Monday, May 23, 2011

Day 6 - Part II - This Natural History Museum Was Just Remodeled?

We are now on foot.  No more driver for us...

Every guide book I could get my hands on, plus recent visitors all mentioned that the Natural History Museum was being remodeled for the last year or so, and would open at the end of 2010.  I admit, I was intrigued.  So much of the city was torn up and just built over, I wanted to see what a remodeled museum would be like.

When we arrived, it had the comforting "imposing facade (tm)" that Natural History Museums built in the last century (or slightly earlier) all seem to have.  But the street frontage seemed strangely fortified, 

and we had to enter through a small gate next to a guard shack.  

That reminded me of where I was.  Just to keep me comfortable, there was only one door open in the long low of front doors.

The early highlight was the REAL FOSSILS in the dinosaur display.  

In the U.S., fossil bones are cast, and then the real fossils are kept in storage.  This makes good sense for several reasons - the fossil bones are easier for researchers to access, the bones stay in much better shape (they are not really up to the job of being part of a skeleton any more), and other museums that don't have the bones can still get a pretty cool cast of the skeleton to put on display.  
All the same, I admit, I was crushed when I found out most museums hoard their bones, and we are just seeing a copy - a good one, but a copy.

If fact the dinosaur display was rather up to date and interesting.  I was intrigued with how much this part of the museum had in common with U.S. displays of the same.  
There were some cool scenery effects on the wall - including one part that showed all the layers that go into "fleshing out" a dinosaur leg, bone under ligament, muscle and then skin, as well as the giant plants and rocky cliff effects.
There were also an "interactive" video games - One had "you," represented by a little running guy, trying to outrun pursuing dinosaurs.  You got your character to run by pedaling a stationary bicycle.  Just as at home, any information was lost as excited kids just pedal as fast as they can.  

The other, a weight comparing game was attempting to show just how heavy dinosaurs are, but like everywhere else I've ever been, all the kids wanted to do was see how much they way, and wait for the cartoon T-rex catapult the cartoon mouse off the screen.
It comforted me that Chinese kids have the same reaction to these games as American kids.  Museums tap into the "active"... but I think we educators are missing the "inter."

From the dinosaurs we moved on to a truly fascinating display of bugs (there are some BIG BUGS to be seen), and a slightly sad display of taxidermied animals.  The animals were clearly real, and antique, but a bit worse for wear.  The main reason for the wear and tear seemed to be allowing visitors to get almost nose to nose with these animals.  (Clearly the animals hadn't been remodeled) 
That was a unique experience - no glass, no unbridgeable gap - all these antelopes and buffaloes were so close I could touch them (and clearly many people had).  So, yes it had been hard on the displays, but in a world full of protective distances it was fun to wander the fake woodland trails and look up close at all these animals. (These paths were in a rather trampled state - I'm guessing not remodeled either)  I was a bit saddened at the number of African Plains animals.  I had been hoping for more Asian animals.  But I guess I shouldn't have been surprised.  The British museums aren't exactly overflowing with local fauna either.  19th century Playboys with guns all seemed to have ended up in Africa, regardless of where they started.
At the end of these animals we passed by a pond display - Apparently the water fowl got nothing in this remodel.

The "pond" glass is dusty or shattered. 
After all this excitement (both here at the Museum and at the Tea Market), it was time for a snack.  We found our way into the gift/snack shop.  Once again despite being in a Natural History Museum the gifts and doo-dads were largely unrelated to anything Natural or Historic.  They were just random trinkets.  This seemed most odd as the huge amount of the educational and cutesy zoo/natural history merchandise is manufactured in China.  Maybe the consumers just aren't willing to pay the same ridiculous mark ups for fuzzy red-eyed tree frogs?
Anyway, Tavin and I fed ourselves, though Tavin discovered the dangers of Pokemon ice-cream.  The cup is much more exciting than the ice cream, and the space inside is some how much smaller than the cup's outside dimensions imply due to raised bases and the like.  But - hey - now he knows why his mean mommy won't let him get merchandising ice-cream in the US.  Same problem.
I on the other hand got my hands on some more delicious bottled tea.  Unsweetened, but flavorful and delicious.  Why is so much US bottled tea only available in "plain - bitter" and "super sweet - with or without calories" (a rant for another time.)
We also discovered the bathrooms had not been remodeled.  But hey, they were working.

We made our way to the basement for the Human Body exhibits.  This area had the nice comforting feel of any US Museum remodeled in the 1970's - 1990's.  Same materials, hard flooring, drop ceilings, florescent lighting, worn displays half broken from overuse and spotty maintenance.  (I have been to a lot of science museums.) 
There were some truly unique touches that made me very glad we got to see them.  The Womb Room - those strange library chairs many of us saw at different liberal arts universities  - or in Men In Black came to mind. 

It even has sound effect, and the sperm floor applique is a nice touch
Plenty of plasticized bodies and body parts - missing much of the glam of the "Bodies the Exhibition" and what not, but very informative.  The preserved developing feotuses, the plasticized reproductive organs - it was biology geek heaven, and again caused me to wonder about the American/Western squeamishness about parts of development and our bodies to the detriment of our health - both physical and mental.

After that we were ready to walk on to our next destination - or maybe get a cab?

Yeah right - it was freezing cold, and we speak no Mandarin - or any other Chinese.  And we had no clue about hailing a cab in Beijing - and there was no Hotel to do it for us. 

We walked to the nearest Subway station and headed north.