An Art Lesson from Seoul to Beijing - Part 2

My art lesson had moved from the Korean to the Chinese Capital on the 4th day. With no time to waste, we went straight to Caochangdi (草场地) directly from Beijing International Airport.

No, that wasn't our car. We didn't take a Ferrari to Caochangdi from the airport. That would have belonged to an art gallery owner or any art collector, easily.

Caochangdi is a renowned arts district northeast of Beijing. Nestled in a sleepy village, these monochromatic rectilinear buildings house the most colourful and vibrant contemporary art studios, including of Ai Weiwei's.

Inside an art gallery and exhibition space in Caochangdi.

While most people might not have heard of Caochangdi, Beijing 798 should definitely ring a bell, even for those who have never heard of Ai Weiwei. The ambience and street energy from both places were worlds apart. After all, 798 has become a must-go tourist attraction in Beijing.

There are so many art galleries in 798 that you cannot possibly finish visiting them all in a day.

Visited the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA), a not-for-profit global contemporary art centre located in 798. Opened in 2007, it was founded by Belgian art collector baron Guy Ullens and his wife.

The massive 12m high exhibition hall at Galleria Continua. Featuring "Stairway to Heaven" by Kendell Geers. Set against a purple background, it featured a large star formed out of police batons painted in gold leaf.

A panoramic view of Beijing 798. Obviously, this is only a small part of this mega art destination.

Getting lost is part of the experience at 798.

Exhibition after exhibition. Gallery after gallery. Your world could easily go topsy-turvy after a while.

Huang Yongping's “Leviathanation” - a huge fibreglass fish head mounted on a replica of Mao Zedong’s private train.

Yue Minjun
Internationally renowned contemporary artist Yue Minjun's "Backyard Garden". Well, if you have heard of neither Yue Minjun nor Huang Yongping, it's probably time to open a new tab and Google.

Pace Gallery housed in a beautiful Bauhaus-style factory.

The bright and magnificent interior of Pace Gallery. An exhibition paying tribute to the iconic fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg.

Ok. Enough of art and back to the city. Glimpses of Rem Koolhaas' CCTV headquarters while on our way back to the hotel. It's also more affectionately known as "big boxer shorts" by the locals.

After 7 days of art gallery hopping, I took the opportunity to extend the trip and spent a few days in the Chinese Capital. After all, this was my first time in Beijing. My first stop was the Beijing Bell Tower. Built in 1272, it was the time-telling centre of the capital during the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties.

Located about a hundred metres from the Bell Tower stands the Drum Tower.

The entrance to the Drum Tower.

Bought a stick of local snack. It wasn't that bad after some deep frying. The only uncomfortable part was looking at these creatures when they were still alive, struggling with the skewer through them (middle picture above).

Local food, local drink.

Still reading up and deciding where to go while having my afternoon coffee.

Visited the famous Quan Ju De (全聚德) for its famous and most sought after Peking Roast Duck.

Here it comes... succulent and salivating.

A nice and hot bowl of chicken soup rice noodles to start the day.

A panoramic view of the Forbidden City.

The grand entrance gate into the Forbidden City.

Another panoramic view of the Outer Court in front of the Hall of Supreme Harmony. The incredibly majestic architecture and its mammoth scale was jaw-dropping. Imagine the grandeur in the past when it was still used as an imperial palace.

Didn't know that the emperor and his empresses were Caucasians.

Some beautiful details and colours of the Forbidden City...
Brightly painted roof eaves, rafters and beams.

Locals by the entrance wall. It's not difficult to imagine how huge the wall is just by looking at the size of its plinth.

Intricate painting details on the façade and beams.

Ornamental details at the gable ends.

Layering of spaces down a corridor.

Balustrade details with sculpted rainwater spouts.

Door details.

Wooden window lattice details.

Copper door handles with intricate carvings. Signs of wear spanning centuries could be seen.

Terraced balustrades.

Glazed ceramic tile adorn the lintel.

It's all about scale and proportion.

On your knees! This is the emperor's throne inside the Palace of Heavenly Purity (乾清宫), which is the largest palace in the Inner Court of Forbidden City. The big plaque hanging above the throne is engraved with four chinese characters "正大光明", which means "Justice and Brightness". The current plaque carries a calligraphy by Emperor Qianlong.

Fine hand-painted details on wooden frames, peeling off and revealing hundreds of years of history.

Thousands of tourists flock to the Forbidden City everyday.

Innovative design of wooden shutters. Hinged on one side along the corridor, it could be raised (in above picture) as shades or lowered as screens to the windows.

High thresholds are ubiquitous in the Forbidden City.

Out of the imperial palace and back to commoners' life.

A barber along the streets, doing his business in an open space. Quite obviously, he didn't seem very happy about being photographed.

Sleeping on the job.

Chow Chow?

Exploring the Hutongs in Beijing.

Took me a few minutes to figure out in which direction I should be reading.

A sad but friendly dog along the streets. Hope he's not ending up on the dinner table.

A typical street façade of the Hutong.

The old meeting the new.

Hairdressing salon.

Guarding the door faithfully.

You've got mail. At Hutong Beijing.

Another loyal guard dog by the door steps.

Locals gossiping along the alleyway.

Locals having a game of mahjong in an open park.

The streets of Hutong are lined with residences, as well as shops and restaurants. One could walk up and down the streets multiple times and there would always be new discoveries.

A grumpy old lady who wasn't too happy after the photo was taken.

Looking out from the EDB Beijing office at China World Tower into the hazy Chinese Capital.

The St. Joseph's Cathedral at Wangfujing, Beijing's famous shopping street.

Where there's a will, there's a way.

What is Beijing tour without visiting The Great Wall. Decided to visit the Mutianyu (慕田峪) section of The Great Wall. Although further than the more popular Badaling (八达岭) section, the long 1.5hr private car ride from the Capital was definitely worth it.

Looking through an opening in a watchtower into the valleys.

The Mutianyu section is known to be one of the best preserved part of The Great Wall.

Compared to Badaling section, Mutianyu is usually less crowded. An ideal spot for photo enthusiasts.

22 watchtowers stand along this stretch of the Great Wall.

Despite its majestic solid mass of 7 to 8m high, 4 to 5m wide on top, the Mutianyu Great Wall drapes gently like a tiny silky ribbon across the mountains.

Back to the city. Visited Sanlitun Village (三里屯), a popular destination with lots of shopping, restaurants, bars and clubs.

Crossing the overhead bridge to Sanlitun Village.

The iconic coloured glass façade of Sanlitun Village.

Designed by famed Japanese architect Kengo Kuma and Hong Kong firm, Oval.

Glass façade of Sanlitun Village shimmering in the evening sun.

A visit to the Temple of Heaven, Tiantan (天坛) on the following day. At 38m tall, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is the largest building in the Temple of Heaven complex.

Local tourists posing for a photo at the Temple of Heaven.

Locals enjoying a game of cards at the Temple of Heaven.

A peek of the roof of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.

Finely painted roof beams along the corridor leading to the Temple of Heaven.

Radiant cherry blossom in the gardens of the Temple of Heaven.

A patriotic Chinese boy at Tiananmen Square.

Finally, saying goodbye to this magnificent Chinese Capital after a week of sojourn. From the colourful contemporary art galleries to the monochromatic historical Great Wall; from the famed Peking roast duck of Quan Ju De to the wiggly fried scorpions at Wangfujing, this was a short but truly rewarding and memorable trip - not forgetting the art lessons and a quick glimpse of Chairman Mao in his crystal coffin.


All photos taken with Samsung NX mirrorless system.

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