Travel by superlatives- it is the way to go. As we’ve wandered the world, sometimes with just backpacks filled with the essentials and other times with shipments of all our worldly goods, we’ve always loved seeking to the biggest, the longest, and the farthest of all our destinations. In Cambodia we visited the world’s largest religious monument – Angkor Wat. In Argentina we slowly made our way across Avenida 9 de Julio, the world’s widest avenue. (It took several changes of the light to make it from one sidewalk to the next, but luckily the city has built-in pit stops in the center!) And don’t forget our own American superlatives such as General Sherman, the world’s largest single tree, in the Redwood forest or the world’s largest museum complex- the Smithsonian.
But, when it comes to “-ests” of the world, don’t count out China. After all, it is home to more people than any other country on Earth. The Chinese government loves its superlative sites. We’ve been to Urumqi- the city in the world farthest from an ocean, Le Shan- home of the world’s largest sitting Buddha, and of course, the Great Wall- the world’s longest fortification. (Oh, and don’t forget our visit to the Macau Tower a few years ago, where Thad and John T. decided it was a good idea to bungee jump off of what was then the world’s highest bungee point.) Heck, just this week China took home another superlative title, although this one a bit less pride-inducing- Chinese airports are the most delayed of any in the world. With less than 19% of Beijing’s flights leaving on time, the record is dismal, but not at all surprising to those of us who depend on those Air China flights through the capital to get in and out of the country.
Chengdu, not wanting to be left in the superlative dust, just premiered their own “-est” attraction. On June 28, the doors officially opened on the world’s largest building-The Global Center.
It is massive!
Some of us have lovingly given it the nickname The Death Star, as it is nearly as big as George Lucas’ moon-sized space station.
With a Facebook feed full of links to online articles about the city’s newest addition from friends and family, what choice did I have but to venture and out see this incredible structure for myself?
Saturday morning was the day! Thad and I took the subway out there, meaning we got to enjoy the panic that is a line change at Tianfu Square. (No matter the time of day or the time span between trains, people get off one line and sprint to the other. I was nearly trampled by a tiny woman fully decked out in neon and sporting three-inch heels as I made my way up the stairs between lines, only to stand next to her for five minutes as we all waited for the blue line train to arrive.) The metro system has a stop directly below the Global Center, making our initial scouting trip to the building an easy one.
After rising from the subway tunnel like a Morlock, into the midday brightness (not sunshine, as I’ve not metro-ed myself to the countryside), and blindly blinked as my eyes adjusted to glare of the orb from above, I looked up to see a colossal building, covered in glass, with each corner flipped up like a wave, echoing the traditional Chinese architecture seen on Buddhist temples throughout the country.
I’ll give you this Chengdu- it is impressive!
Making a beeline across the scorching hot, white tile that makes up the courtyard in front of the Center, we initially tried to enter through a giant door that we soon realized went the office spaces in the upper regions of the building, so we skittered on down the square until we found the revolving doors that breezed us on into the mall section of this city-sized creation. Inside, we were greeted with an expanse of marble (looking?) flooring, buffed to a high shine that would make even the most demanding butler proud. Choosing between the never-ending escalator that went directly to the fourth floor or a visit to the indoor water park, we opted to start at the latter. I couldn’t wait to see the park that boasts daily sunrises and sunsets on the world’s largest LED screen.
Off to the far side of the Death Sta…er, Global Center, we go!
As we made our way through the amateur photographers camping inside the front doors with cameras that weigh nearly as much as I do propped on hefty tripods, it didn’t take long to realize that while the building was open, it wasn’t OPEN. We passed storefront after storefront advertising what *would* be there in the near future. There will be a Lotte’s Department Store; there will be an H&M; there will be a bookstore (fingers crossed on that one!); there will be an IMAX theater.
But what IS there? A Toys ‘R Us and an overpriced Vietnamese restaurant. Oh yes, there are also a lot of exposed wires sticking out of the glossy marble floor and more than one puddle of standing water on upper floors of the expansive shopping center.
After passing “coming soon” signs in the display windows of nearly every store in the building, we reached the indoor water park- which looked amazing! The Rainbow Bright colored slides twisted and turned from huge heights, the spiraling tube-rides beckoned in reds and purples and the sandy beach was just waiting have the wave pool crash over it in set intervals that would make Old Faithful green with jealously.
Theoretically, the park looks fantastic! But, my realistic side says I’ll never spend a day there, clad in my polka-dot swimsuit, enjoying water world fun on a chilly late autumn afternoon. It looked bright and shiny and new on Saturday, but once the doors open and the masses arrive, all splendors will soon fade away as toddlers without diapers turn the beach into a giant litter box and a culture with infinitesimal personal space bubbles takes up every square inch of play space.
One of my favorite parts of the not-yet-open water park was not in the recreation area at all, but rather on the outskirts where cabanas will be home to a variety of snack stands and souvenir stores. One little restaurant advertised itself as having all manner of casseroles available. Because, what doesn’t say “a day at the beach” like a nice, creamy casserole?
In its quest for a superlative of its own, Chengdu has gone above and beyond in the world of architecture. The city has created a building like no other. (Seriously. No other.) As its galactic destiny comes to fruition over the coming months, I plan to make another trek out there to see it is all its glory. I probably won’t be buying much and I definitely won’t be swimming, but I will go wander the lustrous marble floors and enjoy knowing I’ve added yet another superlative to my own travels.
A bit about the Global Center (aka: Chengdu’s very own Death Star):
— 6 times the size of the Pentagon
— 500m x 400m, and 122m tall at its highest point
— 400,000 sq. meters of retail space, 800,000 sq. meters of office space
— 2 Intercontinental hotels are supposed to open, with about 450,000 sq. meters of hotel space, and over 1,000 rooms
— The Ocean Park area occupies 250,000 sq. meters, with more than 400m of “ocean coast line,” and 5,000 sq. meters of man-made sand
— LED screen that measures 150m x 40m, the world’s largest