My camera is dead. Dunzo. Kaput. One minute I was strolling up to the National Stadium (of Olympics fame), snapping away happily. Then I dropped my camera in my bag, passed through a security checkpoint, and my world slipped away before my eyes…or, you know, the camera stopped working. After calming myself down a bit I realized that whatever had triggered its unfortunate demise, I wasn’t helping matters by punching it. So I have no photos of the stadium or of the Aquatic Center. My words will have to paint those pictures for you…
The stadium is, if you couldn’t guess already, a sight to behold. The giant steel beams wind their way out of the ground gracefully and curve inwards to the center of the structure as if it had erupted from the Earth to eat up athletes. Then you get inside and see that it’s actually been turned into a winter wonderland theme park and the only thing it’s eating up is tourist’s money. A few pictures showing the progress of the completion of the structure are on a pillar here and there, but don’t expect to spend too much time oohing and ahhing over it. It throws into sharp relief the value of the city’s traditional architecture, and proves without a doubt that China is a country of extremes. The newest of the new, the oldest of the old, the poorest of the poor, the richest of the rich – it’s all here.
The Aquatic Center wasn’t open, but its gift shop was. You can’t imagine how much promotional crap they’d thought up – vases and keychains and track jackets and fine jewelry and erasers, oh my! I left the Olympic area after about an hour and headed over to the LAN Club for lunch.
The LAN Club, designed by Philippe Starck, is one of those acultural wonders that’s sprung up in the wake of Beijing’s Olympification (sort of like gentrification, but instead of whiteys moving in and being like, “Yuppify – zap!”, the Chinese were like, “Whitey can see us!” and turned the wand on themselves) (obviously this is a gross and deliberate oversimplification of, well…a lot, but there’s a gist in there somewhere). That being said, and in spite of its seeming irrelevance to Chinese culture, the LAN Club is amazing. Jaw-dropping. I want to have an event there, and you will too, once you see it. The space is cavernous – the floors nothing more than concrete and the ceiling left open so pipes are exposed – but every inch is covered in eccentric rococo glamour. The disparate design elements – golden, gun-shaped lamps with bases that read, “Happiness is a hot gun”; cabinets of curiosities showcasing collections of everything from old Hollywood beauties to stuffed birds to, of course, Mao memorabilia; leopard print, renaissance-style tapestries, candles that say, “Jesus Inside,” paintings on the ceiling, retro/modern/kitsch/Louis XIV – work so well together that at first you don’t realize they shouldn’t. The foods pretty tasty too. I ordered the “signature” crispy chicken, steamed rice and green kale in black pepper sauce. Surprisingly enough I found myself quite partial to the kale and all of the flavors worked well together, plus the bill came out to roughly twenty-five USD. No sixty-eight RMB bottles of water here, although they did at first try to offer me a bottle of Jean-Paul Gaultier designed Evian. “Tap water’s fine, really, just a glass – thanks!” It’s also nice that, at least during lunch hour, they realize people find the space fascinating and allow you to wander around taking pictures. I couldn’t, but another (touristy-looking) couple did. Bitter.
Next I went to check out the Wangfujing bookstore, which had such a nice imports section that I got overwhelmed and left without buying anything. Then came a few hours bopping ’round some shops and I realized there was a distinctly noticeable change in the number of people around me. On the subway in particular I noticed that, hmm, every car is stuffed full of people. And I realized, Holy Crap, it’s still a national holiday and yet I’m sitting in somebody’s lap. Never will I come here during peak season. I. don’t. want. to. imagine.
For dinner I popped into Carmen, a Spanish tapas restaurant located in between Sanlitun Village and Nali Patio, another shopping area. The food was tasty, but half the menu wasn’t available as they’d just reopened after the break, including the dessert menu.
The weather today turned out to be quite conducive to temple-hopping, which I’ll catch you up on tomorrow as I’m off to get ready for Swan Lake at the National Center for Performing Arts!