Beijing, formerly known as Peking, is one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China. The others are Nanjing, Luoyang and Xi'an. As the venue for the 2008 Olympic Games, the city has embarked on creating an entirely new image and has taken the rest of China along on the ride. The old days of Maoist revolutionaries in identical tunics are gone. The country's youth, like the rest of the world, is interested in MTV, mobile phones, foreign investment, motor cars, designer clothing and what's happening in other places.
In the lead-up to the Olympics, many locals are going about their lives as they have for decades, but looming towers of glass and steel have replaced much of the way their city once was. Its biggest transformation since the arrival of Genghis Khan in the 13th century has created parts as sophisticated as London or New York.
To be prepared for a flood of two million tourists, old buildings disappear overnight, replaced by new ones almost as quickly. While around 60 new hotels will be ready, it could still be difficult to find a bed at Olympics time.
A taste of old Beijing is The Red Capital Residence. The brainchild of American Laurence Brahms, who has spent most of his life in China, it allows guests to step back in time, walking the old roads which are known as hutongs.
So keen are the Chinese to create positive impressions on their visitors, there are smile campaigns, patient queuing days, citizens are being told to stop spitting and to generally use manners considered to be commonplace to Westerners.
Taxi drivers have been issued with English phrase books and audio tapes. (It's a good idea to carry your destination written in Chinese with you when you are moving around the city).
It is expected that China will soon become the largest English-speaking country on earth and locals are keen to practice at any opportunity.
Olympic venues are scattered across the city. The rowing park is close to the airport to the north-west and the velodrome is on the opposite side, not far from two university gymnasiums. The cycling course is on the road to the Great Wall, and the beach volleyball ground is in the city's south-east.
Sailing will be held in Qingdao on the coast of eastern Shandong province and Hong Kong is the venue for equestrian events.
The Olympic Green will attract most of the attention. Not only a venue for tennis, archery and hockey, it will hold the 400 hectare Olympic Village and Cultural Centres. It will live up to its name with attention being paid to energy and water use, wind utilisation, solar energy and the use of environmentally-friendly building materials.
Another highlight is China's world famous acrobats who train up to eight hours a day at the Beijing International Art School. The school teaches circus arts, martial arts and dance and there are performances every night at Heaven and Earth Theatre. Students are all hopeful they will be chosen for opening and closing ceremonies.
It's not yet open to visitors, but you can drive by and see the astonishing mesh of girders forming the National Stadium. At dusk, the Water Cube's walls glow as it is lit from the inside. There's no doubt everything will be finished and ready for the opening.
An Olympic snapshot:
Opening ceremony: August 8, 2008
Closing ceremony: August 24, 2008
Number of sports: 28
Competition days: 18
National Olympic Committees: 202
Television audience: estimated to be four billion
Number of jobs Olympic construction has created: almost 500,000 in Beijing alone
Number of new hotels being built: around 60
Number of visitors expected during the games: two million
Number of beds needed per night: 300,000
Beijing Airport is expecting to handle 42 million passengers in 2008, up from 25 million in 2003 and 1400 flights per day during the Olympics fortnight
The capital of the People's Republic of China.
Wendy Wu Tours has four-night Beijing Packages during the 2008 Olympic Games. They include accommodation, breakfast and transfers. Prices start at $2500 per person twin share. They will run between July 20 and August 31, 2008.
Red Capital Residence rooms start at around $410 a double a night. Breakfast is included.
Tiandi Theatre acrobatic show costs from around $64 per person. Performances are at 7:30 every night. It is a 10 minute walk from Red Capital Residence.
Red Capital Club set menu starts at around $60 per person. An a la carte menu is also available.
Air China has flights to Beijing.
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Valid for travel between November 29 and December 06, 2007 and again between December 31, 2007 and March 31, 2008. Price information from April 1, 2008 will be released in mid-January, 2008.
Prices quoted valid at November 29, 2007.
For more information
Wendy Wu Tours
Level 9, 275 George Street
Ph: 1300 727 998
Ticketing and Visas: (02) 9224 8899
Fax: (02) 9993 0444
10 Dongzhimen South Street
Red Capital Residence
9 Dongsi Liutiao
Red Capital Club
66 Dongsi Jiutiao
Air China Limited
Level 21, 123 Pitt Street
Ph: (02) 9232 7277
Fax: (02) 9232 7465
It is recommended travellers to China see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there are specific vaccinations recommended. Other health precautions and preventions may also be recommended and are best discussed with your doctor. For further information visit www.welltogo.com.au