Binhai Aircraft Carrier

In the classrooms and throughout the dorms of our 70-person international program, talk about a potentially monumental party began to surface. (Our program is specifically for semester/full year abroad students from U.S. universities who learn Chinese and otherwise take classes in English and is called “The Beijing Institute of Asian Studies.” It is not a part of, and small in comparison to, the 2,000 or so international students at Peking University who come every year hailing from all over the world; they take actual PKU classes, in Chinese). The buzz was centered on an event of unprecedented proportions—a party on a de-commissioned Soviet aircraft Carrier. Named the “Kiev,” this heavy aircraft carrying cruiser was in service under the Soviets from 1975 to 1993 and was stationed in the Black Sea, the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and even served as the flag ship in the Baltic Sea. In 1996 she was retired and subsequently sold to a Chinese company who has since fashioned a military theme park in Tianjin, of which she is now the main attraction. The anticipation intensified as the weekend approached and more than half of our entire program signed up. At only 250 RMB (less than $40 USD), it wasn’t a bad deal as it included transportation to and from Tianjin, 2 hours outside Beijing where the aircraft carrier is docked, on buses that left just 15 minutes away from campus. The buses would ferry people back to Beijing throughout the night until the party came to an end around 7 a.m. The attractions included MIG jets and helicopters interspersed on the runway as well as an assortment of China’s 10 most famous DJs who would be staged between two anti-aircraft cannons. That Friday night 40 of us from the program boarded a bus we headed off to Tianjin. The bus ride was a great time in and of itself and we met many other foreign students who were also studying in Beijing (mostly Europeans). As we pulled up to the Binhai Aircraft Carrier, we began to appreciate how enormous this floating city really was. Illuminated along the shore, the carrier loomed above us as we walked down towards the central gangway. Entering the ship, the ceilings were relatively low and everything was made of steel, bound together by a generous amount of bolts.

When we reached the tarmac, already there were hundreds of people checking out the sights—half a dozen jets and helicopters, anti-aircraft guns, a large DJ booth flanked by two large projector screens displaying various animations, and even a bar within the ship boasting military paraphernalia.

Forty or so sailors, in uniform, lined the sides of the runway to keep people away from the railings where hundreds of flags of all different countries flapped in the ocean breeze. After some more people arrived, and an on-deck bar was sufficiently stocked, the party began.

Drenched from the rain that started earlier that morning while still on the aircraft carrier, we all made it back to campus sometime in the late morning, exhausted and satisfied with another remarkable experience in China.

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