Hap­py­cul­tur­al­rev­o­lu­tion

This sum­mer’s Olympics of­fer a per­fect ex­cuse to see Bei­jing and Shang­hai, says Dar­a­lyn Danns

The Jewish Chronicle - - TRAVEL -

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

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