N and O (Continuing wiith the alphabet challenge)

N is for the National Centre for the Performing Arts

Like it or loath it, the egg-shaped NCPA is an example of Beijing’s more modern side and is in complete contrast to its traditional buildings. The titanic steel structure is held up by 148 bolsters, each weighing eight tonnes and whoever designed it obviously didn’t worry too much about how it would be cleaned, as the glass panels apparently have to be scrubbed by cleaners on ropes.

Don’t fancy that cleaning job.

Inside it is absolutely huge, so big in fact that we got lost just going up and down the various escalators looking for the main opera theatre. The building itself is more impressive than the exhibitions, which seem to just chart the success of every show which has ever been performed there. (I’ve discovered that explanations at Chinese museums tend to focus more on what you can already see in front of you rather than any background information).

A room with a view.

Although it was interesting to see, in a country which you wouldn’t really associate with freedom of expression, how keen the centre’s bosses are to become one of the best venues in the world. Like many events in China, they don’t do things by half.

As is often the case in Beijing, at times we were swamped by Chinese tour groups in matching caps who follow the coloured flag their tour leader carries in front of them with a steadfast determination – whether of not you’re in the way. In fact one of my favoruite moments, as well as listening to a singer perform in the auditorium, was seeing a tour group going mad over the free water machine. It appears that the Chinese love a freebie as much as the next person.

O is for the Olympic StadiumĀ 

With the London Olympics fast approaching, there seems to be lots of talk about the opening ceremony. The latest I heard was that it’s going to include live animals. Hmm…think I’ll reserve judgement for the time being. But I really hope whatever they do, it’s going to be good. Because visiting the Olympic Stadium in Beijing really made me remember how amazing China’s opening ceremony was.

The fact that the government hasn’t really found a good use for the 2008 stadium yet was apparent when I transferred to the subway line which was built especially to it and immediately got a seat – something which is usually a cause for celebration on any of the other lines.

I made it! (Along with the Chinese tour groups.)

When you get into the stadium it feels strange to be walking around the corridors totally alone in some parts. Even with the never-ending stream of (mostly patriotic Chinese) tourists, it’s so huge that it still feels pretty empty. Inside thousands and thousands of red and white seats overlook the track where Usain Bolt broke the 100m world record. Thanks to a promotional film, complete with stirring music, it was easy to imagine the stadium filled with people, especially for the opening ceremony. Sure, I know they’ve got the people power and the strict discipline to ensure thousands of performers can hit their drums at exactly the same moment (imagine if you were the person who got a beat out) but there’s no denying it was impressive.

Where the magic happened.

Unfortunately the attention to detail has not been transferred to the momentos of the past and there’s only a half-hearted display of Olympic memrobilia. Also, although I’m sorry to say I missed out on it myself, but there is inexplicably a waxwork room with models of men who were involved in the setting up of the Olympics.

After walking what felt like a million miles around the stadium I sat down to have a rest. The Chinese tourists, clearly having exhausted taking photos of everything worthy of a picture, then decided they may as well take it in turns to get a snap with me. Now I know how poor Tom Daley felt.

I know it looks as though he would rather be anywhere else than stood next to me, but he did ask to have his photo taken with me – honest!
Bring on London 2012!