During my first summer trip to Beijing I had cravings for tacos but quickly discovered that the only tacos in Beijing were at a handful of cafes run by ex-pat Westerners. One of them was located in this corner of Beijing but the subway route to get there required 4 lines. As it turned out, this was in the Art Zone.
I met my guide, codename: Maria, outside my hotel on a Sunday morning. She arrived on one of the millions of rental bikes (where you dial in a code number on an app on your smart phone and the bike is unlocked).
We walked up the street to the bus stop to go to the Art Zone. I've always been wary of riding buses because I don't know where they will go. But with my guide, I felt safe. I used my subway pass for the bus. It was a 40 minute bus ride, no changes.
Going to see more of the northeast corner of the city, off the edge of my map. I saw us pass a sign marking the division between Chaoyang district and Wangjing district, near Wangjing park.
Finally we got off the bus and walked a bit, looking for a place to have lunch. We decided to find the Art Zone first, then look for lunch. We backtracked and crossed a wide avenue and entered the 798 Art Zone, where a big sign indicated the district. If you had been looking right at it you would've seen it. Lots of old brick and tile factories had been converted into artists’ studios and small galleries. Lots of cafes and bars, too.
|Translation: "The First Breakfast"|
|"The Four Moods of Stephen"|
Then we walked around looking at strange public art, taking photos, entering small galleries—hoping people would buy the art—and joking together about what we saw. It was nice to have a leisurely day out looking at art.
Eventually, we got thirsty so we stopped in at a place for a drink. Instead, we got a large dish of mango sherbet with cubes of mango. Very delicious! As it turned out, none of the cafes or restaurants or even the galleries had much A/C going. Outside it was the usual hot, humid weather. The galleries seemed to have only enough cool air to be able to make the claim it was on. We talked about all sorts of trivial topics, including how to interpret modern art. I think we are supposed to imagine what the artist was thinking and/or drinking when he or she painted it. We must use metaphor and personification, even if it hurts. Many tags next to artwork suggested the inspiration came from a dream.
Once upon a time I learned about art from a real art student, but I had to throw all that out the window in this district. I saw a lot of red and a lot of Mao-suit-influenced designs. The melding of old and new was a common theme. Attempts to create the fantastic, to shock or provoke introspection, appeared on every corner and in half the galleries. I eventually reached the threshold of interpretation and gave up.
I did not buy any art: too big, too bold, too expensive for my meager means.
, I suggested we have dinner there in one of the small restaurants around the campus. But as we walked in the direction to exit the Art Zone, we saw a restaurant promoting gourmet hamburgers. One was a Mexican hamburger. I was hooked. We decided to have our dinner there. But we were not yet hungry, so we continued to walk around, visit some shops, see other streets and alleys, and circled back to the hamburger restaurant. We got cold drinks first, talked, then ordered our hamburgers. It was a good dinner.
, so we could start walking back to the bus stop. On the way, she saw a McDonald's in a shopping mall so we went in to get some ice cream as our dessert. Instead of the small vanilla cones I expected, they were promoting large fancy cones, with some decorations, so I got a mango dessert cone and she got a green tea cone. We finished our desserts sitting inside, then we continued on to the bus stop.
Waiting at the bus stop to return to the campus, we talked about everything important in life, such as my vampire book and the sequel I was writing in my hotel room. She is a fan of vampire stories, so I offered to let her be a character in the sequel. Talk of how I got the idea for the book led to discussions of current geopolitics.
Still we waited for the bus. Several others stopped but they were not the one to return us to the campus. I was just happy to chat longer. I felt sad when our bus finally arrived and we got on it.
|To see yourself in the Hanged Man is a good omen, right?|
That night, I reflected on all that I had seen during the day, and all that I had felt and said and heard and thought. It was a lot. Then I wrote poetry. It's what I do. It's what we all do when visiting the 798 Art Zone.
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