The 798 Art District is in the Chaoyang District, north east Beijing. It was once an old factory compound that has been transformed to hold a vast collection of Chinese contemporary art. Traveling from Bajio, west Beijing, it takes almost two hours to get there but it was worth the trip. There are many galleries, restaurants, cafes and numerous art studios. It is hip, trendy (my sister would say I wouldn't fit in) and does not feel like Beijing. It is free to get in and if you have the energy you can spend hours walking around exploring the different galleries, the hidden shops and some great graffiti! Some the art is beyond weird, lots of fat naked babies....we were not really sure if it was suppose to be a joke. The statues outside are impressive, this time naked men, I'm sensing a theme here. We aimlessly wandered around, some times in circles, but found lots of interesting things. The old train at the end of the tracks was one of my favourite parts. 798 has something for everyone and it shows a very different side to Beijing, which is a delight to behold!
We live at the end of line one, in the wild west of Beijing. Unfortunately there is not a lot to do! We have a great flat and a good circle of friends, but the longing for a good pint at the end of a long week does not exist. Shijingshan, although it is part of Beijing is far removed from the downtown area that most tourists and foreigners know and possibly love. Don't get me wrong there are still shops and malls but western food is hard to
find and well if you want a night out then you are in trouble. There are a few bars but the alcohol always seems a little off taste, and the beer gives you one hell of a hangover and well they go to bed early down here! However we are near the mountains and on a clear day they look very impressive, especially when the sun sets. There is also an international sculpture park, a grave yard, an
amusement park which never seems to be open and well recently they have been planting lots of flowers around the lamp posts! There is also the old abandon steel works, plenty of morning markets, hundreds of chinese restaurants and of course several McDonalds. It is cheaper than living in central Beijing but still
just as busy and crazy! And on days when the sun shines and the sky is blue it is not all that bad!
One grey Sunday we took a trip to the Temple of Heaven.
Having seen many temples along our travels, we thought it was likely to be the same as all the others and in some ways it was but the atmosphere was something quite different.
I am not sure if it was the weather or the stillness of the air but walking around the Temple of Heaven was peaceful. Peace and quiet is something quite hard to find in Beijing, even in parks or large open spaces there are always so many people or you can constantly hear traffic or the delightful coughing and spitting that follows you everywhere. Yet standing outside the Temple of Heaven, even with a large number of tourists it was quiet and it was astonishing. It felt like we were a million miles away, on a different planet almost. We strolled around without a care in the world, we watched a young couple have their wedding photos taken, we looked out over a foggy Beijing and for a few minutes it was just us. Then as always we were brought back to the China we know and sometimes love by a little old woman harassing us to buy some map and a wooden puzzle….only in China!
Who would have thought that the first time I went snowboarding would be in China of all places! Taking a risk and going on the
last day of the season, the snow was hard, to be honest it was ice and dirt but what could be the worst that could happen?
It started off successfully; until I had to stop…I had no idea how to stop, so instead I threw myself on the ground, possibly not the wisest thing to do. After a couple more attempts I decided to watch some of the more professional snow boarders. They made it look so easy! It can’t be that hard I thought. Alas I was wrong!
This time I fell hard, and my knees were definitely damaged. I lay on the ice snow trying to find the strength to get up as people whizzed by me, no one stopping to help! I made my way back up the hill and collapsed on the snow, no more I thought! We decided to stop for lunch, most of us hurting in some way or another. Realistically snowboarding without any guidance is actually impossible. Back on the snow the thought of landing on my knees again made me shiver so I took the easy way and sat on my board, using it like a sledge and going down on my bum! The best thirty minutes of the day!!! We raced down the hill like kids, no one was telling us we couldn’t do it and if they said anything we could play the ignorant foreigner routine that always helps you out of an awkward situation! Soon our time was up and we had a three hour wait until the bus left, so we sat with a couple of beers, enjoying the sun, enjoying being out of the city and loving the ski style of the locals! Check out this website, if like me you want to wreck your knees: http://www.nanshanski.com/05nanshan/winter_e/introduction.asp
We spent a Sunday exploring the area around Hou Hai, where
there is a beautiful lake and some refurbished hutongs. In China they love doing things in an extreme way and ice-skating is no different! As we walked around the lake we saw people with your average ice-skates on but then we discovered…ice-skating on wooden chairs! Possibly one of the weirdest things out there but it looked fun, if incredibly dangerous! If you don’t know already Chinese people have a lack of personal space and well if you see them drive you’ll understand the extent of their lack of patience. Thus chair ice-skating is no different! They were crashing into each other, yelling to get out of the way and it looked like utter chaos! Although very tempted to do some extreme ice-skating the thought of being crushed by a wooden chair put us off, especially when we started teaching the very next day! So we continued around the lake, enjoying the atmosphere and the lack of traffic, well tut tut drivers were on the loose so we still had to keep our wits about us. Further round the lake we saw bouncy castles on the ice, some ice slides and some crazy little boat type things which looked just as unstable as the edge of the ice. A child’s dream…definitely! We picked up some spicy hot bread and found a little Reggae Bar on the corner of the hutongs. This bar has become one of our favourites in Beijing, they have happy hours from 5-7pm and their cocktails actually have alcohol in them and they simply play Bob Marley tunes from dusk to dawn. They also have two beautiful ginger cats which curl up in your lap as you sip your drink and watch the world go by.
Beijing is a city like no other I have been to before,
bascially it is endless, it just keeps going, until quite abruptly you find yourself in empty fields. I was a tourist twice before I decided to live and work here and the difference between being a tourist and a resident is very different, but like most things you get used to it....well some of it! A friend once said that living in Glasgow was like living in the jungle, you always had to be prepared, Beijing is pretty much the same. It requires patient, a lot of it, it also involes turning a blind eye to many things and praying that you don't get squashed like a fly when crossing the road to get milk. You also have to deal with the smog, or the endless greyness that envelopes the city six out of seven days of the week. But don't worry your eyes soon ajust to living in a shade of grey, your lungs however are a different matter. Yet Beijing is home to the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and it is the access point for the Great Wall, it also contains vast amounts of history, if you can find someone willing to talk about it. It can be a shoppers paradise or a nightmare, depending on your skills at bartering, it offers some of the strangest foods known to man and if you can stomach it, the Bajio is in plentiful suppy! So if
your a resident, a business man or woman or a tourist Beijing has plenty to offer, sometimes you just need to know where to find it.