Yesterday I visited the Olympic park in Beijing. I went with a couple of Chinese girls from my university, one of whom happens to be a friend of my Chinese teacher (who is a student herself). I had never met them before, but my teacher gave them my number, because they were keen on having the chance of showing a foreigner around Beijing, and I was quite happy to go along.
The Olympic park is certainly worth visiting. It covers a huge area on the outskirts of the city, and it includes most of the stadiums and venues which were used during the games. It has now become a tourist attraction for the Chinese, and there were hordes of Chinese tourists everywhere. We wanted to visit the so called "water cube" which hosted the swimming and diving, but there were huge queues to buy the ticket to go in, and we didn't want to pay double to buy it from a tout, so we decided to give up on that.
The Park is so huge there is even a special underground line with three stops which takes you across the park. Next to the underground stops you can find a series of works of art built using classical Chinese themes.
During the visit I also had a chance to chat quite a lot with the two girls who went with me, who spoke reasonable English. I found out that one of them is originally from Guangxi province, in the far south of China, and she comes from the largest ethnic minority in China, the Zhuang. I had never heard of the Zhuang, but after doing some research on the internet, I have found out that there are about 18 million of them, concentrated mainly in Guangxi. Out of the 56 recognized ethnic groups in China, they are the second largest after the Han (the "real" Chinese), who make up about 90% of the population. They are actually a far bigger group than the better known Tibetans. Even though there are more Zhuang than there are people in Hungary, Portugal or Sweden, almost no one has ever heard of them in the West. The Zhuang also have their own language, which belongs to the Tai language group and is unrelated to Chinese. My new Chinese friend told me that she speaks both Chinese and the Zhuang language fluently.