I decided that after a few days of steeping myself in ancient Chinese history I would switch gears and head for the 798 art district. 798 is a network of contemporary galleries located in its own special “district” in the Northern part of Chaoyang. Well, the part of Chaoyang that’s above me, which it just occurred to me might not be North, so…yeah, I’ll check a map.
I managed to get myself out the door of my hotel particularly early so that I could spend the entire day perusing art and discovering what modern Chinese self-expression looks like. It turns out it looks like a lot of contemporary art in that everybody’s naked. Unfortunately, I only found this out because of how many outdoor sculptures there were, as almost all of the galleries were closed for the holiday. A few small shops were open and I got to see three galleries, but 798 is located in a huge industrial park and houses the works of upwards of 200 artists. Sigh…
On the plus side, I learned that the Chinese really, really enjoy posing in front of statues. Around every corner there was a group of Chinese people taking a picture in which they pretended to “interact” with the statue in some way, or stood in front of it mimicking its pose. I stopped for lunch at Café Pause, where I had shrimp bao zi and fried rice. It was almost grossly overpriced for what I got and despite the cafe’s pleasant ambiance, I wouldn’t recommend it – at least not for Chinese food. The ginger coke I had with lunch was served hot and tasted delicious, plus it’s a fairly unique beverage. Although I could swear I read somewhere that Jessica Alba drinks ginger coke, so maybe it’s a Beijing-L.A. thing.
I also peeked in bookstore Timezone 8, which stocks an impressive selection of new and used art, fashion and design books, most of them in English. It also has wallpaper city guides, for those of you who might be partial.
I spent a couple of hours terrorizing the mainland China incarnation of Lane Crawford, Hong Kong’s homegrown department store, then headed back to Houhai for dinner at No Name bar and restaurant. No Name has a surprisingly Bahamian atmosphere with low-seated chairs, Tibetan-style lanterns, hookahs and just the right amount of stylish neglect. The menu was anything but neglected and most of the Yunnan-style dishes looked tasty. Be warned, portions are bigger than they seem.
In light of the holiday I’m wary to try my hand again at more modern sights and sounds (the website of another contemporary museum informs that it’s also closed), so it looks like its back to the temples for me today. Luckily it’s still gorgeous outside!