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...

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

And Beihang makes three!

Sometimes, to read the entries on the web about things to see in Beijing can be exceedingly confusing, not least because the copy-n-paste brigade, who make up such a large proportion of China’s travel sites, not only get their information wrong, but in the case of Beijing’s air museums, regularly confuse one museum with another, such that the innocent visitor could well be forgiven for thinking that what they are reading about are one and the same and that somehow the museums have simply switched location.

And so it is that only in my fifth year here in Beijing am I finally able to tick off not one… not two… but three aircraft museums in Beijing in the space of three weeks.

I have already blogged about China’s Civil Aircraft Museum, to be found in the vicinity of Beijing’s Capital Airport; and the Military Aviation Museum which is located just off the Sixth Ring Road in Changping district. The third is to be found inside Beihang University, (previously known as Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics – 北京航空航天大学, and which is one of the ten highest ranking engineering universities in China).

Beihang University was founded in October, 1952, out of the merger of the aeronautical departments of nine other universities such as Tsinghua, Beiyang and Amoy (Xiamen). Situated in the centre of Zhongguancun Science Park, in an area of over 100 hectares, BUAA is China' s first university dedicated to aeronautical and astronautical engineering.

So it is no surprise that it should have its own museum.

Wikipedia would have you believe that the Beijing Air and Space Museum ( 北京航空航天博物馆) takes up 8,300 sq kms, though on a 100 hectare site this would seem pretty incredible, to put it mildly!

It was founded in 1985 under the name Beijing Aviation Museum and renamed after it was renovated in 2012.

On the Beihang campus maps you will easily find the museum labelled as building 19.

You first have to obtain a ticket from the window just to the right of the entrance. It doesn’t cost anything, but you have to show some kind of ID - though with the less than cursory glance afforded mine, I think I could have shown a Mars Bar wrapper and I would have been allowed in!

Oh, and don’t believe a word of what you read about their opening hours. Aviationmuseum.eu, for instance, tells you it’s open Tuesday to Sunday from 8.30. They're wrong!. Visitors are only allowed in on Tuesdays and Saturdays after 9.30, all other days being reserved for students at the university, which is fair enough I guess as it is a research facility, though in fairness aviationmuseum.eu does add as an afterthought “The lineup of aircraft or opening times of Museums can always changing. Please check in with the museum, see contact.” (sic)

Once inside, you shouldn’t be surprised that all the notices are in Chinese only. It’s a university museum, after all, and was not set up for tourists to gawk at.

But most of the time it’s pretty obvious what it is you are seeing, even if one does miss some of the finer details.

On entering, there are a few model aeroplanes on display, but the moment you turn the first corner you are confronted with some small gyrocopters which look great fun! (Please dear Mr Santa Claus… I’ve been everso good this year, and if you were wondering what to leave me under the Xmas tree…..)

There is a collection of aircraft motors too, though I have to admit they don’t overly float my boat …

You can also get up real close to some wing structures or individual ailerons too. The other museums like to show off aircraft, while this one likes to show off bits of aircraft!

Or maybe landing gear is more your forte?

Or even aviation tyres which, of course, are very different from those used on land transportation vehicles.

Once you are through the bits-and-pieces part of the museum, the real stuff that most visitors come for is laid out before you. The museum contains several interesting aircraft of which the best-known is a Northrop P-61, the only one of four existing specimens to be located outside the United States. There are plenty of other interesting planes such as a Republic P-47, a Tupolev Tu-2, an Ilyushin Il-10, a Lavochkin La-11 and a MiG-9.

And I always enjoy the sight of a DC3, even if the engines have been removed like from this one…

Or this smart Irkut-14, which has had part of its wings removed to be able to squeeze in to the display hall.

There are over 20 planes in all ...

Here’s the P47D.

Some planes, such as this Irkut-28 have been prepared so you can see through into the inside from one side of the plane, while still seeing the outside covering if you stand on the other side.

And you can look down onto all these planes from an overhead walkway, which even has its own plethora of aviation models hanging from its ceiling. Ahhhh a British Vulcan… How beautiful!

There’s even a model of the Liaoning aircraft carrier, made to look as if it is gold plated. It is a 1:350 scale model complete with FL-3000N missiles and aircraft on deck.

But Beihang is more than just about aircraft. After all, it is an aviation and aerospace museum.

And actually, when I said all signs were in Chinese, I should have said all EXCEPT for a display in the aerospace department telling you everything you ever wanted to know about the Beidou satellite system…

There’s a pretty model of planet earth with a number of happy-looking Beidou satellites circling around it.

as well as more matter-of-fact satellites strung up from the ceiling which look like they mean business!

And if you want to know what the well dressed (Chinese) astronaut is wearing you need look no further…

Of course, there’s also a display of Chinese space rockets such as Shenzhou, and other explorer vehicles, together with loads of other things, too numerous to mention here…

All in all, you can spend a good 45 minutes to an hour in this museum, which is well laid out and, despite the lack of English signs, has been well put together.

But if you are intent on seeing all three air museums in Beijing, might I recommend you see this one first, followed by the civil aircraft museum, and leave the very best – the military aircraft museum – till last.

* To get to Beihang Air and Space Museum, take Line 10 to Xitucheng station and take exit A. Head north on Xueyuan Road, staying on the west side of the road for about 500 metres until you come to the main entrance to the university (first picture in this blog). Enter the campus and walk 300 metres to the third building on the right.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

When staying in bed is the better option

You know the feeling you get when you have gone out of your way to see something special, and you end up wishing you’d simply stayed in bed all day long…

The web is full of snippets of information telling us that “About 60kms northeast of Beijing, the memorial of Jiaozhuanghu Tunnel Warfare Site is a striking reminder of China’s efforts to repel Japanese occupation during the Second World War”.

According to china.org.cn “The intelligent people in North China found a new way for struggles: Tunnel Warfare. Tunnel is the major object for your visit. It has a length of 23 li. At present, about 600-meter-long tunnel has been renovated. The five-storey cannon tower where the militia watched and combated has also been repaired. Inside the tunnel, you can find individual blindages, planks, meeting rooms, headquarters, gunshot holes, warehouses etc. The entrances of the tunnel are out of your expectations, such as the kangs, kitchen ranges, hogpens, donkey slots, wardrobes etc. The tunnel site displays the immortal achievements the Chinese people made in anti-Japanese war and the great and magic power of the people's war.”

I didn’t need much persuading to go see for myself. The Jiaozhuanghu Underground Tunnel Museum(焦庄户地道战遗址纪念馆)is a good two and a half hours travel from downtown Beijing – over an hour on the subway to the end of Line 15 (FengBo) and then another hour-plus on a local bus – Shun 31 – to the end of the line at Jiaozhuanghu West. (Shun buses accept the normal Beijing travel cards, BTW.)

The bus station, for want of a better word, is a mere 250 metres to the entrance of the Tunnel Memorial Museum. Streaming out of the side road are loads of school kids who had been taken for their indoctrination lessons, for this is clearly what the base is now used for, if et97.com is to be believed…

The memorial hall was 1991 Shunyi County The Education Bureau named "primary and secondary school students in Shunyi County revolutionary tradition education center"; 1994 Beijing municipal government named "Beijing city youth education base"; 1995 Shunyi county government named "Shunyi County patriotism education base"; in 1996 six national ministries and the Jiao Zhuanghu tunnel warfare site memorial is one of hundreds of "patriotic" the national primary and secondary education base "; in 1997, Beijing fourth, Guangqumenwai , Jingshan Hill middle school Beijing Normal University, Niulanshan middle school , Yang More than and 20 middle school, it is the patriotism education base. Currently, more than 40 schools have determined to identify the memorial hall as a patriotism education base. ” (sic)

et97.com continues: "Visit the exhibition hall area is completed in August 14, 2005 opening, covers an area of nearly 9000 square meters, construction area of 2000 square meters, the exhibition area of 1000 square meters. Is divided into three parts: respectively. Jidong The burning flames of people's war, spectacular, today Shunyi Better. The exhibition content in photos, pictures and objects, the museum also built in the historical figures for other relief group as well as the large-scale three-dimensional sandbox".

beijingtrip.com tells us that “There are other interesting tourist activities here. One can watch films and listen to stories of the Jiaozhuanghu people's struggle against the Japanese aggressors. Another interesting activity is sharing a special meal of steamed corn bread, cornmeal porridge and pickles. For tourists curious to know the real life of that period, the video showing the daily life of the Jiaozhuanghu people is the best choice.”

And not to be outdone, et97.com adds the absolute clincher: “the audience can attend apple picking activities.”

I enter what it turns out is a massive car and coach park that is also full of souvenir stalls and endless people selling apples. Surrounding it is a frieze on the carpark walls which appears to have little if any relevance to tunnels that I can see.

Passing though the gaps in the wall, and crossing the road, the memorial hall site is straight ahead of you. I spy an old fighter jet off to the right, but the main entrance is in front of me.

Two men are standing gossiping as I approach, but I ask if this is the way in and am waved forward, before a long involved torrent of words pours forth from them, as one of them waves what looks like a green ticket and points back from where I have just come.

I have no idea what they are talking about, and take out some ID to show them, since many museums require this, I have found. No, no, ID not needed. Come, says one of the men and I am ushered in and pointed the way to some steps going down into the bowels of the earth.

It is at this point that I realise I’m glad I read up some of the web blurb before stepping forth into this museum, for the lack of information, even in Chinese, is simply astounding. Or is it, as I am about to find out...

During the War of Resistance, Jiaozhuanghu was under the leadership of the Jidong branch of the Communist Party. It was the only road leading to Pingxi and Pingbei communist strongholds, so strategically it was an important area. In the spring of 1943, the Japanese launched a ferocious attack against Jiaozhuanghu. To fight them off, local soldiers and civilians, led by the Communist Party, made up a series of tunnels. At first these could only hold one or two people; but as time went on, they came to connect every house and then every village in the area, serving as underground fortresses.

By 1946, the total length of the tunnels had reached nearly 12 kms, and had connected Jiaozhuanghu to Longwantun, Tangdong, and Dabeiwu villages.

With the kids all gone, the entire place is now deserted. Ahead of me a carefully manicured tunnel meanders off into the distance. The walls are, in the main, well plastered, and I can, in the main, walk upright for most of the way.

Lest I get carried away by the atmosphere of this ‘haunted house’-style fairground tunnel, a warning sign reminds me to behave myself!

Suitably admonished, I next come across a sign informing us that kerosene lamps were used ‘for digging and other things’ – nicely lit up by an electric light bulb, with not a single kerosene lamp in sight.

I continue on through the only route there is, wondering what other choices I have to go off and explore.

Ah … here’s something interesting, I guess. ‘The spot where Jar was Putting’, the sign reads. Obviously things are getting more exciting now; but there’s little to explain this snippet of information, save for the fact there was an entrance somewhere near here.

Likewise one is led to believe there was a well used for drinking water somewhere nearby, but again, no more information is forthcoming.

At last one comes to a fork in the road, but one’s choice of route has already been determined…

This exit tunnel would have taken me to a neighbouring village all of two kilometres away, but it is not to be on this occasion.

Ahh… perhaps now we are getting to something more interesting. A Trap Plate (whatever that is) lies ahead…

Yes, a notice confirms I am now standing at the Trap, but I have absolutely no idea what it refers to. I continue on…

A meeting room lies ahead…

Sorry, a SMALL meeting room lies ahead…

Yes, I can confirm it is small… maybe room for about five people standing…

And then comes the bombshell: it turns out that up till this point, the tunnel I I have been following is a reproduction! “For the purpose that the historical scene in the war years can be shown in a better way, a 30-meter original tunnel was recovered for the site. The original scene at that time and the history is reproduced by using modern hi-tech measures of sound, light and electricity etc. The average height of this section is 1.49 meters and the minimum height is only 60 centimeters.”

In other words, apart from a small – 30-metre – section, the nicely plastered tunnel that tourists wander through up to this point is nothing more than a fake.

The notice continues: “The technologies of glass fiber reinforced plastic and environment-friendly adhesive originated in the country are adopted for this section of tunnel which can not only enable the tourists to follow the historical trace of the tunnel at that time, but also play the function of protecting the tunnel.”

I note the warning to mind my head and walk through an equally well-plastered bit of tunnel that involves me having to tilt my head a little to get through.

And that’s it! On the other side of the “real” bit of tunnel is an ‘emergent exit’ …

…with the final tourist exit a few metres beyond that.

Sorry, guys, but I feel definitely cheated!

As I emerge into the daylight again, another sign points in the direction of some dwellings that it would appear are worth looking at.

But it appears they are all closed. Most courtyards have a chain across them – possibly everyone has gone off to lunch.

On the side of one padlocked building is a mural depicting happy peasants doing whatever it is that happy peasants do.

To its left is an old fighter jet that looks like it fell off the back of a lorry on its way to the military aviation museum some 30kms to the west. Maybe it did. Certainly there is nothing to explain its presence here, save for an old stone tablet that is impossible to read, whether you speak Chinese or not.

Near the exit of the site is a loo which I note has a 2-star rating. Is that good or bad, I wonder? But I will never find out as it, too, is locked.

So, it’s official – a locked toilet is awarded 2 stars by the Beijing Tourism Administration; while I would venture one star for the entire museum itself… and even that, I think, is being generous!