Thursday, 16 April 2009
We arrived in Beijing in late September, only days after the end of the Paralympic Games. We had the latest editions of all the guidebooks: published in 2007, now woefully out of date... pre-Olympic guides to a post-Olympic city.
Explaining that many of the hutong districts had been knocked down to make way for new developments, one book pointed us to an area behind Wangfujing Snack Street to see traditional ways of life preserved in the very centre of the city. We followed these directions hopefully, but found only tower blocks and building sites.
On our last full day we decided to visit the Birds Nest stadium. We knew the building wouldn't be open (there was to be a one-day special opening the following week, after we'd flown home again) but we wanted to see the architecture anyway.
We went to the metro station, navigated the touch-screen ticket machines which let us choose exactly which station we wanted to go to (the aptly-named Olympic Park), and bought our tickets. The guide books had maps of proposed metro lines, with comments suggesting it was unlikely all would actually be built in time for the Olympics - but they were. Automated announcements on the trains told us, in English and Mandarin, when it was time to change for the Olympic line.
So far, so good... except that it wasn't. No-one had bothered to update the automated systems to account for the fact that the Olympic line had been closed - apparently the second the games were over. We had to walk up, past closed metro stations, to finally reach the stadium - the one place in Beijing not swarming with tourists. Well, not yet.
Beijing managed, against the odds, to transform itself into an Olympic city. It remains to be seen what post-Olympic Beijing will become.
I wrote this as a 500-word exercise a short while ago. I always think of our Beijing visit in terms of 'post-Olympic', and it always puts me in mind of 'post-Apocalyptic'...