day 23-26_Beijing_scalelessness

I found the three buildings, Performing Arts Center, Bird’s Nest, and CCTV Headquarters, fascinating for their strange ability to confuse one’s perception of scale. Windows typically provide a building with a sense of scale, but with these buildings, it is difficult to figure out how big or small they really are. They disguise their true size by smooth monolithic paneling (Performing Arts Center), elaborate structural lattice (Bird’s Nest), or hyper-scaling of structure to the point of super-graphic (CCTV).  Especially from a distance, they appear scaleless.

Performing Arts Center (Paul Andreu):

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National Olympic Stadium (HdM, Ai Weiwei, Arup):

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CCTV Headquarters (OMA):

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The walk around the CCTV block revealed once again the true nature of Beijing; the flashy renderings displayed on the surrounding construction fence showing what the city wants to be, and the actual reality of what it is - dilapidated apartment blocks and decrepit shops lining up the dirty street.

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day 24_Great Wall of China_the longest megastructure in the world

The Great Wall of China is incomprehensibly long, awe-inspiring, winding up and down like a snake for more than 13 thousand miles. If only for a second one forgets about the incredible presence and the crumbling stones beneath her feet, the wall appears almost malleable, even ephemeral, disappearing far into the distance.  Adjectives I would have never chosen to describe the Great Wall of China before.

The walk on top of the wall was thrilling, of course, but also it put many things into perspective for me. Whether it is the monumental  Tian'anmen Square, the Forbidden City, or the more current mega-developments such as the Olympic Village or the CCTV building, to name just a few, I am starting to realize that China has always had a history of colossal and imposing structures.

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day 23_Beijing_contrasts

The most striking feature of Beijing is the juxtapositions, sometimes very extreme, of new and old, huge and small, poor and rich, traditional and modern, past and present. This is a street in a preserved (for now) part of the city, where streets are lined with one-story residences, typically courtyard houses, with people walking or biking around and an occasional moped of sorts gushing by.

This wide boulevard with large retail on each side is not even a couple minute walk from the traditional structure of the city mentioned above. It is bizarre stepping out from one of the hutongs onto these mostly commercial strips that cut through the city. I almost felt like stepping through a time portal.

Dense carpet of hutongs and trees with newer residential towers looming over.

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Walking through a hutong (a narrow street or alley typically associated with Beijing) north-east of the Forbidden City.

Peeking into the open courtyards...

Demolition site; one more hutong area gone...

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I must say, people in Beijing definitely do not lack imagination when it comes to transportation vehicles...

day 22_Beijing_first impressions

Coming directly from Tokyo to Beijing is a bit of a culture shock. Actually, I’ll be perfectly honest, being used to the impeccable cleanliness of Japanese streets and the politeness of Japanese people, I was taken aback when I stepped outside the metro station, not far from the Forbidden City in the middle of Beijing. From the people pushing through each other when entering the metro train and the greyish sky and muggy air outside, to the run down one-story residences and buildings in disrepair (my hotel was located in a traditional hutong – a narrow alley typical of old Beijing), the city did not make a great first impression.

Not to mention the massive and repetitive towers, rising from the dense fog (or smog?) like the great specters of China’s urbanization, as the express train made it into the city. But I have to keep in mind that this is just the beginning of my journey through a country that transformed literally overnight.