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Chaoyang Paradiso
By George Vaughton

With the city trying to diffuse the popularity of dark and divey Sanlitun, Chaoyang Park is undergoing a US$73 million refurbishment to become a recreational hub for all your dining and entertainment needs

Originally opened in 1984 and covering an area of some 320 hectares outside the East Third Ring Road (larger than all of the Summer Palace), Chaoyang Park, officially known as Sun Park, has been earmarked for extensive development by the Beijing municipal and Chaoyang district governments.

Over the past decade, the Beijing Chaoyang Park Development and Management Corporation has spent more than RMB600 million (US$72.5 million) on construction and landscaping of entertainment facilities and roads, while domestic and overseas investors have been encouraged to set up projects

Meanwhile, bar, restaurant and shop owners have been lured by the park's potential, as well as that of the recently constructed Parkview Tower and Manhattan Garden residential complexes, to attract a high concentration of expat and wealthy Chinese customers. Among the newer jewels in Chaoyang Park's crown: Schiller's 3, The Goose & Duck and The Big Easy.

Move over Sanlitun?
Chaoyang Park is seen by some as the next step in the decline of Sanlitun.

Recent years have seen residents' noise complaints soar, traffic chaos through much of the day and night, and several well-publicized incidents of violence, including the murder of a Russian man last summer. Although Sanlitun bar owners, and to a large extent customers, seem unfazed, the authorities are looking for ways to encourage people away from the area, and real estate developers have their eye on the street's office space potential.

The new concentration of nightspots in Chaoyang seems the most obvious alternative for those looking for food and entertainment, especially as the emphasis is on superior choice and quality in a unique green-space environment.

Richard Hu, managing director of Schiller's, sums up the atmosphere: "I want people to feel safe and relaxed, and spend money having quality time."

There is also a certain degree of cooperation between establishments in the area.

"Sometimes managers say 'let's fight against all the other restaurants in this area.' To me that's wrong," says Doug Monitto, proprietor of The Big Easy, a popular New Orleans-style bar and restaurant that set up shop near the park's south gate last summer.

Monitto and other local managers are working together to promote the area as a whole, on the premise that mutual aid will lead to mutual benefit.

More than 40 businesses in Chaoyang Park recognize the AHA Card, which customers can purchase and get discounts at some 300 restaurants, pubs and clubs across town. April sees the launch of a coordinated advertisement campaign to secure Chaoyang Park's reputation as the happy-hour destination in Beijing, with bars taking turns providing free buffet food and drinks to customers on Fridays from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Chaoyang Nights
Walking past the east gate of Chaoyang Park after dark, you might think at first that you took a wrong turn and ended up in Las Vegas. Set back a hundred or so yards from the road is the great glittering dome of JJ's Rock & Roll dance club, flanked on both sides by gaudily lit pubs, bars and restaurants. Those approaching closer, beware: display even a hint of indecision and you'll be swamped by a clamorous reception party of touts, every one of them guaranteeing the cheapest beer and best karaoke in town.

If the night is warm you would do well to ignore these initial offerings, and head instead to the back of the complex, where you can take your pick of outdoor seating on verandas overlooking the lake. Around the west gate the scene is not dissimilar, though the establishments are for the most part larger and more individual, and include several long-standing popular venues that have relocated or opened new branches here.

Chaoyang By Day
A daylight visit also reveals a smattering of upscale shops, beauty salons and cafes. Within the gates, the park itself still resembles a construction site. Workmen swarm over the threadbare grass laying utility pipes in a web of shallow ditches; retail space is unoccupied, and fountains and pools remain dry.
Dotted across this half-finished landscape is an assortment of amusement park rides: roller coasters, bumper cars and strange-looking machines capable of swinging a carload of screaming day-trippers up into the air and back to earth in the twinkling of an eye. The rides open as they are completed, so the business of having fun is already under way with tourists rubbing shoulders with laborers.

Rising above the whole scene is the as-yet unopened bungee tower. When completed, its three diving boards will offer those who dare a choice of pads to launch into oblivion. If all goes according to plan most of the facilities will be operational before the onset of summer.

The Essential Chaoyang
Top 25 Checklist

Food, Glorious Food
Gospel Brunch at The Big Easy. The ultimate way to wrap up your weekend in style, with a champagne buffet of Creole and Cajun dishes, accompanied by gospel, R&B vocals and keyboard. The RMB225 (RMB148 without bubbly) price tag also includes one main course from the set menu.

Fatty Tuna Fetish. Need a sushi fix? Check out the Xin Wu restaurant for a good range of Japanese seafood, noodles and tempura. A photo menu is available, as well as English, Chinese and Japanese versions.

That's Amore! Genuine Sicilian desserts. Try the Canoli Siciliani - a deep-fried pastry tube stuffed to the brim with ricotta and chocolate - at Gisa's Italian restaurant. Alternatively, live out your pizza dreams with a Fantasia, a pie with the works, from the wood-fired oven at Annie's.

XO and a Cohiba. Relax in peace with cognac and a fine cigar in the reading corner of Park 2000 restaurant, located on the second floor of Schiller's 3.

Alive, Alive Oh! Cockles and mussels, fish'n'chips, and steak-and-kidney pie are all on the pub grub menu at The Goose & Duck. To complete the genuine British experience, wash it all down with a bottle of Tennents as you root for your favorite team during the Calcutta Cup on the big-screen TV. (Sunday, April 2, 11 p.m.)

Duck Season. Looking for some authentic local food in pleasant surroundings? Lao Beijing (Old Beijing) has a wide selection of dishes from the capital and well-known regional specialties, while next door Wanting Roast Duck restaurant serves up Beijing's most famous culinary creation for RMB68 a bird.

Pay Per Laugh. Comedy Club takes place in the Goose & Duck on Friday and Saturday nights from 8:30 p.m. Comedy, magic acts and singing in English and Chinese are also offered. Go along and watch, or try your own hand at entertaining others. There are also movies on Monday evenings, gents pool competitions on Tuesday, ladies pool on Wednesday, and darts on Thursday.

Popular sporting events are shown live on the big-screen TV.

Blue Mondays at The Big Easy. If Sunday brunch wasn't enough to get you ready for the week, open-mike jam sessions on Mondays get rave reviews from regulars. If you play an instrument or maybe just crave a little audience attention, head on over.

Filipino Invasion. Filipino band Novice provide rock'n'roll six nights a week at Schiller's 3 Live Music Bar. Western and Chinese food, as well as cold beer are all on offer at this latest incarnation of Schiller's. In the summer months seating is provided outside overlooking the park and lake.

Platform Shoes and Hello Kitty. Boogie with the locals at JJ's Rock & Roll disco. Watch out for the mechanized, sinking floor though. There's nothing worse than being trapped in a hole with 20 manic Aqua fans.

Take Me Drunk, I'm Home. Feel like a bar crawl? The Bar Culture Square has over 20 watering holes, so take it nice and easy. And please, try not to fall in the lake.

Anyone for Shopping?
Coiffure Allure. Ladies VIP cut costs RMB280 (gents pay RMB180) at Eric's Diffusion. While there, spoil yourself with a massage or facial. If all this sounds a little pricey, you can always opt for a RMB3 trim from one of the street barbers in the park area.

Sausage Envy. Have designer sausages custom-made to your specifications at Charlotte's Butchery. This is also the place for hard-to-find cheeses (try the Roquefort), and has one of the best herb and spice selections in town.

Impossible to leave empty-handed.

Jenny Lou's. Everything from chocolate brownie mix to cat food lines the shelves at the new Chaoyang branch of this expat favorite.

Get Baked. If you need revitalizing in the middle of a shopping spree, grab a tuna sandwich and cappuccino at the latest branch of Cafe de Bella. They also specialize in bread freshly baked on the premises.

Park and Ride
Please step on the grass. With all the jazz and razzmatazz, capitalism and consumerism, don't forget the park. Entry fee is RMB5 which is a bit more expensive than your average gongyuan. A pleasant stroll across the greens before work or at the end of the day does wonders for the constitution, and half an hour of fresh air and exercise might be just what you need to purge your lungs of Beijing's pea-soup atmosphere.

Run, Run, Run. Feeling a little more energetic? Join the locals for an early morning t'ai chi session, or take yourself out jogging. Even better, why not combine the two for an East-meets-West multicultural workout.

Pack It Up. The more lethargic among you can skip the sports and just relax for lunch on the lawn instead. Don't forget the baijiu and chicken feet, essentials for any Chinese picnic. While you're there, join the locals in their favorite park pursuits. Enjoy the peace of a good book by the lakeside, or go fly a kite, a quintessentially Chinese way to pass a lazy afternoon.

Anchors Aweigh. Like to get out on the water? Sorry, no swimming or skating here, but pedal and row boats can be rented by the hour. Power freaks can even satisfy their need for speed in a motor launch, RMB50 for 30 minutes.

Bungee Over the Lake. Relieve your mind of executive stress and s-t-r-e-t-c-h those legs. Scheduled to open mid-May, so get there early and be the first to test out the system. Expect to pay about RMB150.

Whiplash City. The amusement park has a selection of gut-wrenching rides to shake you into action. Recreate rush-hour Sanlitun and live out your road rage fantasies on the bumper cars, take the Mine Coaster train ride, or test your bravery, not to mention your stomach, on the Suicide Fighter.

Hot-Air Ballooning. The best way to rise above the smog and hurly-burly of daily life in Beijing. While you're up there, take advantage of the bird's-eye view of the city to plan your route home to avoid the worst of the traffic. The cost is RMB100 per person. Includes trained operator.

Think You're Mario Andretti? Drivers of all ages can get a taste of the race track at the Andy Cart Racing club. Two laps of the 1100-meter track cost RMB20 and RMB40 for children and adults respectively.

Feel Like a Hump? Take a short ride on a camel or just get your picture taken behind the hump of one of these pair of well-groomed desert denizens.

Down the Road. Future plans include an Aquatic Amusement Park Center, with an Olympic-size swimming pool and water slides, and a world-class 18-hole golf course. Don't hold your breath on that last one though.

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