Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Beauty, Boredom and Criminality at Forest Park

Considering that this is now my third year in Beijing, it seems amazing that to date I had never visited the Olympic Forest Park, lying just to the north of the Olympic Green, which I have visited many times. This weekend it seemed the time was right to put that omission to rights.
 
Beijing's Olympic Forest Park is a large, man-made nature park built for the 2008 Beijing Olympics games. It is oval in shape and features a lake in its centre; and it was designed by an individual by the name of Hu Jie. Several small islands in the lake are linked by bridges; and at the south-east end of the lake there is a handful of carnival rides for children.
 
What I hadn’t realised until today, though, is that the water, that goes into making up the lakes and canal system, is shaped like a giant dragon – not that you’d ever know it unless, perhaps, you flew over in a helicopter or studied one of the maps conveniently placed for tourists…
 
 
The Forest Park covers an area of 680 hectares, or 11.5 square kilometres, and is apparently the largest metropolitan park in Beijing. The 5th ring road forms a boundary between the south and north parts of this park which combines Chinese classic gardening with a modern landscape design.
 
The official blurb is fulsome in its praise. “People can stop and rest around the area and breathe the fiatus of nature,” we are told. “This place is the jade forest with high pitched bird voices, the wind is amiable and sunshine is glorious. Come with several friends, tease with birds and listen to their voices, which culture the mind and soul while communicating information. There is a high erected forest of clouds, the beauty of autumn is red, and the leaves are glowing with five colors, drunken dance in the clear sky with lost of mind and soul.” How could one possibly resist?
 
 
The South Entrance to the park is right next to the apply-named ‘South Gate of Forest Park Station’ on Line 8 of the Beijing Subway. Although there are turnstiles aplenty to go through, it appears that entry is free. My gaze takes in a large pond with people ambling aimlessly around its perimeter. And whizzing along at a respectable 5km an hour is a two-person quad-bike – the type you pedal, that is; not the kind of machines you whiz up and down sand dunes in! I find out later that you can rent these bikes for 100 kuai for an hour, or slightly more for four-person carriages.
 
 
There are only two directions you can go in; and with a toss of the coin I find myself heading in an easterly direction along a path that doesn’t really seem to go anywhere except on and on and on. Ahead is a kind of weir where someone has thought to have water cascading over lumps of concrete. How picturesque… I guess…
 
 
Though the concrete may not be that eye catching, there are clumps of flowers dotted around the place which lift one’s spirits a little. No idea what these flowers are called (blog-fans… can anyone help here?) but they are rather nice in a simple kind of way.
 
 
Also pretty nice are the yellow-green leaves on some of the trees which seem to glow in the air, which unfortunately my iPhone camera insists on flattening out as its clever computer control tries to even out the colour balance so the effect is totally lost here.
 
 
Everywhere, the powers that be have stuck up maps and signposts so that you can be left in no doubt exactly where you are at any given moment. Ahead is a sign pointing in the direction of a ‘Dangling Platform’. What on earth is that, I ask myself? Do they dangle errant children over a bridge until they agree to behave themselves, I wonder?
 
I discover a little bit later on, with the help of my trustee iPhone translator: 垂釣 means fishing. So it appears that this dangling platform is where you can play with a hook and line – or “angling” as we pedant English speakers are wont to call it!
 
 
In common with many open areas in Beijing, the signwriters have been having a field day. But though we are warned that on no account are we to pick or dig any fruit or wild vegetables, if the truth be known there are none of either to be seen. Maybe someone got there first before seeing the signs?
 
 
Similarly are we warned to keep off the ‘grasses’; and for those of us who cannot see a single blade of grass anywhere in the vicinity, it is comforting to see in pictures that the notice also refers to what look like daisies about to be trampled underfoot.
 
 
Throughout the park one is never that far away from water; and in theory it should be very picturesque. But somehow the views never seem to be that inspiring…
 
 
A large stone in the middle of nowhere suddenly comes into view. ‘Rising Dragon Friendship Forest’, it says; though why the powers that be have suddenly decided to rename the Forest Park without a by-your-leave is beyond me!
 
 
The peach trees beside another path are already bearing fruit after what only seems like yesterday when peach trees across the city were all covered in blossom.
 
 
The pond now appears to be a bit larger than at first imagined. Everywhere there are people bobbing about on boats…
 
 
They have even hidden the boat yard away behind one of the many man made islands, which guarantees a steady stream of pleasure seekers chug chug chugging their way through a narrow channel to the said landing stage.
 
 
In the distance can be seen the now nearly-constructed Sightseeing Tower (aka Observation Tower, depending on whose web site you choose to read) at Beijing Olympic Park. At 243 metres high, one wonders how many days in the year it will be clear enough to observe anything, given Beijing’s penchant for smothering itself in its own filthy air.
 
Ready for any eventuality, the signs around the lake warn that no swimming is allowed; nor stepping on the ice. But today is a very humid 27 degrees, and any lingering ice has long given up the unequal struggle…
 
 
Meanwhile, the goldfish, renowned for ignoring notices as if these strictures could never apply to them, flagrantly swim around without a care in the world, as if they are putting up two fingers to authority.
 
 
Another notice forbids burning…
 
 
…though it is clear from the reddening skin of many of the visitors that they too have wilfully ignored the notices, as they head for a cool mountain stream to cool off their toes…
 
 
The staff in the park, meanwhile, are well covered up from the sun as they go about their daily chores; though my first reaction is that someone may have had a little too much beer at lunchtime!
 
 
Others, meanwhile, are contemplating what to fill their faces with. Popcorn appears popular, but I am left wondering whether turtle is best left for another day, or whether a good dollop of hoi sin sauce would not go amiss?
 
 
Security is razor sharp here as the boys in blue lie back in their cars waiting for an urgent call. But nowhere is posted an emergency number for bringing in supplies of ice cream to the sweating masses; and this is one of the very few public parks where there are no ice cream vendors nor chow houses liberally dispersed every 100 metres along the paths.
 
It must be a tough job being a cop here. Can you imagine having to drive around at 10kms an hour all day looking tough so that anyone who so much as thinks of dropping an ice lolly wrapper soon gets the message that it just isn’t worth it!
 
 
But OMG what have we here? I appear to have spoken too soon. Within minutes of walking back through the entry turnstyles into the Olympic Park proper, a police car swoops down on an unsuspecting criminal!
 
A crowd gathers to watch.
 
This is exciting stuff.
 
BJ’s police force is calmly showing its mettle as two of its finest officers deal swiftly with the miscreant.
 
We are naturally all shocked to observe that a balloon seller appears not to have a license to sell his wares in the park!!!
 
An argument ensues, with the criminal holding onto his balloons for dear life …
 
A pair of handcuffs appears from one of the officers’ pockets and before you know it the miscreant quickly lets go of his balloons and does a runner. But it’s a hot day and the police decide that perhaps they will be lenient with him as he disappears off into the distance.
 
Next comes the vexing problem of how many gas filled balloons you can fit inside a cop car – but one of the officers has obviously been trained to deal with such crises. It appears that only half the balloons will fit into the boot of the car; the rest he deals with by repeatedly stabbing them Hitchcock style as they go to meet their maker with a bang and a whimper.
 
 
Life is never boring! You can see it all here in Beijing – both the beauty of nature and what the criminal underclass gets up to. I head on back to my apartment, happy in the knowledge that we are all being looked after by the powers that be, so that we can sleep safely in our beds at night.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Time For China To Introduce A Trades Descriptions Act?

Regular blogfans of mine will know that if there is one thing I really hate, it’s the preponderance of copy-and-paste web sites there are around. It’s not just that they copy ideas from others, but even copy entire paragraphs verbatim. And nowhere does that appear to happen more so than here in China.
 
I was reminded of this recently when passing by one of Beijing’s most eye-catching landmarks, the DeShengMen – 德胜门, or Gate of Virtuous Triumph – which is one of Beijing's few preserved city gates and now stands on the northern 2nd Ring Road.
 
According to pl.locr.com, worldisround.com, heartofbeijing.blogspot.com, ztopics.com, karolinejohanne.blogspot.com, famouschinese.com and a few others, “In old times, the army would leave Beijing from Xuanwumen and re-enter the city, triumphant, at Deshengmen.”
 
Not so, argues wikipedia.org, mobilenative.com, beijing-photography.deviantart.com, and hua.umf.maine.edu. “In traditional times, the imperial military would march out of Beijing through Deshengmen, and return through Andingmen, the Gate of Peace and Stability.”
 
Don’t you think it might be nice just occasionally for someone to actually get off their sit-upons and do some basic research, before copying as fact something they haven’t the faintest clue what they are talking about? Or is that just asking too much in this age of dumbing down, to the point where you cannot believe anything you see in writing any more?
 
According to kinabaloo.com, XuanWuMen (宣武门) translates as the Gate of Declaration of War, so I guess I’m more inclined to go with their version of events, with the troops returning through DeShengMen – the 'Gate of Virtuous Triumph'. But maybe your favourite blogger is just being too simplistic?
 
This “fault” of taking things at face value goes way beyond common sense, though. Take Beijing’s Ancient Coin Museum, for instance. You’d think this would be a museum dedicated to showing off coins of the realm with maybe one or two bank notes thrown in for good measure… wouldn’t you? Think again! This is China!
 
OK… We’ll get back to that little aside in a moment. But back to DeShengMen... Built in 1437, it used to be made up of three structures – the gatehouse, archery tower, and barbican. But in true Beijing fashion, the gatehouse proper was demolished in 1921, and the barbican was severely damaged when the city wall was torn down in 1969 to make way for the second ring road. Today only the archery tower and parts of the barbican remain, relatively well-preserved.
 
DeShengMen is now a major transportation node with the northern city moat lying to the south side and a bus station and Badaling Expressway on the north side. It’s here that hoards of tourists take the fleets of buses going to the Great Wall at Badaling.
 
 
It’s a far cry from what the place looked like 100 years ago during the days of the Republic of China…
 
 
And the surrounding area has also changed a tad since then!
 
 
But back to that aside … There is an exhibition of ancient coins inside the archery tower (so you see, it wasn’t just my mind wandering off at tangents!). And guess what – it is called the Ancient Coins Museum!
 
 
It costs 20 RMB to get in (not 5, 10 or 12 as written up extensively elsewhere); and as I vaguely like coins and have never yet been there, I decide to give it a try. Once through the door, and having parted with a fistful of the readies, I come across a little sign. It’s a map? Well, it says it is; but it seems more intent on telling me the way to the gents’ loo!
 
 
The lady on the gate explains in a mixture of rapid Chinese and sign language that although the coin exhibition is straight ahead of me, I should instead turn left and go up the staircase.
 
And now I discover that this coin museum is actually not just a coin exhibition at all; but also a museum about the ramparts of old Beijing. It’s just that they probably thought that calling it the “Beijing Ancient Coin and City Military Defence Museum” was a touch too long; so they left out the second half and thought that it would make a nice surprise for the unwary visitor.
 
Of course, if I had done my homework properly before I had left, I would have known this already. But then, what is life without surprises? Articletrader.com sums it up succinctly. (This is a web site that offers articles to others to include in their web sites. But for some unfathomable reason, no one seems to have copy-and-pasted this particular one. I wonder why?)
 
DeShengMen JianLou situated in mbm1260 meters high above TongWa green, ash ChengTai cut edge double-hipped roof rests the summit, surface broadly seven rooms, after a BaoSha five rooms, the floor stage connects tall 31.9 meters. Foreign three wall fluctuation, a total of four row JianChuang, amounting to 82 holes. Hongwu four years (year) waste yuan dynasty 1371, will build new north walls north walls widened heightening, open the two doors, west gate still called DeShengMen. The north by the stars of xuanwu. Basaltic, so ZhuDao soldiers fought, general through the north troops out of the city. Was named DeShengMen, meaning "virtue", "moral win victory". Since DeShengMen troops encountered battle by arthas: take me AnDingMen respectively, take "swept" and "peace stability" meaning.
 
Ah, so it too is talking about Xuanwu and AnDingMen too. No wonder there is confusion afoot in the blogosphere…
 
It is the important gateway to SaiBei matriculating, known as the "army door," said. Ming yongle emperor north signs, qing dynasty emperor kangxi to pacify the zhungaer Dan rebellion, emperor qianlong crackdown on large and small and rebellion all start DeShengMen. During the Ming and qing dynasties, DeShengMen positive intercept from the north of Beijing, the military invasion of the yugoslav capital is the most important position.
 
Hang on a moment… “Military invasion of the yugoslav capital”??? But there is more…
 
DeShengMen east wall is placed on a statue cannons, however, this gun not fight with, is a chime use. The daily noon, DeShengMen and Forbidden City at the same time a sound artillery, the city people listen to gun diffculties. However, Beijing person "XuanWuWu gun" but don't say "tecsun afternoon gun", estimate may be Forbidden City kill people total in noon, guns rang head landed, DeShengMen famous than go. DeShengMen WengCheng within the curiosa, should be made in the middle number of a pavilion.
 
I think I should have stuck with beijingtravelchannel.com, ithraa.com , www.oie.go.th, bengalbreed.com, justlonely.com, atinargentina.com.ar, injaznet.com, hentai-hub.com and a host of others, who all tell me “In addition to learning about coins, a visitor stopping by the museum during the exhibition could get the opportunity of getting an insight into the ancient Beijing city. Ancient door locks, signal cannons too are displayed at the museum since they are with much historical value and cannot be found around the modern city of Beijing any longer.”
 
I mount the staircase and find myself on top of the parapet leading to the arrow tower and ahead of me are two cannon. Beyond them is an entrance to the arrow tower itself, which I am reliably informed consists of four floors with 82 arrow slits.
 
 
I step inside and find I am now in the Deshengmen Gate Exhibition of City Military Defence.
 
 
Everywhere there are signs saying photographs are not allowed; but we all know that such signs are only aimed at other people, so I am just lining up my iPhone camera to get a shot of this particularly amazing suit of armour when a Chinese equivalent of Brünhilde mutters horrible oaths at me and signs that photography is NOT ALLOWED.
 
 
As she wanders back along the gallery to accost another unfortunate, I take the opportunity to grab a photograph of a photograph of Deshengmen Gate in 1900. But if truth be known, the exhibition isn’t that gripping… or maybe I’m just not fascinated about how much earth was moved to make up a particular section of the battlements around the northern capital.
 
 
I wander out of the exhibition room and up another flight of stairs; and find myself in an art gallery. There is a bored looking guy sitting at a desk and his face lights up when he sees a visitor – perhaps even more so as I’m a laowai. I mime to him if it’s OK to look around and he mimes back to me “of course dear fellow. Take your time and enjoy!” I wander along the two walls, feigning interest in some pretty boring pictures – the man’s eyes in turn boring into the back of my neck all the while.
 
 
But there is only so much pretence one can keep up for very long, and having got to the end of the second wall of paintings I bid him a fond farewell and step out into the sunshine once again.
 
 
Returning the way I had come, I get the distinct impression that I’m approaching the coins section. Why, there’s even a Chinese equivalent of a wishing well where punters are invited to throw their dud coins through the hole in the centre of an oversized coin replica. Sure enough the pit below is full of old mao and fen coins …
 

The Ancient Coins Museum, which was opened in October 1993, is situated in what is now the reconstructed Zhenwu Temple. Despite it being a coin museum, fully a third of it is devoted to bank notes! But I suspect the exhibition of coins inside the (free entrance) Capital Museum is far bigger than what is on display here anyway.
 
 
Some 1,000 coins reflecting the history of China, such as the earliest shell coins from the Yinshang Period, cloth coins, grimace money, coins from every dynasty, and paper money from the Kuomingtang-ruled era are on display here. There are signs prohibiting photography everywhere. But surely they don’t mean me, do they?
 
 
I’m particularly taken with a coin depicting the 12 Chinese zodiac animals …
 
 
And this being the year of the horse, there is even a mini-display of horse coins…
 
 
The coins all come in different shapes and sizes. Some look like swords; some are round and some are square; some have holes through their middles. But by the time I get to the nth cabinet I am already getting a strong feeling of déja-vu …
 
 
One of the three display halls in the coin museum is devoted to bank notes. Hang on a moment… that means at most only 40 per cent of the entire museum is devoted to showing off coins!
 
Another Brünhilde lookalike (or is it the same one in different clothes?) makes threatening gestures along the lines of “oh no, you laowai are all the same! Fancy deliberately flaunting the rules and taking out your iPhone camera to take pictures of our precious coins and banknotes. These signs DO mean you!”
 
 
I smile, suitably chastised, and move outside into the sunshine once again, while Brünhilde goes back to muttering to herself about foreigners in general, I suspect. In front of me is a stone stele with inscriptions carved into it. I’m not surprised to read later on that it’s another stele with Emperor Qianlong’s thoughts scribbled on it. He was, after all, a dab hand with the chisel, so rumour has it!
 
 
Once again I am grateful to articletrader.com for this elucidation: “Qianlong four years, days without charge, particle drought late qing the emperor to the Ming tombs, to DeShengMen, 2007 is a heavy snow, remove a year, the emperor LongYan big yue summer heat total need for royal poem made "qi snow" tablets 1, have yellow top monuments of the tall building, tablet, make various door of stone incomparable latest said: "tecsun unlikelihood snow".
 
But who needs the thoughts of Qianlong, when just inches away is a pink magnolia bursting forth in all its glory? Sometimes pictures really do say much more than mere words.