I remember once writing an article about a theme park in Shenzhen called Window of the World. I started off by saying that “Everyone knows that the Eiffel Tower is in Paris and the Taj Mahal is in India, don’t they?” I then smugly went on to write that these two monuments could also be found in Shenzhen.
Little did I know, in my ignorance, that you can also find the Eiffel Tower and Taj Mahal in Beijing – and I’m not referring to the Café de Paris or a local Indian takeaway either.
Located in the Fengtai District of Beijing, about 17kms south west of Tian Anmen Square, the Beijing World Park (北京世界公园) “features 106 of the most famous sites from 14 countries around the world”.
Measuring just short of 120 acres, the park – constructed over three years from 1991 to October 1993, consists of two parts: A “scenic area in miniature displayed according to the position of its country on the map”, and a “shopping, dining and enteratinment area” (so the blurb would have us believe).
“This enteratinment area is situated in an international folkloric village and the tourist can take an electric train and a motorboat through the park to simulate a trip around the world.” Sounds grand doesn’t it? It even looks great in the touristic blurb, guaranteed to whet the appetite of any aspiring tourist to Beijing.
Strange then that not a single expat I had spoken to had even heard of the place, while my Chinese friends had heard of it, but had never actually been there,
But perhaps it’s not as strange as all that. To get there means taking the subway on Line 1 all the way out to Wukesong and then finding a 967 bus which jerks, stops and starts its way along a crowded road for nearly an hour.
When the new Subway Line 9 opens in 2012 to join up with the Fangshan line, there will be a direct link all the way from downtown and no doubt visitor numbers will pick up enormously.
Since its opening in 1993, the Beijing World Park has apparently received 1.5 million visitors annually. But I have to say that on the day I went, 1.49999 million of them have decided to stay away. The place is practically deserted.
“Of China's theme parks, the BeijingWorldPark is outstanding in term of its exquisite architecture, rich and colorful activities and cultural atmosphere,” the blurb continues.
Well, maybe on the other 364 days of the year, but on Christmas Eve, there are no activities, colourful or otherwise; and the cultural atmosphere must be taking a holiday that day too. “Taking a speedboat one can have a global voyage” – no, they are all locked down for the winter; “and if one takes a battery-operated car, he can sightsee around the park” – no battery-operated cars; the “Special Joy Adventure City is a cinema with the latest technologies” – maybe, but it is locked; “by visiting the Modern African Primitive Folklore Exhibition one can experience the life of the original inhabitants of Africa” – sorry, but Africa, too, is closed.
Not that it really matters that much. It makes for a pleasant stroll across the five continents, as long as one isn’t too fastidious about the level of detail of the models.
On entering the main gate of the park visitors enter a “life-size Italian terrace garden”. How big is “life size” I ask myself? About as big as my back garden in the UK, I guess. It has “magnificent stepped buildings, fountains and figure sculptures of the Renaissance, full of European romanticism”. Hmmm. The fountains have been switched off unsurprisingly for the vicious Beijing winter, while a number of nude statues has one automatically pulling one’s coat tighter, as if you expect to see goosebumps on Michelangelo’s David clone.
Looking out onto what I guess is the ‘Paciflantic Ocean’ you can turn left to Asia or right to Europe and America. In the former you can find a Japanese Imperial Villa, the Great Wall, and – my favourite - Yingxian County Wooden Pagoda,
as well as Ankor Wat, Borobudur and other famous Asian landmarks.
There’s even a very pleasant traditional Chinese garden to wander around.
The Middle East has the pyramids, of course, and what are described as “the Pharoas of Alexandria” – but are actually at Abu Simbel!
There is also a stone slab with a relief of three topless Egyptians, which previous visitors have obviously been keen to touch up, judging by the smoothness of their mammaries. So it would appear that the Chinese are just as fixated with breasts as any one else!
Just to get the visitor in the mood there is also a cute fluffy camel; but unfortunately it is a Bactrian (Asian) camel (ie with two humps) not a Dromedary (Arabic) camel (one hump). But then, who’s to worry, or even care for that matter? No doubt the vast majority of the 1.49999 million visitors won’t know the difference.
The blurb continues in supra-over-the-top-hyperbole. “All these attractions were built with certain accuracy in designs and vivid sculptures,” it says. “They are such good works of art that even a person who have seen the originals cannot tell the difference.” Hahaha. OK, now I really must take issue. Surely the copywriters of this stuff have graduated from the Yashow Market School of ‘These are genuine Armani shirts and Louis Vuitton bags’ fame. Either that, or they have never left the Middle Kingdom to see the originals for themselves.
But let’s not be picky. Over in Europe, the “German Castle” is cute;
the Vatican (with the Eiffel Tower in the background) is impressive;
even Pisa’s leaning tower gets everyone queuing up to get their photograph taken pushing it back up again!
“The last attraction here is the LondonBridge, which connects Europe with America”, we are told.
Sure enough, there is the Washington Monument, the Capitol,
the White House, the Statue of Liberty, and a host of other American landmarks, including the Twin Towers, though without an aircraft about to smack into the side of them.
There is however an old aircraft of indeterminate vintage propping up the side of the children’s play area; but unfortunately it too is locked up.
At last, having travelled around the world, your favourite blogger is in desperate need of refreshment. Thankfully not all the cafés in the park are closed, and it is time to try out a concoction which seems to be popular over here consisting of tea with coffee flavouring, coconut and some gelatinous lumps floating in it. Once you get over the initial shock of adding Nescafe to Liptons Yellow Label, it actually makes for quite a nice drink.
Just outside the World Park, there is an International Street “for shopping and a rest, where you will find lots of food and snacks, and all the flavors from different parts of the world.” Except it, too, is closed.
Time instead to take the long trip home, having spent the day overdosing on cultural excitement, the like of which is hard to match. (BTW: Anyone know of any jobs going for a Yashow copywriter, perchance?)