As the temperatures dropped into the negatives, yesterday I ventured out with Changwei Hua and Peng Lisha to the blossoming art district of Beijing: 798 Factory in the Northeast corner of the city.
Endless art galleries abound in this SOHO-esque area which is actually mostly just old factory space. But for every aspect of New York found in the alleys of this neighborhood, you can find ten uniquely Chinese aspects of the art itself. The art is by-and-large not some copy of Western modern work descending from Picasso onward through Rothko. You find Chinese characters, symbols, images, cartoons, propaganda, etc. It’s exciting and almost endless. We were lucky to be going during an international festival of some kind but the neighborhood is there full time.
And yet there is a balance between the bohemian and the yuppified. The cafes in the 798 neighborhood are the perfect place to see those differences. Espresso coffee costs 25RMB a cup — expensive luxury but not that expensive in general. International art buyers (read: Europeans with large magazines and sunglasses) mix in with Chinese bohemians, tourists, and even students. On the street, you find some clearly expensive installments but also a selection of street art and graffiti.
Now from that to night-food-market. Wang Fu Jing area has a collection of Beijing-government-cleaned-up food stands that sell what I call “everything-on-a-stick.” I had a lamb kabob, chow mein, mini-postickers, and candied fresh fruit (kiwi and strawberry). These stands are only open at night and serve up street food in a way that probably won’t make foreigners sick. I was quite the laowai in my food selections but they also offered scorpion and starfish for the willing. Colorful and fanciful, this a fanciful way to have dinner!
Today, my “uncle” took me to the Summer Palace. Yet another must-see of Beijing touristy spots, this one also involves elaborate structures. The big lake here was, of course, frozen over so tourists spread out roaming the ice freely and rather dangerously. The cold day made for a short trip but the summer palace in winter is certainly a quiet and tranquil place away from the bustle of the city.
Picture of the Day: Kids enjoy their purchase at the night-time food market as the vendors await behind their stands of food.