A Blogger's Guide to Beijing

You've read the blog... now get the book. The Blogger's Guide to Beijing is now available in eBook format in five volumes from Amazon. Click here for more details...

Monday, August 25, 2014

Not a single red scarf in sight

When I first arrived in Beijing, I did some moonlighting for an abysmal TV station called BON (Blue Ocean Network) TV. If I had ever thought that Saudi TV had pretty low standards, I rapidly changed my views after stepping through the portals of BON. LOL!
Their studios were located in a part of Beijing called Shilipu which was one of those places seemingly bereft of anything nice to say about it. However, with the opening up of Subway Line 6, I’m glad to say the whole area has been picking itself up by its own shoelaces and this past weekend I decided to do a little bit of exploring in an area I really knew little about.
Honglingjin Park (红领巾公园) is located five minutes walk to the west of Shilipu station. It lies at the junction of Chaoyang North Road and East 4th Ring Road and boasts, if that is the right word, that it is the only theme park for children named "Red scarf" in the country. The Red Scarf is, of course, a symbol of the young pioneers and a large notice proclaims that this place is a “patriotic education base for young people, consisting of multiple functional areas and three squares providing scientific education, entertainment, revolutionary education, botanic appreciation and aquatic programs”.
It was built in 1958, and according to visitbeijing.com.cn it now covers an area of 389 km, of which 160 km is covered by water. Undaunted by nonsense of this kind, at least Wikipedia puts us straight on the fact that the area is actually 0.389 square kilometres (96 acres), of which 0.160 square kilometres (40 acres) are covered by water, before then spoiling it all by adding that it has a 96% greenery coverage rate, which it palpably does not!
Apparently the park holds a scientific garden party on June 1 every year, while on National Day – October 1 – there is a cultural festival for twins.
beijingimpression.cn tells us that the park has become one of the most suitable destinations for educational trips of students as well as to ensure that visitors can be recharged through their visit to this park. But despite that I note that, unlike many parks in BJ, entrance here is free (For some of my non-English blog fans, I should perhaps explain that this is an example of British humour. But please don’t write in to me asking me to elucidate!).
Entering through the southern gate, I find myself in Ginkgo Square – a 5,000-square-metre plaza which boasts 27 large ginkgo trees. Ahead of me is what I guess is meant to represent a pearl inside an oyster. I feel suitably educated. Beyond that is a huge expanse of water which positively invites one to explore further.
I head in a westerly direction and see a section barricaded off, but with the temporary fencing forced open and with various families wandering aimlessly inside. This is the "Song of the Red Scarf" theme square – a 3,000-square-metre area (or Song of the Red Necktie square with a 2,000 sq m area, depending on which web site you decide to place your faith in), which at its northern end has a themed sculpture of five radial steel columns topped by a golden torch with a semicircle relief sculpture as its backdrop.
On both sides of the square stand the statues of young revolutionary martyrs such as Lei Feng, Liu Hulan, Liu Wenxue, and 'Little Carrot' (no, really! This surely must be true as it has been copied and pasted into virtually every website that describes this park!)
Bordering the lake is a 1,920-square-metre tiered flower bed that runs 240 metres along the eastern bank. Maybe it’s the time of year, but it is hardly eye catching, and one feels that someone, somewhere, could perhaps have made a little more effort in planting something a bit more spectacular.
On the lake itself are strange little UFOs that go gurgle-gurgle every so often and shoot out a spout of water. They must have seemed like a great idea to someone in the park’s purchasing department, but not a single kid looks at them with the slightest bit of interest.
There are also some “worthy” sculptures dotted around which once again elicit zero interest from the visitors.
According to Wikipedia, there are 18 groups of “artistic and educational sculptures” scattered in the park, which are referred to as ‘Steps in the Sun’. I quite like this stone mouse trap – if indeed that is what it is meant to represent.
Someone, too it seems, has a fetish for sheep …
and I particularly like a series of ‘split rock’ sculptures that purport to show some petrified animal or plant that has been trapped inside a boulder since the dawn of time.
Every so often there are swing seats for relaxing on – a nice touch, even if they are in desperate need of a drop of oil on their bearings.
Located over on the eastern side of the lake is a ‘Plants Observing Area’ that apparently shows off rare species of pine, ginkgo, begonia and lagerstroemia. The ginkgo trees are much in evidence, but the real colour comes from pelargonium and a type of lavender bush.
A white lily is also much in evidence throughout the park, which brightens the drab surrounding walls somewhat …
And some of the more mature shrubbery is pleasing on the eye, especially when set off by a bit of “modern art” such as this lump of wood propped up against a steel shoot…
Someone with a sense of humour has also had a hand in the design of some of the sculptures, as represented here by this family of cute hippopotamus …
There’s also some guy seemingly having a meaningful conversation with some monkeys …
… and some kids having a tussle over a ball; **
{** I'm indebted to my friend Meng who tells me that this actually refers to a famous kids' story about a boy who fell into a water jar and the only way his friend could get him out was to throw stones at the jar until it broke}
though I prefer this wolf-like dog snarling at a jumped up official.
Cute, though admittedly not particularly memorable, bridges connect the sides of the lake with islands here and there;
such as the bridge which connects to the ‘Practical Road Safety Education Base for Minor Citizens’. There’s a lovely assault course for kids, which looks a lot of fun – but no one seems the slightest bit interested in it.
Kids can also learn the barest of essentials about China’s space programme, while also learning about traffic laws and regulations by driving electric cars on a simulated highway.
beijingimpression.cn talks about this being “a paradise for kids”, which I suspect either means the web site is out of touch with reality, or that Beijing’s kids have very low expectations.
I am particularly drawn to a “Friendly Remainder” notice which appears to have worked out a new way of telling the time, with ‘19.30 am’ equivalent to ‘7.30 pm’. Don’t you just love it! This must be what they mean by education!
Dotted around the park are loads of old and rusting red-star frames, each of which features one or two countries of the world and talks a little about their national plants.
And taking the education theme yet further, there are anti-smoking posters dotted around the north western sector, adding educational appeal to those studying English as a second language. “Care yourself,” they read. “Do a healthy person”.
Honglingjin Park meanders under the 4th Ring Road, in its north western end – somewhere for the boats to get a bit of shade as they make their way under the traffic overpass – and here it would appear that the park’s planners were totally at a loss as to what to do with this little outcrop of land.
There’s a weird sculpture of something which I think is meant to represent waves and clouds, and which is desperately in need of a coat of paint. There is also an area of grass land where people are allowed to pitch tents; and an area of stagnant water at the very end of the lake system where loads of losers who obviously have too much time on their hands have thrown in fishing lines hoping to catch some poor defenceless fish for “sport”.
The entire visit has taken me an hour to cover the whole park. And though I certainly wouldn’t recommend making a special trip all the way out to see Honglingjin Park, I would suggest that if you are there in that area anyway (perhaps you, too, have taken on some moonlighting at BON TV?) you could do worse than to kill an hour or so in this oasis – or at the very least take a walk along its perimeter wall…