Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Article - Beijing - wrap up

I had a great time in China and it was nearly time to return home. Although I was sad to be leaving Leon, I was looking forward to some home comforts. Like a reasonable mattress. One that is so hard that it gives you sore hips is not my idea of bliss. And maybe London isn't quite as dirty and polluted as I had previously thought!

I've included a few additional photos of memorable moments during the trip.

We had some good local food at this restaurant. The waiter rushing behind Leon was carrying a live fish obviously for inspection by a patron. As he walked past Leon, the fish leapt out of his hand, nearly on Leon's lap, and landed gasping on the floor. The waiter barely hesitated, scoped it up and continued on his way!

These photos are of the view from the Hyatt Hotel in Beijing. The cocktails were a cheap price to pay to watch the sun go down over Beijing.

We had to reluctantly catch one of these 'tuk-tuks' home one night. The last train stopped earlier than expected, and all the taxis were taken very quickly. It was an interesting experience, skidding from pothole to pothole!

I really did have a good time, and am looking forward to my next visit. It definitely gets easier as Leon's Mandarin improves.

Beijing - Cooking classes

Cooking classes were the next highlight! Luckily we were meeting out chef on the edge of the hutong (traditional style living in a maze of alleyways), or we would never have found her. This photo is inside the alleyway on the way - not where we were cooking!!

There were seven of us in the group, and after introductions, our next stop was the market. We watched Chun Yi negotiate for chicken, various spices and vegetables, before heading into the hutong to her cooking school. Although I was pleased to note that we didn't buy anything exotic like wiggling silkworms, snake or beetles, there was the opportunity to finally identify some of those stranger looking fruits and vegetables I'd seen previously.

Lessons started off with an explanation of different soy sauces and how you tell a good one from a bad one. Unfortunately this hasn't helped me back here at all. The vital ingredients are listed on the label! Perhaps I need a more authentic chinese supermarket than Waitrose.

Although not all of the cooking was hands on - it would have taken far to long - we had the opportunity to view closely and to get closely involved in two dishes. We made Gong bao chicken and canton style steamed fish. In this photo, I am trying to fish out all the very hot dried chili I had just fried. I was assured that any eaten would result in a numb mouth! Leon left his in, but I wasn't that brave.

We ate the food in the little courtyard outside and it was delicious. Once again I had eaten too much food - the story of my life in China!!

Beijing - 798

'798 stands for much more than a three digit number: in Beijing these numbers symbolize the country's cutting edge art movement led by the Chinese vanguard, unchained artistic personalities with alternative life goals. Wild and unconquered attitudes waft inside 798's free and rambling atmostphere. '

I found this description on the internet, and although it's a bit overstated, I think it's a good description of the best bits of 798. I really enjoyed it. My visit was enhanced by the fact that Leon had been there twice before, so had already worked out what to ignore and the location of the best bits. It's a disused industrial area, still full of old warehouses and factories, that now continue a large variety of art works.

Unusually for me, I connected with most of the contemporary art!  And I felt that I understood the messages, or should I rather say that they had messages for me.      Perhaps not quite as wild or unconquered as some artists would like to think.

 Here is Leon looking at 'life through a rear view mirror'.    A number of the mirrors already had images in them, and some were left blank.

This next photo was taken inside a room filled with some sort of vapour that moved and changed colour as you walked through it.  It attacked most of your senses, as the floor and ceiling both changed sloping up and down.    It was very disorientating and I did panic for a while that I wouldn't find my way out.

I found this next installation quite eerie.  

I suppose it was a video exhibition.    There were lots of oval and round balls that had eyeballs projected onto them.  The eyes moved staring at you and blinking.  

Two talking heads!    Again a video installation onto oval shapes representing the faces.   Unfortunately I couldn't understand what they were saying, but it was very clear that they weren't listening to each other!!

There were a number of different exhibitions - that were interesting and challenging.  I've included those that were easy to photograph, but there were many more.     I'd love to go again and spend more time exploring.

Journal - Changchun - Making dumplings

Stella and her husband came and collected Leon and I for a day out. Included on the iterinary was a visit to Jingyuetan National Park - it is the largest artificial forest in Asia! There is a large lake in the middle and visits seem to consist of either driving or walking around the lake on the road. There were very few footpaths off into the forest. The main purpose of visiting this park is to inhale the 'natural oxygen'. There was a total fire ban at the time, and there were quite a few soldiers patrolling to ensure that this was enforced. Apparently on total fire ban days a text message is sent to all mobile phones in the area. Quite a cool idea!

We then headed off to Stella's parents apartment. This seemed typical of most apartments. We took our shoes off at the door, and were given slippers to wear. It had a 'sun room' where the laundry is dried, but also large containers of water in the bathroom. Apparently the water can be turned off unexpectedly and so reserves are kept at all times! And once again, no heating. Heating is controlled centrally and turned on and off when the government decides winter has started or ended. We had fun making dumplings, although none of us were as good as Stella's mum. It felt like we made hundreds and I was surprised that we managed to eat nearly all of them. Neither of Stella's parents could speak English, although this didn't stop them from making us feel very welcome. Stella's Dad would occasionally break into Japanese. He said this stopped him from feeling left out whilst we were speaking a foreign language!! He could play various musical instruments and gave us an impromptu concert.

After gorging ourselves on dumplings, together with a salad of wild garlic and dandelion roots, we headed off to visit Stella's grandparents. They had lived on their farm for most of their lives and the farming was being continued by two of their sons. Again we were made to feel very welcome and lack of English wasn't a problem. Living conditions were very basic - one large room with a raised platform, under which a fire could be lit. So for once, it was lovely and warm in their house! Stella said her grandparents didn't see the need for furniture and were very happy living in the traditional style. The kitchen had the largest wok I had ever seen, set into the stove top. Grandma also proudly showed me the small radish she had grown.