Beijing Planetarium Super Rides

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Day Three of Summer Holidays takes us into outer space…

There must be something about the number eight.

We three mums piled eight kids into a bus to visit Beijing Planetarium today (10RMB entry) – on a mission to outer space. It’s one of those places I’ve always wanted to take the kids but somehow just didn’t happen until now… traffic, distance, crowds, weather, traffic, traffic, traffic – yada yada yada, the typical excuses.

Don’t let traffic stop you – find a way to negotiate that third ring road and get out of this world, with interesting exhibits on the sun and all the planets (poor Pluto, now renounced, is considered a dwarf planet along with Ceres, Eris and other Greek goddesses of the constellations). Alas, a word of warning – nothing is in English; so unless you’re fortunate enough to be totally bilingual, things won’t be quite as stimulating as we agog astronaut-wannabes had hoped. In fact, this part was quite a let down and I imagine it will also be a let down to the legions of English-speaking tourists about to flood Beijing (Planetarium bosses, please take note).

Nonetheless! The Rides are worth it. Rides gets a capital letter because they are way cool and even make you squeal at times, which is always something every kid and big kid enjoys.

First was the 4D Theater (adults 30RMB, kids 20RMB) which currently takes you on a journey from the beginning of troglodyte life to the dinosaurs. Don your wrap-around glasses and park yourself in front of the wrap-around screen then prepare to be wooshed and sprayed in the face, then duck, weave and squeal as you encounter all manner of horrible underwater creatures like the Deep Sea Angler fish and other prehistoric uglies, jutting out of the screen, keen to eat you up!

Next was the SGI Digital Space Theater (adults 45RMB, kids 35RMB) – a luxurious experience whereby patrons recline almost horizontal in their seats and gaze up at a massive round sky, spangled with stars. The film that unfolds seems to be about the evolution of the galaxies and our sun, which (from my limited Mandarin), appears to be enlarging ever so slowly and will eventually swallow up our entire Universe, starting with Mercury. But don’t worry – I’m guessing this is a few million years away and we’ll probably be living in another Galaxy by then, if global warming doesn’t get us first. The disappointment here is that it’s only narrated in Chinese with nary an English subtitle. Nonetheless, the film is so relaxing, all ages will enjoy it – it’s sort of meditative, like lying outdoors camping under a bright night sky – something you probably won’t achieve in Beijing any time soon.

Lastly was the most vigorous of “rides” – the Space Simulator 3D Theater (adults 30RMB, kids 20RMB). Currently showing an underwater adventure, patrons are strapped into seats that jolt and shimmy to simulate a rollercoastering plunge into the briny depths where you’ll witness a sperm whale devouring a giant squid.

Although these rides are not all particularly galactic, they’re way cool and worth the trip. Make sure you book each ride relatively close together – the longest lasts 20 mins (SGI Digital Space) but the others are shorter and there’s not much to do in between shows.

Be sure to check out the cool (and relatively cheap) merchandise including miniature spinning globes, compasses and umbrellas with the constellations printed on the inside. You could buy one and lie under it in your living room with a torch, sleeping bags, s’mores and your giggling kids… Hey! anything’s worth a try on these long summer holidays.

Bring on Day Four…

First published on the City Weekend Beijing website.

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