Brian Salter's Blogs:
Beauty, Boredom and Criminality at Forest Park


Considering that this is now my third year in Beijing, it seems amazing that to date I had never visited the Olympic Forest Park, lying just to the north of the Olympic Green, which I have visited many times. This weekend it seemed the time was right to put that omission to rights.

Beijing's Olympic Forest Park is a large, man-made nature park built for the 2008 Beijing Olympics games. It is oval in shape and features a lake in its centre; and it was designed by an individual by the name of Hu Jie. Several small islands in the lake are linked by bridges; and at the south-east end of the lake there is a handful of carnival rides for children.

What I hadn’t realised until today, though, is that the water, that goes into making up the lakes and canal system, is shaped like a giant dragon – not that you’d ever know it unless, perhaps, you flew over in a helicopter or studied one of the maps conveniently placed for tourists…

The Forest Park covers an area of 680 hectares, or 11.5 square kilometres, and is apparently the largest metropolitan park in Beijing. The 5th ring road forms a boundary between the south and north parts of this park which combines Chinese classic gardening with a modern landscape design.

The official blurb is fulsome in its praise. “People can stop and rest around the area and breathe the fiatus of nature,” we are told. “This place is the jade forest with high pitched bird voices, the wind is amiable and sunshine is glorious. Come with several friends, tease with birds and listen to their voices, which culture the mind and soul while communicating information. There is a high erected forest of clouds, the beauty of autumn is red, and the leaves are glowing with five colors, drunken dance in the clear sky with lost of mind and soul.” How could one possibly resist?

The South Entrance to the park is right next to the apply-named ‘South Gate of Forest Park Station’ on Line 8 of the Beijing Subway. Although there are turnstiles aplenty to go through, it appears that entry is free. My gaze takes in a large pond with people ambling aimlessly around its perimeter. And whizzing along at a respectable 5km an hour is a two-person quad-bike – the type you pedal, that is; not the kind of machines you whiz up and down sand dunes in! I find out later that you can rent these bikes for 100 kuai for an hour, or slightly more for four-person carriages.

There are only two directions you can go in; and with a toss of the coin I find myself heading in an easterly direction along a path that doesn’t really seem to go anywhere except on and on and on. Ahead is a kind of weir where someone has thought to have water cascading over lumps of concrete. How picturesque… I guess…

Though the concrete may not be that eye catching, there are clumps of flowers dotted around the place which lift one’s spirits a little. No idea what these flowers are called (blog-fans… can anyone help here?) but they are rather nice in a simple kind of way.

Also pretty nice are the yellow-green leaves on some of the trees which seem to glow in the air, which unfortunately my iPhone camera insists on flattening out as its clever computer control tries to even out the colour balance so the effect is totally lost here.

Everywhere, the powers that be have stuck up maps and signposts so that you can be left in no doubt exactly where you are at any given moment. Ahead is a sign pointing in the direction of a ‘Dangling Platform’. What on earth is that, I ask myself? Do they dangle errant children over a bridge until they agree to behave themselves, I wonder?

I discover a little bit later on, with the help of my trustee iPhone translator: 垂釣 means fishing. So it appears that this dangling platform is where you can play with a hook and line – or “angling” as we pedant English speakers are wont to call it!

In common with many open areas in Beijing, the signwriters have been having a field day. But though we are warned that on no account are we to pick or dig any fruit or wild vegetables, if the truth be known there are none of either to be seen. Maybe someone got there first before seeing the signs?

Similarly are we warned to keep off the ‘grasses’; and for those of us who cannot see a single blade of grass anywhere in the vicinity, it is comforting to see in pictures that the notice also refers to what look like daisies about to be trampled underfoot.

Throughout the park one is never that far away from water; and in theory it should be very picturesque. But somehow the views never seem to be that inspiring…

A large stone in the middle of nowhere suddenly comes into view. ‘Rising Dragon Friendship Forest’, it says; though why the powers that be have suddenly decided to rename the Forest Park without a by-your-leave is beyond me!

The peach trees beside another path are already bearing fruit after what only seems like yesterday when peach trees across the city were all covered in blossom.

The pond now appears to be a bit larger than at first imagined. Everywhere there are people bobbing about on boats…

They have even hidden the boat yard away behind one of the many man made islands, which guarantees a steady stream of pleasure seekers chug chug chugging their way through a narrow channel to the said landing stage.

In the distance can be seen the now nearly-constructed Sightseeing Tower (aka Observation Tower, depending on whose web site you choose to read) at Beijing Olympic Park. At 243 metres high, one wonders how many days in the year it will be clear enough to observe anything, given Beijing’s penchant for smothering itself in its own filthy air.

Ready for any eventuality, the signs around the lake warn that no swimming is allowed; nor stepping on the ice. But today is a very humid 27 degrees, and any lingering ice has long given up the unequal struggle…

Meanwhile, the goldfish, renowned for ignoring notices as if these strictures could never apply to them, flagrantly swim around without a care in the world, as if they are putting up two fingers to authority.

Another notice forbids burning…

…though it is clear from the reddening skin of many of the visitors that they too have wilfully ignored the notices, as they head for a cool mountain stream to cool off their toes…

The staff in the park, meanwhile, are well covered up from the sun as they go about their daily chores; though my first reaction is that someone may have had a little too much beer at lunchtime!

Others, meanwhile, are contemplating what to fill their faces with. Popcorn appears popular, but I am left wondering whether turtle is best left for another day, or whether a good dollop of hoi sin sauce would not go amiss?

Security is razor sharp here as the boys in blue lie back in their cars waiting for an urgent call. But nowhere is posted an emergency number for bringing in supplies of ice cream to the sweating masses; and this is one of the very few public parks where there are no ice cream vendors nor chow houses liberally dispersed every 100 metres along the paths.

It must be a tough job being a cop here. Can you imagine having to drive around at 10kms an hour all day looking tough so that anyone who so much as thinks of dropping an ice lolly wrapper soon gets the message that it just isn’t worth it!

But OMG what have we here? I appear to have spoken too soon. Within minutes of walking back through the entry turnstyles into the Olympic Park proper, a police car swoops down on an unsuspecting criminal!

A crowd gathers to watch.

This is exciting stuff.

BJ’s police force is calmly showing its mettle as two of its finest officers deal swiftly with the miscreant.

We are naturally all shocked to observe that a balloon seller appears not to have a license to sell his wares in the park!!!

An argument ensues, with the criminal holding onto his balloons for dear life …

A pair of handcuffs appears from one of the officers’ pockets and before you know it the miscreant quickly lets go of his balloons and does a runner. But it’s a hot day and the police decide that perhaps they will be lenient with him as he disappears off into the distance.

Next comes the vexing problem of how many gas filled balloons you can fit inside a cop car – but one of the officers has obviously been trained to deal with such crises. It appears that only half the balloons will fit into the boot of the car; the rest he deals with by repeatedly stabbing them Hitchcock style as they go to meet their maker with a bang and a whimper.

Life is never boring! You can see it all here in Beijing – both the beauty of nature and what the criminal underclass gets up to. I head on back to my apartment, happy in the knowledge that we are all being looked after by the powers that be, so that we can sleep safely in our beds at night.