Saturday, January 10, 2009

Where's WALL-E When You Need Him?

People often remark that here in China things age prematurely. A brand new apartment building goes up and it is covered in a coat of dust before all of the tenants have moved in. (Speaking of dusty, you should see the current state of my bicycle!) When we were told, incorrectly it turns out, that our complex is only five years old, we half believed it, even though the place looks like it has been around much longer than that.

And so it was that yesterday we had an encounter, this time altogether unexpected, with the phenomenon of the "accelerated life-cycle" (for lack of a better term). I say "unexpected" because we were visiting one of the most popular tourist destinations in today's Beijing, a must-see for visitors from the provinces. And these kinds of places often look brand new (as I've posted about before), even if they are hundreds of years old.

The venue I happen to be talking about isn't hundreds of years old...In fact, it's not even one year old! Yes, we were out spending an afternoon walking around the Olympic Green...

Now, there were enough other people around, paying thirty kuai each to have a look inside the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube. There were plenty of tour guide flags flapping in the strong winter Beijing wind. So it's not that the place was a ghost town, any more than you would expect for a collection of athletic venues that are standing there idly.

The first thing I noticed when we came up out of the subway was the state of repair of the walkways on the green. Really, the state of disrepair. Chunks of concrete crumbling off. Pieces where the mortar is no longer doing its job and the sidewalk now rises and falls under your feet as you step on and step off. (Kind of like being at sea, with ebbing and flowing waves rocking your boat.)

Then there was the deconstruction of the venues themselves. Perhaps the most shocking sight was the cauldron where the Olympic flame burned just a few months ago. Rather than standing grandly above the stadium, it was lying on its side on the girders up at the top of the Bird's Nest. Why are they taking it down? Is it going to be put on display somewhere else? I have no idea, but I just kind of assumed it would always keep its place of honor as a visible reminder of Olympic pride.

Then there were the commercial sites. Companies paid money, presumably lots of money, to occupy buildings on the green, hoping to cash in on all that global wealth that descended upon Beijing for those glorious few weeks last August. Omega. China Mobile. When we fist walked by the Omega building, there were workers busy scraping all of the horseshoe emblems off the glass facings. Hundreds of horseshoes. By the time we passed by again a few hours later, the job had been completed.

As for the China Mobile building, it was a really strange site to see. A total post-modern kind of design, with a basketball player "emerging" from the structure, ready to throw down a monster jam. Except that the exterior material, some kind of siding, has fallen off in a few places. And the surrounding environment was equally bleak...An empty, crumbling lot. Sorry dude...The game's over. Take your ball and head home.

The weirdest location on the Olympic Green? The fencing hall. Located right next to where the gymnastics events took place, in a prime spot, this venue is, for all intents and purposes, unidentifiable. There are no grand, stone carved placards left. There are not even any small signs that tell you the name of the building. It was only two minutes ago, when I pulled out a map of the Olympic sites, that I discovered what competitions actually took place inside this impressive glass-walled structure. Here's how the map describes the building...It will "sure become the focus of the whole world."

Sounds good, except that, right now, the building is surrounded by piles and piles of scrap metal. It really looks like it is on the verge of being bulldozed to the ground. Although, in actuality, the place is in the early stages of being prepped for a second life as a convention center, it right now presents a mildly disconcerting sight, to be honest. Except if your name is WALL-E, I guess...

~Steve

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