Beijing Gallery Day

The restaurant where we had dinner tonight had the BEST FOOD, but also the FUNNIEST MENU.

As they made literal translations from the Chinese, the restaurant menu contained English language dishes such as “unwearied effort, however mutton”, “domestic trivia stir-fried for a short time”, “dried squid to be speeding” and my absolute favourite “sucks refers to the duck”. On reflection, I have a sneaking suspicion it may be a joke with Western appeal with the goal of attracting tourists. Kate, however, doubts this, as she has never seen another Westerner in this particular restaurant.

As for the food? There’s a sign on the outside which declares it a “First Class Restaurant” by the Beijing Commerce Committee. Highlights for us were the Peking Duck (sublime) and an excellent tofu dish.

In fact it was a day of wonderful meals, and a day of travelling around looking at art with some of the Australian artists who are currently here at Red Gate’s “Artist In Residence” program.

We started the day at the Yuan Fen Multi-Media Art Space at 798, the main arts district in Beijing. The founder of the space is a long-time American ex-pat living in Beijing, a former Microsoft executive, David Ben Kay. Over an hour or so, he told us about his background, how he had come to China as to work as lawyer in the area of intellectual property. And how, in the last few years, he had a desire to become more actively involved in the promotion and production of various kinds of art. He and his wife, who works in the area of micro-finance loans, have converted their house into an art space. As you enter, the first thing you notice are the large “waves” of fabric which divide up the large ground floor of the converted warehouse. David explained the concept from Chinese philosophy of life flows and the intersection of events and meaning, and how it was reflected in what they were trying to achieve with the Yuan Fen project.

The warehouse is an amazing space. David explained it was built with money from the East German’s in the post war period and formerly was used to manufacture insulators. On the ground floor, they have the art-space and their kitchen/dining area. On the second floor, they have a loft bedroom and a swimming pool. Yes, a swimming pool. An amazing space, it’s REALLY worth a visit.

We then had lunch at Sichuan restaurant at 798. Highlights for me were the barbecued lamb ribs with cumin and chilli and the double cooked pork with pickled turnips. In fact, the latter was the clear favourite amongst the people I shared lunch with. We ordered a second plate, actually.

After lunch, we headed to the studio space of cinema photographer and artist, Feng Yan where we spent an hour or so chatting. After living in New York for a number of years, where he met his Taiwanese-born wife, he has recently returned to Beijing. And although he hasn’t been to Australia, he has had work in the two last two exhibitions at Sydney’s “White Rabbit” gallery. His photographs are bold and glossy. They take a quite diverse range of subjects – from door of a car, to neon lights, to the red carpet stairs inside The People’s Congress – and invite you to look at them in quite a different way. It’s often not until you look at the captions that you realise what you’re looking at. He and his wife showed us gracious hospitality, as we chatted while we drank tea.

In the afternoon, one of the group members had some banking to attend to, and so while that happened, I continued to have a look around some of the nearby shops. As I stood outside the bank, I really enjoyed looking into the window of the nearby hair-dressing salon, where there seemed to be two or three people working for every customer. A young man at the door kept staring at me which I found a little disconcerting, though I smiled back nonetheless.

I’m not exactly sure of the geography of the area in which we were, but I found it very interesting to visit. There’s a massive amount of development under-way there. But at the same time, there were still people “selling their wares” in a more traditional way. As well as buying fruit and vegetables or getting some machinery repairs, you could also get your hair cut on the roadside. Nearby, a young bloke was welding. Everywhere there were big holes in the ground. And occasionally, just occasionally, you would smell the waft of sewerage.

As we returned to Kate’s place, we called in to a nearby supermarket to pick up supplies.

For an hour or so we chatted, and then headed out to dinner.

I’m LOVING being in Beijing. So many experiences in such a short space of time. And it’s only my second day.

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