This summer’s Olympics offer a perfect excuse to see Beijing and Shanghai, says Daralyn Danns
THE CHINESE maybe worried about the protests currently surrounding the Olympics, but they have produced a no expense-spared, futuristic-looking Beijing that, on August 8, will stun the world. From the moment you arrive at Beijing airport’s new state-of-the-art terminal, designed by Sir Norman Foster — the world’s largest airport building, and one which works efficiently — you cannot help but be impressed.
Forget any preconceived ideas you have about China. Impoverished? You will be surprised at the number of trendy shopping malls springing up; Gucci and Louis Vuitton stores are becoming as commonplace as Starbucks.
Bicycles are a convenient way to dodge the traffic. But more than 1,000 new cars are taking to the roads every day and the traffic in Beijing makes driving in New York seem like a picnic. The good news is that traffic will be limited during the games.
Asforthepollution,Beijinghaspulled out all the stops to improve its air qual- ity. Millions of trees have been planted and gas is starting to replace coal.
The dull, grey, buildings that once epitomised China are being replaced by skyscrapers, which are works of art in themselves. The old hutongs (lanes), once the home of the nobility, taken over by the people in 1949 and turned into overcrowded slums, are being converted into high-rises or luxury homes.
The Chinese have produced some of the most innovative Olympic venues to date. The 91,000-seater Olympic Park, nicknamed the Bird’s Nest because of the way that the exterior lattice structure is entwined, is Beijing’s showcase.
The National Aquatics Centre, dubbed the watercube —– its translucent outer covering looks like bubblewrap — is spectacular. It has 6,000 permanent and 11,000 temporary seats and is also the greenest of the venues.
I stayed at The Grand Hyatt, reputed to be the best hotel in the city. Connected to the Oriental Plaza shopping mall, it is the essence of modern China: a fusion of Western and Eastern traditions. Whether or not you stay, dine at Made in China; the place to go in Beijing.
Also check out its Club Oasis. The pool’s virtual sky changes colour during the day and at night turns into a star-studded canopy. Very Las Vegaslike, but great for escaping the bustle.
It is safe walking around the streets
Shanghai’s dramatic and modernistic skyline: the city is preparing for Olympic football this summer