Beijing, blue skies and a birthday

Apologies Beijing, I may have been a little harsh on you. Yesterday was rather windy, which meant that by the end of the day the haze gave way to a clear blue sky. And again this morning as we were leaving it was perfectly clear. So, let’s just say there are good days, and no so good days.

We had the day off yesterday, and decided we should see some of the main parts of the city (anything had to be better than the odd little area we were staying). Being my birthday I was given the choice of what we should do – some of the other bands we’d been speaking to had mentioned an art district called 798, so that seemed to be a good place to start. Our tour manager was busy with the second day of the festival, but luckily a friend of one of the festival volunteers was happy to chaperone us around. This however took us to five people, meaning we required two taxis to get anywhere.

China Lesson No 1: Getting taxis is not easy. If you do manage to get one to stop, more often than not they won’t know where you want to go, or they don’t want to take you there. Trying to get two taxis becomes near impossible. It’s normally taken us about half an hour anytime we’ve had to do it.

Eventually we arrived at 798, and after a brief period of mild panic when each taxi dropped us off in a different area and we could’t find each other, we began exploring. 798 is an old industrial area that has now been taken over by art galleries, cafés and little shops. It has a similar vibe to Carriage Works, and it was the first area in Beijing where I felt there was something actually cool going on (to be fair I only had the roads around the airport, the hotel and the festival ground to compare it too). A poster advertising a Duchamp exhibition quickly made me steer everyone into the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, and I for one was not disappointed – there was a great collection of poster and magazine cover designs he’d created, and there were a couple of other worthwhile exhibits running too. After some lunch and a few more hours browsing 798 we headed into the city.

We got dropped off at the end of a mall which had a McDonald’s at one end, and an Apple store at the other. There were sprinklings of Chinese culture between all the Western brands however, with narrow laneway markets leading off the mall filled with Lucky Cats, chopsticks and panda backpacks.

There had been a plan to find a bar to chill out in pre-dinner, but the only one we could find was in a rather upmarket hotel, with a Louis Vuitton attached on one side, and a Chanel on the other. After a quick look in the foyer, we made a hasty exit across the road to a restaurant for a snack, some beers, and, just for fun, some sake like spirit. It was a mere 45% strength alcohol (and that was one of the weaker ones), but I think perhaps we should have eaten a bit more before getting stuck into that…

Dinner ended up being a food court restaurant above the Apple store. Not quite up to my high Japan inspired standards, and there wasn’t a dessert forest, (though a rather interesting  red bean and pudding mountain did appear on the menu – one for next time), but not a bad way to end a great day out. The battle getting home – more taxi problems – took the shine off things a little, but since most of that was occurring after midnight it doesn’t count against my birthday anyway.

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