We Went to Try the Bird’s Nest’s New Air Corridor So That You (Really, Really) Don’t Have To
The Bird’s Nest circa 2008 was a badge of China’s Olympic pride and aspirations, the steel heart of the Games and the nucleus where Olympians marched to the drum of thousands of grown men in diapers. Since then it has been in a state of gradual decay. The outer beams looked mucky as soon as everyone returned home to sign multi-million dollar contracts or commiserate four years of training wasted, their gray, metallic sheen unable to hide the neglect and the resounding transience of euphoria within. It’s difficult for any country to maintain the fever pitch and nationalist wank-a-thon that the Olympics allow, especially when the halls act little more than an infinite corridor to sell Olympic-branded tat; sad soft toys and spin-offs that have the shelf life of one quick-lived summer.
Now with the second round of festivities a mere five years away, Beijing has begun its push to reinvigorate tepid spirits, reminding you that yes, you do love winter sports even though you’ve never done one, and no it doesn’t matter that Yanqing, where the majority of the Winter Olympic Games’ outdoor events will be held, has an average annual snowfall of 1 to 5 centimeters. So what better way to drum up support (and recoup some lost money) than with something everyone can enjoy – a giant, zigzagging “Air Corridor,” smack-dab on the roof of the rusting beast itself!
I just can’t believe it took someone nine long years to come up with the idea.
Billed as a Top Steel Membrane Structure/Steel Forest/Central Axis of Beijing, this 1,000-meter-long walkway is basically a spruced-up version of what has probably been on the Bird’s Nest since day one – a maintenance route for workers to conduct checks and structural observations, except now, we the lucky public have been granted the opportunity to saunter down it and take in the views of northern Beijing. At a price.
Don't get me wrong, the Bird's Nest is one of the city's most impressive buildings and deserves its place as an icon, it's just that apart from a few half-arsed theatrical performances and the current dollop of melting snow and deflating objects plonked in the middle of it, the space has never lived up to its post-Olympic potential. Sadly, a 69-meter-high walkway isn't quite the answer either.
For RMB 80 a ticket you'd hope that they'd be able to print off some directions to where the actual tour begins, instead you're left to your own devices, wandering throughout the complex looking for the next person to ask which lift exactly you're meant to take to the fifth floor so that you can find then find the next lift to the sixth floor, which actually turns out to be the 11th.
Upon finally reaching the top via the Love Elevator you're met with a vague and ominous sign. Caution: one of these steps is loose from shoddy welding or Caution: imminent danger from sheer unadulterated spasmodic fun lies ahead?
Definitely the latter.
There are even these elusive signs hinting to a secret path à la Super Mario 3; all you need to do is find the raccoon suit and jump over one of the barriers.
Failing that, take a short climb up the clanging but reassuringly sturdy stairs and voila, you're transported to apartment block bliss!
One thing that could have salvaged this no-frill ride would have been to construct glass platforms that actually teeter over the stadium's edge (we have the technology!), playing on guests' fears that someone's chabuduo attitude upon leaving the special screws at home one day has rendered the entire thing structurally unsound, which in all fairness is why riding roller coasters and the like are terrifying by a multiple of 10 in China. Death here can come inexorably and without warning.
Instead what you have here is a prosaic stroll surrounded by a mess of metal with only humorous signs thanks to poor translation work. Seriously China, what is this, 2008?
Once you've enjoyed the signs, get one last view of the past in pillar form.
And this guy's evil lair.
Before being spat out into another miserable gift shop.
All in all, the new Air Corridor is a good option for anyone that has exhausted the joys of walking on land and would prefer to get lost in an attempt to see some rubble from above. The ticket does get you access to the stadium itself if plastic seats, brisk winds, overpriced snacks, and pissed-soaked toilets are your cup of tea.
You can even opt to upgrade your RMB 80 ticket to the RMB 110 VIP tour. I didn't bother because Sod's Law would have it that the first time that I ever pay to ride an escalator would be the time that it would collapse and horrifically maim me.
And with that, one last warm tip: please leave.
The Bird's Nest Air Corridor is open daily, 9am-6pm, for the foreseeable future, and costs RMB 80 for a standard ticket, RMB 110 for VIP, and RMB 140 for an inclusive tour of the nearby Beijing National Aquatics Center (Water Cube).
More stories by this author here.
Photos: Tom Arnstein