Completely dominating its surroundings – I never appreciated the scale of this building until now!
Beijing has a museum dedicated to urban planning in the heart of the city, it has been one of the places I had been meaning to visit since I arrived. Finally I made it…
As my last few weeks in Beijing were dedicated to exploring as much as possible, I will be posting a blog a day with the run up to Christmas, sharing the weird and wonderful!
So there has been so much debate lately about the smog and the pollution in Beijing…I think it adds character to the city. No?! Ok, perhaps mystery when you cannot see what’s a few hundred metres in front of you. I think yes, the pollution is bad, but there are also so many simple things that make Beijing a ‘green-ish’ place too. Main roads are tree lined and many hutongs too, so simple but makes it a much more pleasant environment with an improved microclimate and aesthetic. The streets and hutongs are vibrant and mixed-use making it a more walkable city. Cycling is so common here and easy with cycle lanes along every main road, it is safe and one of the more preferred modes of transport. The high population here has its advantages too, in accordance with the ‘compact city’ model, higher density cities are more sustainable as it means there is more shared facilities. Public transport is fantastic, cheap, reliable and well-used (0.4 kuai a bus journey and 2 kuai a subway journey). As in all cities, cars are expensive to run, but here you have to win a lottery to be able to buy one and then you can only drive your car on certain days of the week depending on your registration plate. With stand still traffic, I wonder why people would even want a car here anyway. I have found the city to be very well connected, but there are planned further improvements; by 2020 there are to be 30 subway lines in total (I still cannot quite believe this). There are also recycling bins along with every single waste bin – I’m a strong believer that small steps like this go along way.
Obviously there are many reasons why the pollution here is still a huge problem. Many are worried that the dense haze is only getting worse and what kind of health implications it has. You can tell everyone here has a desire to do something about the pollution, however there is still always a gap between the words and action, its not only the government but individuals that make a difference too. Certainly more awareness of the issues and better education will improve the situation for a start. I’m in an optimistic mood I have faith in Beijing.
Architects and urban planners here clearly have a responsibility in changing this too; to design more individual environmentally friendly buildings within a (much) more sustainable city.
I’m sure we will be reading many more stories on this debate in the news in the coming weeks, but I’m much more interested in how Beijing as a city will pull together to tackle the problem. Only time will tell.
PS. I was supposed to write about visiting the Great Wall and how fantastic it was, but got a little distracted! It was nice to see not only architects getting excited about a wall…
Since everything is so fast paced here at all times of the day, quick eats are a must, so here is an insight into the fast food that has been fuelling me, had to share the deliciousness.
Date cake from the Date Cake King in Wudaokou. Absolutely amazing, there is always a queue outside this small shop. The 2 ovens bake continuously and sold immediately from a small window at the front. I have waited longer than half an hour for a bag – yes bag – of fresh out the oven heavenly date cake. 9 kuai a bag does it. Has to be my favourite of favourites since arriving.
Another cake lady selling fresh cakes from a window space at the front of a small shop – perhaps all the best cakes in Beijing are sold in this way. This time from Dongsi Beidajie close to Zhangzizhonglu subway stop with a sign saying ‘Western style Pastry.’ Although I have to say the sponge cake with raisons that is slightly infused with coconut is like nothing I’ve tasted from home – absolutely delicious. 3 kuai.
Eating no meat here has certainly been a challenge; thank my lady gaga for the fruit and cake!
Been here for 70 days now, still loving it…
Monday the 7th of November was my first Eid in China. I celebrated with friends by hosting a curry night and feeding 20 people a feast for the occasion!
I visited Niujie Mosque, which was the first mosque I have visited that did not look in my mind like a ‘typical’ mosque! It was a great to see Beijing’s oldest mosque that was special and unique to China. It incorporated traditional Chinese architecture to give it a real sense of place. Elements common to both traditional Chinese and Mosque architecture are courtyards and gardens; within the mosque it creates a sense of serenity. It was amazing how calm and quiet the courtyards were considering just outside the mosque was a wide 6-lane busy main road.
The 11th of November was Singles Day in China, a day celebrated or mourned by the unattached. This day was first celebrated in Nanjing by students in the mid 1990’s and has now turned into a multi-million pound industry that I knew nothing about. The date was picked because of the solitary digits and the number 1 can mean “bare sticks” in Chinese and refer to Bachelors. This year was especially significant as it fell on 11/11/11, which only happens once every hundred years. It was celebrated across Beijing with parties and in the cinema with females being given even number seats and males allocated odd numbers in an effort to bring people together! Glad I found this out in advance and avoided! When being told about this was the first time I heard ‘Oh my Lady Gaga!’ instead of ‘Oh my God!’
So much I want to share, more coming soon!
So the past three weeks have been beyond crazy. Today and tomorrow I’ll be posting up all the highlights since my absence, the good and the not so good!
At work I’ve been refining the masterplan to prepare for a presentation, this included managing a team of 6 people to prepare diagrams, complete case studies and a detailed 3D model of the masterplan for renders and a video. The aim is to finish up the most important central core of the masterplan and then leave my trusty colleague in charge as I finish up my internship.
In amongst everything else, I have also been going to language lessons 2 evenings a week for a 2 hour lesson where our teacher has been racing through the basics. It has been great as I have been practicing all week and engaging in many conversations with my Chinese locals, buying things at the shops, ordering at the restaurant, navigating a taxi driver back home and telling a curious waiter where I was from (he didn’t believe I was from Britain!)
I was tricked into karaoke, favourite pastime for the locals here – not my favourite – but still ended up being good fun – sang my heart out to black eyed peas in a private room infront of all my colleagues! The event was in aid of another intern and GSA graduate’s birthday. His birthday cake was more like the size of a wedding cake and ended up on his face – something to my surprise is not uncommon here!
Picture?? Errrrm no!
Beijing authorities switched the heating on a few weeks ago – a moment that I had been eagerly anticipating as the temperature was quickly dropping.
More coming tomorrow…
So I took the subway to Wangfujing, expecting to spend too much money shopping, I never spent a penny, surprise number one, then went for a walk down Wangfujing Snack street expecting to see some weird and wonderful things to eat…people tell you about it, you read about it, but wow, live snacks on sticks! Then I took a walk to St Joseph’s church which has a busy piazza out front with people sitting on benches, tourists exploring, kids playing…and brides and their grooms posing for photos sharing their limelight with about 10 other couples! So this is a normal sight apparently, just not one I was expecting…
Lots of surprises, but I love it!
Luckily I managed to arrive in time for Beijing Design Week where I particularly enjoyed the pop up exhibitions along one of the most charming alleyways, Dashilar Alley. The exhibitions appeared in amongst the small eateries and shops selling things such as Chinese artwork and stationary. At times the exhibitions were in very unexpected places – ruined and vacant buildings were given over to the temporary exhibitions.
Hutopolis was for me the most interesting exhibition I discovered. The exhibition used presentation boards and two short movies to express the atmosphere, urban conditions and way of living in Beijing’s hutongs. It’s the hutongs that make Beijing such a special place, the alleyways are full of life and history. They mix people, cars, bikes and rickshaws navigating the narrow spaces in between the seating outside restaurants, clothes hanging out to dry and kids playing. I’m lucky enough to be living on a hutong and experiencing it all first hand. So far, I’ve seen my hutong full of life first thing in the morning to last thing at night, but I’m interested to see how this will change as the days get colder and we move into winter.
Beijing’s design week had the ultimate goal to change the renowned ‘made in China’ phrase to ‘designed in China.’ Perhaps it will change to ‘B designed in China’ instead… Steve Jobs has shown anything is possible!
See you next time,