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No Why!

This is the third time I’ve tried to write this post, and hopefully it’ll come out right this time. Both times I’ve gone horribly off topic, writing basically whatever nonsense came out of my stream of conscious at the time. The second time I had writer’s block and forced out a thousand words anyway. It was terribly convoluted and I ended up talking as much about the intention of design as I did about “no why!”.
Anyway, to the topic at hand.

One of the things I find particularly frustrating about living in China is the response “no why!” to lots of questions I ask. I consider myself a fairly curious person. I like to know about and understand the world around me, especially when I’m in a new place with a different culture and way of life. Consequently, I used to ask “why?” questions a lot. “Used to” being the operative words.

When planning on coming to China, I started thinking of “why” questions, and when I finally arrived everything was new and interesting so my number of “why” questions went up dramatically. But then I’d so often get the response “no why” that I sort of gave up and my “why” question count has gone down a lot. I’m still a curious person, I still want to find out about the world around me, but it’s just so frustrating trying to do so here that I’ve temporarily put “why” on hold. At work a while ago I drew a version of the chart below to illustrate the point.

“No why” is used whenever a person a) doesn’t know the answer, b) doesn’t have the inclination or ability to explain the answer, or c) when there simply is no answer. Without generalising too much, I think a) and c) and the predominant reasons.

Remember that China is still a communist country where access to knowledge is highly controlled. The education system here is very much geared to learning approved facts. There is much less emphasis on applying that knowledge to form original thoughts. Some of my students boast that the education system in China is better because students learn more. I retort that the value of facts without the ability to use them is greatly reduced. This approach to education is understandable in an undemocratic country with an undercurrent of private disgruntlement at the Government – you don’t want the citizenry to figure out too much about the Government.

This is all to say that the Chinese I have encountered seem less able to piece together the knowledge they do have to answer a “why” question about something they haven’t been explicitly told the answer to.

Often I think there really is no answer. Because China is developing so fast and cities are being built so quickly, sometimes there literally is “no why”. When I ask about urban design, the reality is that a lot of it has been haphazardly cobbled together at such breakneck speed that there wasn’t time for any thought about “why” in the first place.

I expect I would find the same answers and so frustration living in any country where I don’t speak the language, and I know that I’ve been guilty of this back home, sometimes fobbing off questions from curious foreigners with the answer “because it just is”, but I still find it frustrating to be on the other end of it. It’s also a little bit annoying that the Chinglish phrase is so much clearer than what we might use in the English speaking world. “No why!” sounds far better than “because it just is” or one of its variants.

Anyway, on to other things I’ve done this week. At school my Chinese lesson yesterday was cancelled due to staff training. Of course, I only found out after arriving at school expecting a lesson. In the 37 weeks I’ve been here, I’m supposed to have had 37 Chinese lessons. Alas, I’ve only managed to have five even with a lot of pestering of the powers that be.

But on a brighter note, yesterday me and Sarah went out for another photo safari. This time we went to Da Yanta, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, and managed to walk over five miles in the course of the day. The grounds are splendid, with fountains and sculptures, and a very nice relaxing park to the east. We stayed long enough to practice our night photography, with everyone looking very curiously at my super mini tripod. I’ll definitely be going there again when I want to escape the rigours of life.

At work we’ve all been following the olympics as best we can with 8,000km and seven time zones in the way. I gather that Team GB (and Northern Ireland) is doing rather well, and with the things I’m reading on Facebook and Twitter, I quite wish I was in London right now. It’s typical, I was cycling across Europe four years ago so didn’t see any of the Beijing olympics, and now I’m in China during the London olympics. I managed to download the opening ceremony, and a few of us watched it with the Brits explaining the weird quirks to the Americans.

With 37 weeks gone, I’ve only got 15 weeks remaining. I’ve still got six days of annual leave that I haven’t used, plus there’s a week long national holiday in October, and, touch wood, now the summer classes have died down we’ll have three quieter weeks before we resume our normal busy schedule. That means I only have around ten proper weeks left.

I’ll miss Xi’an when I leave, especially the friends I’ve made here and how, after nine months, it genuinely feels as much like home as anywhere else in the world. I never thought I’d say this, especially with how much I complain about it, but I actually think that I’ll even miss my school when I go. But I know I won’t be signing a second year contract. One of the main reasons I got into TEFL is to see more of the world, so my next job will be somewhere else, hopefully starting in January. Plus, I already have my flight booked. I’ll be landing back at London Heathrow at 5:40pm on Tuesday the 27th of November. If anyone has a couch available for a night or two, that’d be grand…

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Am I Cursed?

I last blogged a week and a half ago on Sunday. It’s been a busy week and a half since then.
On Sunday night I went out to Park Qin with friends. Since I’d given up on giving up drinking, and I’d warmed up my liver a few days before at Fantasy, I started off drinking the same as everyone else.

In Park Qin, we were all sitting around when I coughed. Then Angelo coughed. And then Dave. Soon everyone was coughing and wheezing and had itchy eyes. We pretty quickly moved to another park of the bar and told Cathy, one of the bar staff who we know quite well. The bar manager closed off the area and reviewed the CCTV footage to find out what had happened. Joking about the poison gas attack we were more disgruntled at having to move than anything else. But the video didn’t show what caused it and there was no one else in the area, and even when we bumped into Cathy a few days later the cause still remained a mystery.

After three “Zombies”, which are apparently filled with rum, I’d reverted to my usual quiet and shy drunk self. The “not wanting to make a fool of myself” part of my brain was still on full alert and preventing me from saying anything foolish, but with having drunk quite a bit it wasn’t able to keep up with censoring the input from the “banter” part of my brain, and so I couldn’t keep up with the conversation.

It was pretty awkward actually. Me and another ex-pat in Xi’an, Karolina, had contacted each other through WarmShowers, the cycling hospitality site, as the two of us are the only people on the site living in Xi’an. We didn’t know it at first, but after a few emails we realised we worked for different branches of the same school. We’d been texting back and forth for a few weeks promising to meet up and swap cycling stories, and that night we finally both found ourselves in the same bar. We’ve both cycled across Europe, me from NorthWest to SouthEast, her from NorthEast to SouthWest, and while there was so much potential for good banter about cycling and travelling and our different experiences, due to my slightly drunken censorship brain module most of what I said was short factual statements. “Four thousand kilometres.” “Six weeks.” “France, Switzerland, Italy, Greece and Turkey.”

After Park Qin me, Dave and Colin headed off to a bar called Three as Four where some other teachers were. Eventually we left at about 3am and I went home.

Monday was taken up with a hangover. My first in six months. I honestly think I much prefer not drinking. I seem to be a much more sociable person when sober and I just don’t enjoy it either at the time or afterwards.

On Wednesday I finally had a Chinese lesson. Only eight months late, but better late than never. I’m in a class with Colin and Brittany, with Daisy, one of the Chinese PAs teaching. I’m the weakest student in the class, but the choice was to join that class or continue to battle to have any lessons at all. Daisy’s a really good teacher and I even picked up some ideas for when I’m teaching very small groups of students.

After the lesson I moved into my ADoS’s apartment. I was pretty pleased with how little I’ve accumulated. I arrived in Xi’an with a 23kg suitcase packed very tightly, and eight months later I moved apartment with the same suitcase and a backpack in just two trips. On the face of it that sounds like I’ve at least tripled my possessions, but in reality since my new apartment is only a five minute walk away I didn’t bother packing my suitcase properly and just shoved stuff in, and most of what I’ve accumulated are things like coat-hangers, a cheap electric heater and cheap bedding that I’ll happily leave behind when I leave Xi’an, but which I may as well take with me for a short apartment move.

After a lightning fast move I met Sarah and we had an afternoon and evening out taking lots of photographs around the south gate and then eating in the Village Cafe.

Friday turned into another frustrating “China” day. For the past three weeks I’ve been teaching a class to older teenagers as part of the summer courses. It’s a really good opportunity to keep up to date with my skills teaching to older students, and as I’d mentioned to the Director of Studies that I hope to teach at a university next year, he decided to observe and give feedback on one of these lessons as it will be more relevant to my future career than my classes to very young students.

There are eight students in the class and usually six or seven turn up with a range of abilities. The stronger students sit with the weaker students and help them out and we find a nice balance. Due to the off-site activities after Friday’s lesson, the lesson on Friday starts at 1:30 instead of 3:30. For the previous two weeks all of the students had managed to come at the correct time. But on Friday, the day when my DoS was observing and I wanted it to go well or at least be a completely ‘ordinary’ lesson, only three students turned up at 1:30, the rest turned up at 3:30. Two of the three who were on time are the weakest in the class and the other is the strongest. My carefully crafted lesson plan for six to eight students and taking into account a range of abilities suddenly didn’t seem so carefully crafted after all. The lesson was… difficult… but the feedback was largely positive given the circumstances and I’ve got some useful pointers for areas to work on.

In the previous two weeks for the activities we’d been to Pizza Hut and then Starbucks, and this week we went to laser quest. Laser quest is in the south of city, about 45 minutes away by taxi. The plan was to finish class at 3:15 and leave straight away to get taxis there by 4pm, then leave laser quest at 5pm to get taxis back to school by 6pm. Easier said than done.

By the time everyone was rounded up in the school and went downstairs to get taxis, it was 3:30. With another class sharing the outings and a few staff members along as well, there were 19 of us, so we’d need five taxis. Except taxis change shift between 3pm and 5pm and it’s really difficult to flag a taxi down. Eventually we gave up and went to get the metro as far as it could take us. At about 4:15 we got to Wei Yi Jie metro station and tried to get taxis for the shorter journey to laser quest. At about 4:30 we realised it wasn’t going to happen and one of the Chinese staff, Jennifer, went in search of a bus we could take. By 4:45 we were still standing around in the blazing sun, which isn’t my idea of fun, so I went off to find some cold drinks in a local shop. While I was gone for two minutes the bus came, and I returned to find Colin and Jennifer looking a bit grumpy at having to wait behind for me. Fortunately I bought a few extra drinks for them. Eventually another bus came and we arrived at laser quest at 5pm, an hour late and the time we were supposed to be leaving to go back to school.

Why no one thought “hey, we need to get 20 people from the north to the south of city, the metro can’t take us the whole way and at that time of day taxis are changing shift… let’s book some taxis in advance or, I know, let’s book a minibus” I don’t know.

Anyway, we stayed around in laser quest for an hour before heading back to school. The return journey was similarly farcical. By then it was rush hour so no taxis were available, and we again went to find a bus to get back to the metro. We waited for half an hour for the bus to come, and then discovered we could get another, more frequent bus from the other side of the road. As soon as we crossed over our original bus came the other way. Then we saw the school’s minibus (hey, that might have been handy a couple of hours ago!) in the distance and Jennifer phoned the driver to try to pick us up. Nope, he’s finished work for the day. Eventually, at 6:45, we got to a metro station. It would only take another 45 minutes to get back to school, but Colin had a class at 7pm. Lo and behold, the first train to arrive was stuffed so full we couldn’t fit on, and we eventually got back to school after 7:30.

On Sunday I started to wonder if I’m cursed. I moved out of my old apartment due to the mains water supply being unreliable. On Sunday morning, in my new apartment, I woke up and went for a shower. Except there was no water. Fortunately I was in a good mood and managed to laugh about it. Apparently a pipe had burst, and by Monday morning it was fixed again. It did give everyone at school a nice topic for the day’s mocking, saying how repelling water is a pretty weird superpower to have.

Anyway, that’ll do for this week, I’ve already written far too much!

Highs and Lows

While I wrote on Wednesday about wanting to move apartments, I never thought things would move so quickly. On Thursday at around mid-day my DoS asked if I wanted to move apartments, and I said yes of course, and he said ok, they’ll probably have a new apartment for me in about a week. Excellent!

That same day at around 6pm the admin assistant came to me and said that I’d be moving apartments the next day, and moving in with my ADoS. I told her “no no, no, no no, no, no, no” (yes, that quote’s accurate) for a number of reasons. Two of which are that you can’t give me half a day’s notice to move apartments on a day when I have classes and that living with my boss would be weird.

I eventually won a reprieve, being in the odd situation of defending my apartment, saying that actually it’s fine and I quite like it. But I still have to move this week because I think they’ve already cancelled the lease.

Things in China can go so ridiculously slowly when they should go quickly, and far too fast when some thought and consideration needs to be applied. A case in point of things moving slowly is the air-conditioning in my classroom, which I’m told won’t be fixed until September, by which time I won’t need it anyway.

With various other things, the news felt like several final straws all at once. So when me and some friends went out to Fantasy on Thursday night to see DJ Run, I gave up giving up drinking. Yes, my job here literally drove me to drink. I didn’t drink much – I knew I’d be the lightest of lightweights, but we all had a really good time even if it turned out DJ Run had cancelled.

On Friday while still angry I was wondering whether to a) walk away, b) give 30 days notice, c) ask to transfer to a different branch of the school, or d) stick it out. While I’d like to say the odds were about 25/25/25/25, my tendency to be all talk and no action and err on the side of the devil you know rather than the devil you don’t seems to have won the day. Also, now I’ve had a couple more days to calm down, I’ll almost certainly end up going with option d. I only have 124 days remaining on my contract – on Tuesday I’ll be two thirds of the way through – so the most sensible option is to see it through to the end.

Bucket List

I recently saw the Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson film The Bucket List, and also read a couple of blogs about people travelling around the world ticking off bucket list items as they go. While I’m not anticipating my demise any time soon, the idea stuck with me as a way of documenting and organising my dreams and aspirations, and giving drive to my free-time activities.
So here’s the list of things I can remember at the moment. I’ll add to and update it as time goes by.

  • Sail across one of the world’s great oceans.
  • Have a book published.
  • Become fluent in a second language.
  • Climb the highest mountain on a continent (I don’t mind which continent).
  • Go parachuting.
  • Go bungee jumping.
  • Cycle the Pan-America highway.
  • Cycle the Paris-Brest-Paris.
  • Do the mongol rally.
  • Run a marathon.
  • Live for an extended time in the Netherlands or Denmark, the world’s two great cycling nations.
  • Live for an extended time in Spain or Italy, two of my favourite places in the world.
  • Be self-employed.
  • Visit over 100 countries (so far: 1. France, 2. Spain, 3. Italy, 4. Portugal, 5. Switzerland, 6. Austria, 7. Germany, 8. Ireland, 9. US, 10. Canada, 11. Netherlands, 12. Belgium, 13. Denmark, 14. Sweden, 15. Finland, 16. Estonia, 17. Latvia, 18. Czech Republic, 19. Greece, 20. Turkey, 21. Tanzania, 22. China).
  • Fill up a passport.

Beijing to Xi’an

At the end of a lazy holiday, I planned on lazily heading to the airport. My flight was at 3pm, so I had a very lazy morning checking out of the hostel and doing some writing in the hostel bar. I think I spent about 75 per cent of my time in Beijing in the hostel. I don’t mind though, it’s a really nice hostel, perfect for meeting cool people or just relaxing and reading or writing. Plus the air-conditioning is great. At about 11am I went to Starbucks by the Qianmen. Behind me in the queue were two Australian sisters, travelling together now they’ve retired. I helped them with their order, and then we sat together and talked. After they headed off, I got my Kindle out to do some reading, and then Greg and Australian guy I met at the hostel says hello. We sit and talk for an hour or so, neither of us seeming particularly interested in getting contact details to keep in touch, but both of us quite happy with the transient type of friendship so common among backpackers.

At about 1pm I headed off to the airport. Beijing has an airport express train. But, just like the Stansted “Express” in London, there was nothing “express” about it. In fact, just like the Stansted “Express”, it was old, slow, rickety, and a bit smelly. The only difference was the price. The ticket was ¥70, which is about 70p, whereas the last time I took the Stansted “Express” it cost me something like £25.

As I had an e-ticket for my flight and no checked baggage, I used the electronic check-in machines and headed straight to security. Despite having two hours to spare, I “accidentally” chose the express lane for people who’s flights are departing very soon. It had nothing to do with not wanting to stand around for ages of course, honest. The security personal with the metal detector wands were all pretty young women. I “accidentally” left my phone in my pocket and had to get a pat down. Oops.

I wandered around the terminal for a bit, wondering what to do with the two hours before my flight. I picked up a copy of China Daily, the state’s English newspaper, to see what’s officially going on in China. On the front page was a story about how the Chinese Yuan Renminbi is going to outperform all other world currencies in the coming years. On page three there was a full length column about a FOREIGN English teacher who was playing in a swimming pool and used his FOREIGN culture to throw a five year old girl into the pool. The girl was traumatised by this FOREIGNER’S actions and so now he has to go back to his FOREIGN land of New Zealand. Did I mention that the article said the teacher was a FOREIGNER. Finally, I read two short paragraphs on page four about six workers who died in an industrial accident. I decided to take the entire paper as a sarcastically written comment and analysis piece on priorities and China, and didn’t bother reading the rest of the paper.

As soon as I boarded the plane I realised I had quite a major problem. I had to pee really quite urgently. Must have been that bottle of water I drank about half an hour earlier. Not to worry, I thought, we’ll soon be in the air cruising and then I can go to the bathroom. We pushed back from the gate about 20 minutes behind schedule and started taxiing towards the runway. But we must have lost our take-off slot, as we then waited on the taxi-way for a little while. After five minutes I thought that we had to take off soon. But then half an hour came and went. I was in physical pain. The term “bursting” almost became a literal reality, and still we waited. After an hour of sitting around on the taxi-way, waiting to take off, we finally approached the run way and powered into the air. I was looking around for any sign that we were levelling out and seat belt sign was going to be turned off, but I couldn’t wait much longer. Eventually, despite the seatbelt light, another passenger got up to walk to the bathroom and I hastily followed to the other bathroom. Ahh relief. Crisis averted.

From Xi’an airport I took the airport bus to the Bell Tower, and then the metro back home. I’ve been in Xi’an long enough now that it actually felt like home after having been on holiday.

Beijing Day Two

I got up late, at about 10. I must have been really tired, since that’s about 11 hours sleep. I meet Kiki, the Swiss guy from the bar last night, and we had breakfast before heading over to the local shopping street that heads south from Qianmen. We had a look in Uni Qlo since he wanted a hat, and then headed up to Tiananmen square again.

We decided to go in the Great Hall of People of China. This is the meeting place for the National People’s Congress, so it acts like the Chinese Parliament. It feels like typically 1950’s communist architecture. You can tell a lot about places by the light fittings, and these looked like they were trying to be grand and simple at the same time. Exactly the effect an all powerful communist party would want to achieve.

Me and Kiki hit it off straight away with inane banter. We sat and looked at a large canvas with Chinese text on it. With our combined Chinese, we worked out it had something to do with three big people, and wondered if it was the instructions for changing the lightbulbs.

From the Great Hall, we headed to the main shopping street in Beijing. The street has air-conditioning units and vaporisers every 50 metres or so blowing out cool air and mist. It was a joy to slow down past these and cool off. We had a McDonalds lunch and then went to Gap. Gap had a sale, all mens shorts were ¥100. I considered it a lot, but decided that my one pair of shorts is actually enough.

After shopping, we headed to the new CCTV headquarters. I find it a little ironic that the state broadcaster in China has the same acronym as closed circuit television. Since Brittany answered the question of “what does it stand for?” a few weeks ago with “China Communist TV”, I can’t remember what it actually stands for and have to look it up every time. Ah, it’s actually China Central TV.

The reason for going to a TV broadcaster’s headquarters is the architecture. The building rises up on two sides, then extends out and joins up in mid air. It’s really quite cool.

After leaving the CCTV headquarters, I went back to the hostel to do some more writing. I was really getting into the writing but this point, knocking out several thousand words a day. A bit later on Kiki turned up and talked the evening away putting the world to rights.

Beijing Day One

I woke up at about 8am, wondering what had happened to the plan to get up at midnight after a power nap. I had a shower and then some breakfast in the hostel bar while I did some writing. At about 10am I headed out to see some of Beijing.
My hostel is on a street just south of the Qianmen, the gate at the southern entrance to Tiananmen Square. There’s a traditional looking shopping street running due south from the Qianmen with trams running up and down and western brands like Uni Qlo and H&M. Apparently the whole area was newly built before the Olympics to provide western tourists with a sanitised version of traditional China.

While major train stations in China have airport style security, every metro station in Beijing and major tourist attractions also have the same level of security. To get onto Tiananmen Square I had to use a metro station as an underpass, so one set of security checks, then to get onto the square itself I had to go through more security. There was a lot of security on the square itself, with police everywhere. I wonder why [cough]wikipedia[/cough].

The square is huge. In the centre is Mao’s mausoleum, which would have been interesting, but it was a Monday and he’s closed on Monday’s. Everyone needs a break from time to time. I wonder what he’s up to. On the east and west side is the National Museum of China and the Great Hall of the People of China. At the north end is the Tiananmen, the gate of heavenly peace (‘tian’ = 天 = heaven, ‘an’ = 安 = peace, ‘men’ = 门 = gate). The square is mainly just a vast expanse of grey stone with very little shade, so I don’t spend too long there.

After the square I headed north through the gate itself and into the Forbidden City. As expected, the tour guide hawkers were out in force. I deliberated paying the ¥60 entrance fee, but decided it was worth it. Inside the Forbidden City are lots of old buildings. There wasn’t much explanation of what was what, so I just followed the crowds heading north and took lots of photos. It’s all very nice and the buildings are beautiful, but it started to feel a bit samey. It was like going to London and seeing five very slightly different versions of Shakespeare’s globe one after the other.

North of the Forbidden City is a beautiful park with a hill in the middle and a pagoda on the hill. It looked nice and shady and not too busy. The entrance fee was ¥2 which seemed like a bargain to get a high up view of central Beijing and the Forbidden City. The view was great, but I did get a sense of scale. I had been planning on walking due north to the Olympic Park, it didn’t look too far on the map and I thought it would give me an insight into a swathe of Beijing, but seeing how far away the Olympic Park was made me reconsider my plans and I went to find a metro station instead.

I consider myself a reasonably street wise person. The last time I was scammed was in Prague around eight years ago. That time, me and my friend Alistair got into a taxi that had a dodgy meter. The driver wanted a ridiculous sum that we didn’t have, and we eventually got away with paying him £20 in cash after convincing him that it was worth more than it actually is.

This time, I left the park by the east exit knowing where I was going. Turn right to the main road, turn left and arrive at the metro. Maybe it would take 15 minutes at most. But I was immediately accosted by a pedicab driver. “Where you go?” he asked. “I know where I’m going” was by now my standard response. “Metro?” he asked and I must have said yeah, because he then offered to take me for ¥3. It was hot, I was tired, but I still had some fight in me and I bartered him down to ¥2. Bargain. I hopped onto the pedicab and we set off. I have a good sense of direction, and even though we went down twisty narrow side streets I still knew we were heading in the right direction. I wasn’t worried at all, he probably just wanted to avoid the busy main road and I’ve never felt threatened in China. My mind did have a slight inkling that ¥2 might be too good to be true, but I was on the way now. I got the ¥2 out of my wallet during the journey so I wouldn’t have to open it in front of him.

A few minutes later we got to the main road and stopped. The driver said the metro station was just around the corner. Cheer’s mate, here’s your two kwai, to which I received a torrent of abuse. “Er kwai! Crazy! No! Fare san bai kwai, tip er kwai! You pay me three hundred!” He wanted ¥300, about £30. Fuck off mate, we agreed er kwai, here’s your ¥2. He mimed drinking and managed to stumble through saying he couldn’t buy a drink of water for ¥2. No, ¥2, you said two kwai, here’s your ¥2. He then said ¥200. I then remembered from the map that there was another main road to cross before the metro station. I also realised that this was a big guy, and we were down a narrow unkempt side street with lots of closed doors. One of the doors opened and a guy looked out to see what was going on. I thought that if I play this wrong it could go very badly indeed. I had to show a willingness to compromise, so said I’d give him ¥10 – 5 times what I thought we’d a greed and a 20th of what he now wanted. I also remembered I had a ¥20 in my pocket – I could give him that without getting my wallet out – so that was my mental limit. He said ¥100, and I said ¥20 and took out my note and gave it to him and walked off, he didn’t say anything after me.

I was simultaneously very pleased to be out of a potentially risky situation and furious at myself for being scammed for the first time since Prague. Still, ¥20 is about £2.

When he said that the metro station is around the corner, what he meant was that he’d taken me about a third of the way and it was still about a ten minute walk. By the metro station I saw a McDonalds and thought it was an ideal time for a spot of lunch, then I caught the metro up to the Olympic Park.

Coming out of the Olympic Park station, I passed some awful looking fake old buildings. Grey concrete bricks built to look like a little old Chinese village. Exactly the kind of fake twee that I hate in the UK. I caught a glimpse of the Birds Nest stadium. It doesn’t look as impressive as it looks on TV, but maybe I was too far away. One of the common themes of studying urban geography is the decay of disused Olympic facilities. Barcelona 1992, Turin 2006. It’s been less than 4 years since Beijing 2008, and already the park is getting a bit shabby. Despite all the talk of legacy, I expect to have to write the same thing about London in a few years.

There’s a tripod shaped building with glass pods and the Olympic rings on top, presumably a building for media organisations. The glass for the lift shafts looked dirty and discoloured, and there was rust coming through the white painted steel. Onwards I walked across the endless expanse of grey stone. The sun was beating down, heating up the stone, and the heat from the stone was rising up. Great bit of urban planning, well done Beijing.

I reached the landscaped area around the Birds Nest stadium itself. The grass and trees made a nice change, the area felt noticeably cooler. The stadium is impressive, no doubt about it, but it did feel a bit smaller than I was expecting. I wasn’t going to pay the ¥50 to go inside, but glimpsing the inside from some open passageways I realised that the athletic field is quite a bit lower down – it’s dug out into the ground, requiring less super structure for the stadium itself. I didn’t see any of the Beijing Olympics – I was cycling across Europe at the time – so I was interested to see a wall with a lot of the medal winners carved in. I walked along to rowing, and saw that Team GB won a few things. Nice.

Across the vast expanse of stone was the aquatics centre with its plastic bubbles. The plastic looked old and discoloured. Now the world’s media isn’t watching, there’s no incentive to keep them nice.

Leaving the Olympic Park, I took the metro back to the hostel. I had a table to myself in the bar and got on with some writing. Later on, a Swiss guy motioned to ask if he could sit with me so I said yes. He was cool. He’s teaching German at a university somewhere else in China, and we agreed to meet up the next day to do some sightseeing together.