Friday, 18 January 2013

Bye, bye Beijing!

One more sleep, as they say, and it’s off to Xian by high-speed train.

I have enjoyed Beijing very much, and would love to come back in warmer weather to see the Summer Palace and see some of the temples I missed. But, I’ve done quite a bit and enjoyed most of it – with the exception of the night I spent in a hutong hotel that had no central heating and just a tiny space heater for the room.

Picture me sleeping in long underwear AND pajamas, plus hat, gloves and booties. Very sexy! I wrapped myself in the two quilts in the room and managed to sleep, but no email that night – my hands were too cold. Needless to say, I moved hotels the following day. A good lesson for winter in Beijing – always ensure that there will be heat and hot water!

In addition to the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and the National Museum of Art, my sightseeing mission here included the 798 Art District. It is an old factory area of Beijing that has been turned into an arts hub, with about 40 or so galleries located in a few square blocks of factory buildings and other spaces. I saw some lovely Chinese contemporary work – including an exhibition at Pace Beijing – and stumbled upon a gallery showing the work of Louise Bourgeois, the American feminist artist. I’ve seen her work in NYC and elsewhere, so it was quite a surprise.

Just as interesting was a gallery featuring work from the Democratic People’s  Republic of Korea (N. Korea). It’s not something I’d see in the Western world very often, and it was quite interesting. The work was largely brush painting, some with a modern twist, although there was one oil depicting the Korean War. The exhibit also featured an wall full of photos of Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong-un, visiting many factories and taking part in official ceremonies. Weird to find such an emphasis on the politics of the country as part of an art show.

I also took a cooking class, something suggested by one of my colleagues as a way to get a different insight into the culture. It was a wonderful idea. There were only four of us in the class: a German, a Brit, an Australian and me. The teacher was a Sichaun native who has lived in Beijing for years, and we helped her create three dishes: one Sichuanese, one Yunanese and one typical of Beijing. As we worked we learned about Chinese cooking philosophy and shared some of our own experiences.

As it turned out, I hit it off with the Australian traveller, and she invited me to join her and a friend for a Mongolian hotpot dinner. I’d done a hotpot meal in HK, but this featured the traditional brazier heated with charcoal. We had a lovely evening of cooking, eating and chatting.

Today, I indulged the sports fan side of myself and visited the 2008 Olympic sites: the famous Bird’s Nest Stadium and the Water Cube. Both are architectural delights. The Bird’s Nest is used as a snow park for kids during the winter with a snow ramp, a tubing area and giant snowmen. 

The Water Cube is used for swimming lessons and lap swims. It was fun to wander through them and think back to 2008. Wow, time flies.

So, tomorrow, on to Xian and the terracotta warriors. Beijing has been good to me, and here’s hoping that Xian is the same.

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