Beijing Day 3 & 4 – Olympic Green, Collectors and Artists

With monday being a working day, and thus my cousins occupied at work, I took upon the task of a tour guide or some sort of that capacity. My uncle was in town with his wife’s nephew and nieces and as first time visitors they were induced to visit China after their successful hosting of the Olympics in 2008. Which is why today we would visit the Bird’s Nest Stadium or 鸟巢, as the locals call it. First though it was lunch, and my uncle brought us to Shin Kong Place once again to get lunch and show them how China has moved from a rural agrarian society to a consumerism model. Another great reason for having lunch here was the access to the subway station of Dawanglu 大望路站 which is just at the outdoor plaza between Shin Kong Place and China Central Mall.

Exorbitant shopping at Beijing, anyone? The subway station entrance is just on the left of this photo

The subway will, however first bring us to the new Beijing Capital Airport Terminal 3 which is another architectural marvel. Taking the line 1 subway to Guomao 国贸 where we transferred to the line 10 subway to Sanyuanqiao 三元桥. Sanyuanqiao is a district in the north-east corner of Beijing where the 3rd ring road intersects with the Airport Expressway, and this meant it is home to some commercial buildings and hotels including a new Novotel. The Airport Express train which we will be taking to the airport departs from Dongzhimen 东直门 and makes its second stop in the city at Sanyuanqiao before an express routing which will take it into Terminal 2 and 3 of the airport. Dongzhimen is on the 2nd ring road which is why it is as close to the city centre as it gets since any more inside and the construction of the airport express is bound to hit some cultural relic of the past. The Airport Express truly reminded me of Hong Kong’s version which meant it was reliable, clean, rapid and really expensive. Again I doubt it makes sense for 3 persons to pay for the express service as they might be better off in a taxi. Or if one comes to terms with the jams to be experienced in Beijing, the Airport Express might make sense after all when one is constrained by time or travelling solo.

Airport Express Train at the Beijing Capital Airport Terminal 3 Station
Beijing Capital Airport T3

The similarity with Hong Kong doesn’t just stop there as Terminal 3 is designed by the same Foster + Partners which was behind the Chek lap Kok Airport in Hong Kong. This meant Beijing’s Terminal 3 have a familiar entrance foyer to those who frequent HKIA and a departure area as spacious and comfortable. However, the use of red roof in the entrance foyer made it somewhat darker in the entrance and if not for the triangular skylight, it wouldn’t be a really inviting area. This is perhaps why HKIA remains one of my favourite airports in the world. Another reason for heading to the airport was to check at the ctrip.com counter in Terminal 2 on collecting our tickets prior to our departure. The reason for this is due to the earlier return to Shanghai for me and my uncle. This meant that the first-time visitors to Beijing might have some confusion on where to collect the tickets without us around. Apparently, we aren’t able to collect the tickets earlier, but at least now they know the location to pick up their tickets. Thus we returned to Sanyuanqiao before transferring to the line 10 subway to Beitucheng 北土城 where we transferred to line 8 which was considered the ‘Olympic’ line having been built specifically to reach the Olympic Green and Sports Centre. The short ride brought us to Olympic Sports Centre 奥体中心, where we disembarked and walked towards the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium. The comfortable and ease of transfers between subway lines again made me wonder in awe at the pace of urban development in China. Seven years ago when I visited Beijing, the subway underground passage was polluted with rubbish and roadside vendors. Today, the number of lines and destinations served by the subway have more than tripled and stations are as modern, clean and bright as those that can be found in Singapore. A true accomplishment once again and shows the capabilities of the people.

The similarity with Hong Kong doesn’t just stop there as Terminal 3 is designed by the same Foster + Partners which was behind the Chek lap Kok Airport in Hong Kong. This meant Beijing’s Terminal 3 have a familiar entrance foyer to those who frequent HKIA and a departure area as spacious and comfortable. However, the use of red roof in the entrance foyer made it somewhat darker in the entrance and if not for the triangular skylight, it wouldn’t be a really inviting area. This is perhaps why HKIA remains one of my favourite airports in the world. Another reason for heading to the airport was to check at the ctrip.com counter in Terminal 2 on collecting our tickets prior to our departure. The reason for this is due to the earlier return to Shanghai for me and my uncle. This meant that the first-time visitors to Beijing might have some confusion on where to collect the tickets without us around. Apparently, we aren’t able to collect the tickets earlier, but at least now they know the location to pick up their tickets. Thus we returned to Sanyuanqiao before transferring to the line 10 subway to Beitucheng 北土城 where we transferred to line 8 which was considered the ‘Olympic’ line having been built specifically to reach the Olympic Green and Sports Centre. The short ride brought us to Olympic Sports Centre 奥体中心, where we disembarked and walked towards the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium. The comfortable and ease of transfers between subway lines again made me wonder in awe at the pace of urban development in China. Seven years ago when I visited Beijing, the subway underground passage was polluted with rubbish and roadside vendors. Today, the number of lines and destinations served by the subway have more than tripled and stations are as modern, clean and bright as those that can be found in Singapore. A true accomplishment once again and shows the capabilities of the people.

Traffic in Beijing’s 4th Ring Road

However, the number of cars have grown even faster and this can be seen in the overhead bridge which we need to cross to get to the Olympic Stadium. The throng of vehicles crossing underneath across the 8-lane Fourth Ring Road was amazing. It could perhaps vie with the Olympic Stadium as one of the attraction here. It was perhaps a peak hour as office workers make their commute to return home as well which could compound the traffic situation. This obviously meant a day full of smog, which shows the other side of China that needs attention, the pollution and problems caused by rapid urban development and consumerism. It was close to sunset when we arrived and the relatively long walk meant we needed a short refreshment break and there were several of these around the Park. There was no entrance fee to wander around the Olympic Green which meant that there were several other visitors to this vast park as they gaze in amazement at the stadium which the locals liken to a Bird’s Nest. There was also a great attention to detail in the overall design of the stadium, with the small little lampshades lining the park’s pathways around the stadium also encased in a Bird’s Nest motif. We took a walk around the stadium which is surrounded by a river pathway to the east of the stadium, which explains the magnificent reflection photos that was taken during the Olympics 2008 of the Stadium. By the time we completed our short walk, it was sundown and the lights have started to come out, illuminating another magnificent venue – the Water Cube or the Aquatic Centre.

Bird’s Nest Stadium in Black & White
Lamp shades lining the pathway to the Stadium in the same Bird’s Nest motif
Olympic Aquatic Center, also referred to as the Water Cube

We had dinner at a McDonald’s outlet which is a 3 minute walk from the central pathway bisecting the Aquatic Center and the Olympic Stadium. After dinner we returned to this well illuminated pathway to head north to the Olympic Green 奥林匹克公园 and got treated to the colourful lights that makes the place seems alive even at night. The area also seems to be more crowded at night, and perhaps it is one of the best time to soak in the atmosphere as well at this time of the day as it becomes cooler for the walk around the park. We took the subway back to Guomao 国贸 which was closest to our apartment. While it was short enough for a nice walk between the skyscrapers, the day’s exploration meant we were quite tired and thus opted for a cheap 3 minute taxi ride back home.

Bird’s Nest illuminated at Night

Day 4 of my stay in Beijing started late as I walked across to the mall for a cup of coffee and complimentary wifi to check up on the news and the futures market. After the perk-me-up, I joined my uncle to visit the coins and stamps market since I had a relatively free day before me and it was a visit to a place I have not visited. The growth of personal income in China meant that collectibles such as stamps and coins now are highly sought after, especially the ones that commemorate notable events like the Olympics. Several thriving collector’s market can be found across Beijing and in many other major cities across China and the sales of stamps in hundreds of pieces meant that stamps and coins collecting can become some sort of investment. This just goes to show the limits of investment options that the Chinese have when it comes to getting the right returns they need to counter the ever-rising inflation in the country. And the increasing ranks of the wealthy in the country now wants unique pieces that they can lock their value which they can pass on to the next generation, which creates a thriving business in the field of memorabilias and antiquities harking back to the golden age of Chinese arts and crafts in the Tang and Song dynasties.

View of Downtown Beijing from the Apartment

After the eye-opener into the market for coins and stamps, I returned to the apartment and joined my uncle for lunch at a Thai Restaurant in the mall before proceeding to discover the artistic side of Beijing. While meeting up with my cousins 2 days ago, I mentioned I was interested in contemporary Chinese art and they recommended that I head to this area called 798 (pronounced “qijiuba” in Chinese and sounding like ‘go to the pub’). The 798 Art District is actually located at the northeastern side of Beijing, close to the Airport Expressway and was around 20 minutes by taxi. Given the affordable taxi fares in Beijing, this area is one worth venturing for art lovers. Originally an industrial site, the factories and warehouses have become artists’ studios and art galleries showcasing some interesting artworks of Asian artists. Some of the art galleries also feature exhibitions by artists as well as sell prints of some signature art pieces. The name of the art district is derived from the main central lane bisecting the district which is 798 Road.

797 Street within the 798 Art District
Contemporary sculpture in the entrance of one of the numerous art galleries

The official name of this art district is Beijing 798 Art District 北京 798 艺术区 and is bordered on the north by the Jiuxianqiao North Road 酒仙桥北路 and on the east by Jiuxianqiao Road 酒仙桥路, with several entrances. I arrived in the art district in the late afternoon and it should be noted that most of the art galleries close at around 6-7pm though there are several nice cafes, wine bars and bistros scattered around the area. I spent the time visiting the galleries and bumped into this courtyard filled with sculptures of wolves. The courtyard was also filled with several interesting sculptures combining Chinese heritage with modern influences. In between the galleries-hopping, I managed to grab myself a Churros (long-lost snack) and a cup of coffee. During my visit, I also got to see a film shooting in progress at one of the art cafe in the district. For visitors it is best to spend one to two hours around visiting the numerous galleries and get a feel of the contemporary art scene in China, in addition they should note that photography is naturally not allowed in many of the individual art galleries. The industrial feel of the area gave the district an edgy feel and is wholly appropriate for a contemporary art district.

A cyclist travelling across the 798 Art Zone
Film shooting in progress at an Art Cafe in 798 Art District

With the snack I had previously still filling my stomach, I ended up not having dinner in the bistros lining the art district. Rather, I made my way by taxi to Guomao, named after the China World Trade Centre in the site. A new landmark skyscraper sits across the China World Trade Centre called the Yintai Centre 银泰中心 which also houses the Park Hyatt Beijing while the China World Trade Centre houses the new Summit Wing of China World Hotel, a Shangri-La property. The Yintai Center would have to be one of the nicest office towers in Beijing with the red light at the top akin to a lantern lighting the spire at the middle of downtown Beijing. The new Summit Wing of the China World Trade Centre was imposing as well by being the tallest building in Beijing. I had dinner in the one of the numerous food outlets that could be found at the adjoining mall opposite the Yintai Centre before walking back to the apartment which is about a 10 minute walk from China World Trade Centre.

Beijing Yintai Centre at Night with the red light illuminating the spire like a Chinese lantern
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