By Patrick O'Donnell
To me, it was a dream assignment. I was given 100 yuan by China.org.cn and a full day to do whatever I wanted with it. The only question was how I would spend it. 100 yuan may not seem like much, only coming to about $14.55. But things in China are much cheaper than in the United States, especially compared to the Boston area, where I am from. It turns out that 100 yuan can go a long way.
Beijing is a huge city, encompassing about the same area in square kilometers as Los Angeles. There is so much to do and see here it can be overwhelming. I have been here over a month and have yet to see much of the city. Wanting to see more, I picked an area that I had never seen, but billions soon would. I went to northern Beijing, where the Olympics kick off on August 8.
Here was my plan. I would ride my bike to the metro station and take the subway to the China Science and Technology Museum. Then, I would take a bus to see the Bird's Nest (the National Stadium) and the Watercube (the National Aquatics Center), located in the area where most of the main Olympics events will take place. Afterwards, I would go to the Chinese Ethnic Culture Park to see exhibitions about China's ethnic minorities. I would then finish my day with a visit to the Temple of Earth.
As with many things in life, however, not everything went according to plan. One art I have mastered to some degree is that of improvisation, a skill I needed throughout the day.
It all started well-enough. I rode my bike to the Fuchengmen subway station, about a 15 minute ride from my apartment. It was starting to drizzle but did not look like anything serious. I descended into the station and looked at the map on the wall, where I encountered my first problem. The subway line I wanted to take was not on their map. It was either closed or still under construction. Basically, my whole plan for transit unraveled. I know very little Chinese so I could not ask for more clarification. Since the area I wanted to go is on the other side of the city and the day was getting on, I decided to take a taxi to the Science Museum.
I left the subway station and emerged into what was a heavy downpour. Luckily I grabbed my umbrella right before I left my apartment so the rain did not soak me. I then spent about 15 minutes trying to get a cab. Taxis in Beijing are cheap and plentiful, but trying to get one while it is raining can be difficult. I walked up and down the street but all the taxis were full. Eventually my quixotic quest ended and I was able to find an empty cab. The driver took me straight to the museum, which cost me 21 yuan, or a little over $3. If I had to guess, I would say that cab rides this cheap have not been seen in Boston since John F. Kennedy was president.
Braving the torrential downpour, I left the taxi and bought my ticket. It was good for the main exhibit hall and movie, which together cost 50 yuan. I had no idea what movie was playing since the sign was written in Chinese, but the woman who sold me the ticket kept emphatically pointing to the time so I figured it must be good.
Upon entering the museum, visitors are treated to a cacophony of sights and sounds. The first thing I noticed was the amount of children running around. There are hundreds of them, running, jumping and yelling. The other thing I noticed was the giant Mobius strip sculpture that dominates the center of the museum.
The museum, although packed and noisy, is very well-organized and has what seems like a limitless supply of hands-on exhibits. Also helpful is that many, although not all, of the signs are in both English and Chinese. Many sciences are covered such as biology, computing, physics and astronomy. Of course there was also a special section dedicated to the upcoming Olympics, complete with a windsurfing video game and information about the torch.