Friday, September 17, 2010

Finding our Beijing

Kerry and I moved into a hotel that was adjacent to a really surprising neighborhood in Beijing that we felt right at home in. The district is called 798, and it is the epicenter of Beijing's exploding contemporary art scene. The massive district is chock full of galleries, shops, studios, cafes, and the some-still-functioning relics of the districts history as an industrial hub. You'd walk down one street full of pipes with steam leaking up in the air or on the ground, crazy machinery, and then turn the corner into a 40,000 square foot monstrosity of a loft-style gallery filled with a mix of the beautiful, experimental, subversive, and sometimes ugly. It was the subversive that surprised us the most. In a country so controlled and censored, (we haven't even been able to post to our blog, this has been done in proxy thanks to Marc and Lisa, THANKS AGAIN!), it was really surprising and refreshing to see so many artists able and willing to speak out. There was something about it that felt a bit more genuine to to Kerry and me. While you always find artists, particularly student artists, trying to speak out against a governing power in subversive ways, it just seemed more honest and brave here in China's evolving core in Beijing.

We took breaks now and again in one cafe or another soaking in the art-rich atmosphere. It was fun to see even in the walkways, there were tons of fashion photographers with their crew and models posing in front of the galleries and sculptures.

Once evening started to set in, we headed towards the day's real goal which was to go to a very highly regarded restaurant called Da Li Courtyard, a wonderful Yunnan cuisine place in a great old hutong.

With the encouragement and funding from Jon Laws to make us get out and do a really extravagant dinner while we were in China, we eventually picked this place, and we were definitely not disappointed! It would be hard to have a more romantic meal. It was just beautiful, delicious, and charming from beginning to end. There were seven courses that night, (it changes with the chef's whim), and is a prix fix menu only. Our favorite and most surprising dish turned out to be the first. It was strips of tofu skin and mint leaves covered in an utterly confounding to identify light sauce that was just mind-blowingly tasty. Each dish had a great deal of new and bold flavors for us to try often including lemon grass, small portions of some protein, and some spice.

Once we were fat and happy, we lingered for a while with their unique drinks made from Yunnan rice-based spirits, muddled mint, water, sugar, and muddled lemon chunks making for a citrusy mojito-esque glass of awesomesauce. They made for warm glows and happy moods after a nice meal.

Da Li Courtyard is located near a strip of shops and eateries. We then let ourselves float from shop to shop walking off our large meal and had a really lovely time taking in the vibrant night-life of the neighborhood.

As tended to be the case throughout the trip, we ended our day with a harrowing adventure to find a cab home. After about 3:30pm, it is near impossible to get a cab anywhere in China... In the early evening there is usually a shift change as well as a mix between drivers who don't want to pick up Westerners, (the rumor is that they are afraid we are frustrating and angry to deal with so they avoid us), and that they don't want to drive through rush hour which particularly in Beijing, is just ridiculous. Once we did find an empty+willing to work with us+willing to drive through town cab, we then had the challenge of trying to explain where we were going. Showing them an address and a map only worked a small percent of the time. It often had to be augmented with my stilted and limited Mandarin and charades. We found ourselves changing our plans over and over again to do everything we could to avoid the cab-ventures and I'll be incredibly happy to leave that part of China behind. It does get hard sometimes to remember that you must keep a smile on your face to keep from making your chances of reeling in a cab even harder. Taxi travel here is most definitely more complicated and challenging than anywhere else in the world we've visited. All of that being said, the little challenge to find our end-of-day cab did little to squash our high spirits after such a lovely day and night. With the art-district and great meal, we really found our swing in Beijing.


Skye Seaborn Art said...

Love your writing style! Very fun to read!

meltingsun said...

Wow you two! Sounds like such an amazing trip. I can't believe you could not directly post to you blog. That's nuts. I guess Google really did get kicked out of China. Jenny and I are so jealous. Good to see you cats are keeping the world travels going.

Your bro,