Wangfujing where we stayed, we decided to check out the subway. The subway was crowded. It's more crowded than HK or Singapore, but it's better than Tokyo. The traffic congestion in Tokyo streets aren't bad at all, this is because everyone disappears underground. Yeah, Tokyo underground world is many times larger than Cu Chi Tunnels in the Ho-Chi-Minh Trails, and it's fully conditioned and spacious, catering for the battle of business by shop owners. As they say, business is war.

Beijing Olympic Stadium (Bird's Nest), China
Great place for kite flying

Beijing Olympic Torch, China
Olympic Torch
PRC should be congratulated for its unique design of the National Stadium or Bird's Nest by exposing the seemingly random steel structural trusses that resembles a bird's nest. Without this 'organic' element, most stadiums look like gigantic ashtrays. The Olympic Torch is just the lighter for that gargantuan cigarette. I call them Zeus' Ashtrays. Only Chinese could think of Bird's Nest design because bird's nest - or swallow's nest (燕窝) to be exact - is Chinese delicacies for centuries. Ancient Chinese myth led them - the Chinese ladies - to believe that consuming bird nest soup is the secret of beauty. Beauty or gross and disgusting?

Speaking of swallow's spit and building materials, the swallows saliva hardened in the air and swallows used it to build their nest. On the other hand, to increase the strength of the mortar for the Great Wall of China, Chinese mixed in sticky rice. You think Chinese eat everything? What about building materials and animal saliva?

I had sampled quite a number of times of bird nest's soup when my mum made them for herself. It's quite a delicacy. Its tastes reminiscent of egg, which is hardly surprising as it's mostly protein. Given the price and the meticulous labour involving in removing the impurities from the bird's nest, it isn't something that would be eaten often.

After the talk of food, let's talk about the waste disposal.

"You can judge a society by the way it treats its prisoners" - Winston Churchill.

"You can judge an economy by the way it keeps its public toilets" - Yours Truly.

The economic progress in China in the last 3 decades were paralleled by its improvements in toilets. The fact that it still has horrible toilets in some areas simply reflects the wide economic disparity of the countrysides and the cities. The Olympic Stadium indicates wealth, but the public toilets indicates economic development (this is my favourite topic, that's why I wrote this article).

Beijing Olympic Stadium (Bird's Nest) entry ticket, China
entry ticket
(click to enlarge)
Beijing Olympic Stadium (Bird's Nest) entry ticket, China
entry ticket (reverse side)
(click to enlarge)

How could anyone talk about China without talking about their toilet experience especially in the past few decades? I'm certainly not suggesting that the toilets in the Beijing National Stadium are bad. The Stadium is PRC's showcase to the world, after all. And yet, they have no toilet papers. I don't mean it runs out. It has no toilet paper holders. BYO. This is very ironic because Chinese invented toilet paper.

Just keep an eye on the appearance of toilet papers in the Bird's Nest to mark the next stage of economic development. Wayne Wang made a film titled "Life Is Cheap... But Toilet Paper Is Expensive (1989)". The setting of the movie is in HK, although Mainland China would have been more accurate.

Beijing Olympic StadiumThe stadium was preparing for the CX-Open Games while we were there. They're international skateboard competitions.

All these thoughts of toilet bird's saliva and toilets made me hungry. We had lunch at the wallet-hurting Intercontinental Hotel. Well, it’s the only nearby place where we could get some grubs, and we were either got burned a hole in the wallet or burned a hole in the stomach by acid, we chose the former. "Excellent choice, Sir!" That's what the waiter in the Intercontinetal said. I thought so too.

After the late lunch and a chin-on-my-chest power snooze at its 5-star lounge, we had decided where to go next. After visiting the Bird’s Nest, it only makes logical sense to see the the Giant Egg (aka NCPA). I can’t bear to see an empty Nest. I must go to seek out the Egg. Also, it keeps in line with today’s theme of the modern Beijing architecture. I can’t stand mixing travelling themes of old and new. I might want to get lost in a foreign city, but never in the confusion of architectural themes. Never, never, ever!

It was about 4:15pm when we hopped into a cab to head for the Giant Egg.

With the heavy traffic, I had time for some after-lunch daydreaming (the most satisfying kind of daydreaming). I wondered if the Bird's Nest is big enough for the Giant Egg. I couldn't do anything until I got back to my PC, and churn out some facts and figures (you can read my architectural analysis of how the Giant Egg fits into the Bird's Nest here).

Jingdingqiao Bridge, Qianhai, Beijing, China
sunset over Jingding (Golden) Bridge

With the busy Beijing traffic, by the time our cab got to Qianhai, the sun is only 32.5° from the horizon (I had my sextant). I estimated – with my handy astronomical table - that there was only 15 mins left of sunlight (ok, 13 mins; it took me 2 mins to look up the table) before the sun was totally swallowed by the earth, according to some Polynesian legend. So we asked the cabbie to drop us off there (it took us 13 secs to pay the cab-fare and got off). No point to get to the Bird’s Egg without any sunlight. Besides, this bewdiful sunny-side-up fried egg over the Qianhai Lake is so golden brown that it made me drool. I run, and run faster than Forest Gump to get the vantage point. I MUST add 1 more sunset snapshot to my library of 3608 sunset shots as if this was the last thing I had to do on earth (that’s what I called “Shoot like there’s no tomorrow”). Another Chinese lady on a Vespa got the same idea, stopped, got off, excused me, and elbowed me out of a niche and fired her DSLR away with urgent multiple shutters. What a bewdiful sight that was - the sight of another nutty shutterbug.

"Light’s too short, shoot fast, and keep a spare battery, and memory cards handy" - Moi.

Tang Ren Tea House, Qianhai, Beijing, China
Tang Ren Tea House

Tea lady at Tang Ren Tea House, Qianhai, Beijing, China
Tea lady at Tang Ren Tea House

It was only after the sunset that the nature called. Ok, it didn’t call, it screamed, “NATURE!" NATURE!", "Let me out! May day! May day! This is not a drill!”. Luckily, only I heard it. But there was no ignoring. I'm so envious of ignorant people. So in desperation, we went into the closest tea-house just so that I could use their toilet. Where is a tree with a large niche when you want one? As soon as I got in, I hid my urgency by asking the tea-lady as casually as possible where was their toilet (she was totally fooled. It was an Oscar winning performance). She told me that there was a public toilet just outside the tea-house on my left. Man, I hoped the tea was good. Well, it ain’t bad, but it was one expensive cup of pee tea. The tea was ¥180 for 2 persons, and ¥40 for water to boil the tea. My wallet had never recovered from that shock, and had never opened its mouth to spit out a single banknote for the rest of the day.

The moral of the story is abundantly clear, never shoot when nature calls you. To put it in a more subtle way, always pee before you shoot. Another valuable - but costly - lesson on the conservation of wealth is look around before you leap into a tea-house in a tourist destination (I can't really leap in that condition. It's only a figure of speech. Come to think of it, I must have waddled like Mr. Bean. Yep, there's no grander vista or more satisfying than watching waterfall in an aerial view high above its source. Lovely!).

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