Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Art of Beijing

On a recent group trip to Beijing, I had the opportunity to see how the Olympics had affected China's capital. The very new, wide, and well-kept streets and avenues reminded me of those old Lego commercials that showed perfect Lego streets. I felt the Olympics most blatantly affected the buildings. Before Beijing was chosen to host the 2008 Olympics, there were no buildings like the CCTV Building or the National Theater (the "Egg") or any of the Olympic venues. The first time I saw the CCTV Building, I thought it was a monster's mouth. It was evening and I had just gotten out of a subway station when I looked to my right. The air was so smoggy that I could not see clearly but as my eyes got used to the visibility level, I saw that the highway right in front of the station looked as if it were being eaten by a black mouth. As I walked closer to the building, I realized it was not a mouth but the CCTV Building. During one of my courses here in Shanghai, the professor asked us what we thought about the building and I must agree with the concensus that the CCTV Building is very impractical. Considering that so many people are moving into the cities and buildings have to be built up not out, the CCTV Building wasted a lot of space. The Egg is also a very unique building but the fact that it is built right in front of the Chinese government's headquarters did not feel right. The outside structure appeared to be made of steel and fiber glass. The actual performing area did not occupy the whole structure. There was a smaller circular structure inside the Egg and the performing area was inside that. If I had to make an analogy, the outside structure is to the egg as the inside structure is to the yolk. On this group trip we got to see a Beijing Opera. The opera was interesting and it definitely seemed to follow the Chinese tradition of yin and yang. Whenever the female protagonist was performing, the music was slow and the movements were languid, very yin. However, whenever the male protagonist was performing, the music was upbeat and the movements were brisk and energetic, very yang. All the performers used the props very well, some of them went so far as to use each other as props, and the costumes were very lavish though a bit dull in color. Only the female lead wore bright colors and only when she was feeling cheerful. The dance performance was basically ballet so overall, the show was a great melding of East (the opera) and West (the dance moves). The one thing I do not understand about this opera is why it is called an opera. There was almost no singing during the show, just the one time when the female lead is thinking about her dream lover. Every other time it is just background music. As for the Olympic venues, I was very excited to see them. It was disappointing that they were fenced, probably because the Paralympics where still going on, and I could not get close enough to them.

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