798 Arts District – Beijing

Thanks for waiting. Haven’t posted about art in a while, but rest assured I am still here and still writing sparse art blogs to encourage visits. Don’t ever forget the arts.

While I usually post art about Shenzhen, but recently I went to Beijing (trip went very well) and decided to check out their very esteemed art scene.

Of course, I speak of the 798 art district, the original Chinese-former-factory art district!

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While I have heard around that it isn’t what it once was — is anything ever? — I did have a great time wandering the coffee shops and observing the various outdoor sculptures.

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As for specific shows at specific galleries, UCCA was recommended to me and I’m glad it was.

The show was Elmgreen & Dragset: The Well Fair, which frankly blew me away. I rarely say that about exhibitions. In extremely postmodern terms, the art was about the nature of art galleries more than anything else. There was much question about whether things were “real” or not, whether the rooms and paths were art or part of the regular building. A broken staircase leading to the emergency exit, a donation box, signs pointing to a VIP room, even a fake washroom. It was quite an experience. And, some sculptures just plain melancholic.

Please check out the above links for more information, and my slideshow below though hardly doing justice:

 

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I wandered around a bit more afterwards. Yang Gallery, a showcase of “Abstraction Geometry”, and general wanderings come to mind…

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There’s a lot to see at 798. Do check it out if ever in Beijing.

Oh, and I got a caricature drawn. Looks like me?

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Bookworm Literary Festival: An Overview

What a week!

I was lucky enough to be a part of the Bookworm Literary Festival, both in Beijing on March 14th and Chengdu on the 19th, and what a week it was. I got to share my novel South China Morning Blues and represent Southern China to a whole other side of the expat scene in this big country.

First, I decided to take an express train from Shenzhen to Beijing. It took a reasonable eleven hours, still with no no ears popping it’s preferable to flying, and with the sleeper bunk overnight it was nice. I do recommend the express trains one-way. When I arrived in Beijing on Sunday morning, it was cold!

Good thing I packed warm clothes. Four days scheduled in Beijing, I then set out to explore. Staying nearby Bookworm in the Sanlitun area, I went to several panels at the literary festival, including one about pregnancy abroad featuring Ruth from ChinaElevatorStories.com.

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#BookwormLiteraryFestival

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The obvious tourism thing to do was to visit Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. I got some good photos, but mostly the experience was more about seeing all that security than it was seeing the major BJ sites. Due to the big government meetings currently of course. Seriously, the situation was insane. The padding, the lines on the streets. I must have had my bag x-rayed a dozen times; it was glowing green by the end of the day.

I do recommend going to the 798 arts district, though it may not be what it once was. The exhibition at the UCCA was particularly interesting, and I will write about that in detail later.

My talk on Monday went very well. I read a favorite scene, had an excellent conversation about blogging with Adam Robbins of CityWeekend.com, and the questions from the audience were very thought-provoking. And I am happy to say that my book is now officially stocked at the premiere bookstore in Beijing.

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Been great, #Beijing!

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My flight to Chengdu on Thursday went smoothly. The Bookworm was even kind enough to send a representative to pick me up! I also met my lovely girlfriend there — who could only get a three-day weekend off, and it was all timed well in that she was flying from Shenzhen.

Together, we had a great time in Chengdu. We enjoyed the hotel and went to various famous spots such as Kuanzhai Alley, Song Xian Qiao antique street, and Jinli. The food was absolutely wonderful. Don’t get me wrong, Beijing is worth visiting, but it can get a bit grey and looming and just overwhelming in scope. Chengdu was incredibly welcoming and reminded me what I have always loved about China travel all over again.

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It's been brilliant, #Chengdu! 我喜欢 #成都 😀

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My talk on Saturday was fun. In fact, girlfriend was nice enough to record much of it so you can watch below. Yes I know I say “um” too much, but I do like to think I am improving at expressing myself somewhat at these sorts of things.

I would also like to add that it was a pleasure to meet and hang out with renowned Irish author Eimear McBride — she of A Girl is a Half-formed Thing fame. Her talk was powerful and full of literary inspiration. Bought a book, got it signed, and will definitely read soon. The world needs more books like that, and authors like her.

I was sad to leave Chengdu on Sunday, but it was time to go home and resume my normal life down in the humid tropics. Phew. Well, that was the most intensive book tour week I have had so far in my career. I will be forever grateful to the good people at Bookworm (and one day I must go to the other location in Suzhou), yet at the same time I feel relieved to be back home to plan the next stage of events…