Thursday, January 31, 2013


On a recent pollution day, I went on a field trip with Simon's class to the National Aquatics Center, better known as the "Water Cube." In 2008 the cube was the site of the Olympic swimming competition in Beijing.

I had seen the Cube already a million times from the outside, but had never gone in.

Turns out, it is a pretty awesome structure. The outside of the building contains no less than 3100 "pillows," which are those irregular, puffy things that are morphed together to form the cube.

The pillows are made of a plastic called ethylene tetrafluoroethylene, which apparently even at 0.2 mm of thickness (1/125th of an inch, for you Americans) is sturdy enough to not break and keep in  heat. Apparently you can drive a car over these plastic pillows (sadly we did not get to try) without them breaking.  The ETFE also lets in more light and heat than regular glass, which reduces energy consumption. I might consider cladding my own home in ETFE pillows!

A cube of ETFE pillows.

Obviously the pillows or bubbles represent water.

Technically, the building is not a cube, but a "rectangular box" (a cuboid), but I think only Wikipedia dares to point out the difference.

Where the swimmers went next.

The Olympic Pool. Site of 65 new Olympic swimming records and 25 world swimming records.

The diving area. I considered a plunge.

Simon (in red jacket) and his class mates listening to a presentation about the pool.

The roof. I checked, and no bubbles are the same.

Checking the strength of the pillows. Sadly we did not bring our car to drive over it.

The cube when it was under construction.

Today the Aquatics Center has an indoor wave pool with some pretty cool equipment.

I get dizzy looking at it :-)

The viewing terrace to view the Olympic records of the recreational swimmers.

The beach master himself.

The Beijing National Stadium, or Bird's Nest, is just across the street. The Water Cube and Birds Nest together reflect ancient Chinese architecture, with the circular Nest representing heaven and the square Cube representing earth.

In het Nederlands: Vorige week was ik met Simon's class op bezoek bij het Olympisch zwembad, de "Water Cube." Het gebouw heeft een mooie architectuur. De bubbels die je ziet zijn allemaal plastic kussentjes, bijeengehouden in een stalen frame. De Water Cube staat dichtbij het andere beroemde Olympische stadion, de "Bird's Nest." 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Leshan Buddha

China is home to a couple giant Buddha's. And when I say giant, I mean giant. I guess to be sure that the Buddha will look kindly upon your mortal soul, you better build (or carve) him big enough to be spotted from space. There are for example some huge Buddha carvings in Datong (near Beijing (hint hint), Luoyang, and in Leshan.

Just south of Chengdu (meaning a two and a half hour drive), visiting Leshan was a perfect day-trip on our recent visit to Sichuan Province and Chengdu, and of course we went to see the famous and humongous "Leshan Buddha." 

What I loved about this place was actually the story surrounding it. The version that I was told--as we were climbing down on the right side of his body--is that a monk, Mr. Haitong, with great energy and inspiration started raising funds in 713 AD for his idea to build a Buddha, which he thought would bring calm and safety to the wild and crazy water currents of the convergence of the Ming, Dadu, and Qingyi rivers in front of it. 

Lo and behold, after many years of work and 71 meters of carvings, a benign and rock-solid Buddha appeared on the shore. And as the works had progressed, the rivers had actually calmed down because of all the rocks and sands sliding into the river from the construction. A miracle! The Buddha didn't even have to use his build-in safety features; the mere construction of him already had brought peace to the river.

What a great story. However, when I just read this other version, A Short History of the Leshan Giant Buddha, I realized that Mr. Haitong might have started the whole project knowing very well that the construction of it would slow down the river. Or as the article says, it was a "half-flood control, half-religious project." I suppose that takes a little bit away from the miracle of the Buddha, but it does show incredible foresight by the monk (not to mention an apt for marketing techniques, if you read the article) to be able to solve a flood-control problem and at the same time use it as a way of funding his desire to honor the Buddha!

The monk didn't live to see the final result, but exactly 90 years after the project was started, the statue was finished in 803 AD. In 2012 AD, a bunch of Dutch tourists came see it with their own eyes.

The three Buddha's.

For a sense of scale. The boat in the foreground is not a toy.

Captain Haddock and the Buddha.

Buddha and Goofball.

In het Nederlands: Van de zomer waren we op bezoek bij de Grote Boeddha van Leshan, in de provincie Sichuan in het mid-westen van China. Wat een monster! Samen met nog zo'n duizend andere toeristen daal je een smal trapje af, van het rechteroor van de Boeddha naar z'n teen, en dan weer omhoog. Maar mooi is het wel. Ook leuk is het dat door de constructie van de Boeddha, en dan met name door alle stenen die in het water vielen, de rivier een stuk rustiger werd en er dus minder schepen vergingen dan voorheen. Dat is nog eens een effectief beeld!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

There and Back Again


It has been a long time since my last post. I know that you have been craving news from Beijing. This time though, I think the international media already informed you of our recent happenings: air quality in Beijing has been at an all-time low the last few weeks. (Can those Olympic Games perhaps come back again?)

Having been here two years, I don't really look up from an index that is 200-300 (considered "very unhealthy" by the U.S. EPA air quality index) or even 300-400 (already in the "hazardous" zone), but when last week Saturday the index rocketed to a 682 "beyond index" score, even I had to do a double-take.

"Beyond Index" !  (This is a screenshot from my iPhone.) 

Luckily, today is already so much better. Only 435, so at least we are back on the index:

And here is a picture of what this kind of pollution looks like. The photo below is Beijing Riviera around 11:30 am today. Despite the nice Chinese New Year decorations (the year of the snake is about to start in two weeks) our neighborhood looks kind of dreary.

Even though this very informative article by the World Resources Institute explains that Beijing's air pollution isn't so much a result of the rapid increase in cars on the Beijing roads, I would like to report that I saw a very suspicious driver on the streets this week. (Child protection services: I don't know who the boy is, but I think his parents are otherwise very responsible.)

In het Nederlands: Het nieuws had Nederland ook al wel bereikt denk ik: de afgelopen weken hebben we weer een goede hoeveelheid smog mogen inademen. (Zie bijvoorbeeld dit artikel: "Beijing, lucht meer vervuild dan meetbaar". Ik kan niet genoeg zeggen dat we in een jaar toch ook wel ontzettend veel mooie dagen hebben, maar deze vuile nevel is natuurlijk geen pleziertje. Onze wijk is mooi versierd voor het Chinese Nieuwjaar dat binnenkort begint, maar door de luchtverontreiniging ziet het er allemaal toch wat troosteloos uit!