July 15, 2009

The Bird's Nest and Other Olympic Venues

I emerged out of a subway station on the Olympic line, swapping my spectacles for my shades in one smooth motion as I entered the sunlight. A host of architectural wonders stretched out around me. Directly in front was the Bird's Nest, Beijing's showpiece for the 2008 Summer Olympics. Officially the stylish mesh of steel pillars is known as the National Stadium. The largest steel structure in the world can hold 80,000-90,000 people, but it has been lying largely dormant since the conclusion of the Games. Both the opening and closing ceremonies were held here.

To the west of the stadium was the translucent Water Cube and the iconic Pangu Plaza. The National Aquatic Center gets its distinct shimmering look from the ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) polymer that was used to construct it. The plastic material is much cheaper than glass and also much lighter. 25 world records were broken in this pool, but its exquisite appearance is what draws the attention of the masses.

The highest tower in the Pangu Plaza is shaped like a dragon's head. In Chinese mythology, Pangu was the first living being and the uniter of heaven and earth. In neighbouring Korea, pangu means "fart". To the north of the Bird's Nest is the Olympic Forest Park, an open space with an artificial lake in the middle. The public is not allowed to walk on the grass here.

"Tender fragrant grass. How hardhearted to trample them." 
- Warning sign posted within the Olympic Green