4 July 2017: Today was entirely different from the rest of our touristy gallivanting. After another delicious and lengthy breakfast at the hotel buffet, we met up with a new group of friends from the university promptly at 9:00am and took a van over to the 798 Art Zone. The weather was delightful compared to the previous day — it was on the cooler side (mid- to upper-80s) and there was an occasional gentle rain. Plus the alleyways in 798 were somewhat shaded, so we felt the best that we’d felt since our arrival.
Since most of the art galleries didn’t open until 10:00am, we wandered around outside, took in the setting of the place, and looked at street art for awhile. Then we stumbled upon a small gallery that was already open, so we went inside and had a look. The gallery was attached to a coffee shop, so after we perused the art we stopped in for some refreshments.
If you’d like to learn more about the history of 798 Art Zone, Wikipedia has quite a nice summary. Once ten o’clock rolled around, we gathered our umbrellas and headed down the street to queue up for a traveling exhibit called the Living Digital Forest and Future Park, by teamLab.
According to the group’s website, teamLab “is a collective, interdisciplinary creative group that brings together professionals from various fields of practice in the digital society: artists, programmers, engineers, CG animators, mathematicians, architects, web and print graphic designers and editors. Referring to themselves as ultratechnologists, the group aims to go beyond the boundaries between art, science, technology and creativity, through co-creative activities.” The group has offices in Tokyo, Singapore, and Shanghai. Their Living Digital Forest exhibit is quite popular — we were lucky to get there early and on a rainy week day, so it wasn’t terribly crowded yet when we arrived. Tickets were required to enter the exhibit and our tickets were checked and marked as we entered each of the four exhibit spaces. No one was allowed to visit the same room twice.
The first space we entered was filled with images projected onto all of the surfaces. Patrons became part of the scenery. There were also a couple of pieces that involved screens on which images of dragons and tigers and other creatrues morphed out of pixel-like shapes.
The second room was geared more towards kids or at least the young at heart. There were outlines of trucks, houses, sea animals and other things that could be colored and then uploaded into the scenes that were projected onto the walls.
After we left the Digital Forest, we walked down the street for lunch at a large restaurant where our university friends had booked us a private dining room. We sat at another enormous round table with a Lazy Susan. It was a lovely room and a fine restaurant — the food was some of the best we had all week. Again we were not able to finish all of the delicious dishes that our hosts ordered for us all to share.
During the meal, we kept hearing what sounded like an alarm system or crickets. It turned out that the restaurant kept some huge crickets, retired fighting crickets, in cages right outside the dining rooms. Our hosts showed us the one that was outside our room. In spite of the fact that it was by far the biggest cricket we’d ever seen, we were amazed that all of that racket was being made by a single creature.
The other adventure we had while we were at the restaurant is using the traditional Asian squat toilets for the first time. Our private dining room was on the second floor and the bathrooms upstairs had no western toilets. In general, places have at least one western toilet in order to accommodate the handicapped. I guess that upstairs they didn’t have a need for one since it would be tough to get up there without an elevator. In any case, Lucy was quite reluctant to try out the squat toilet, but after a little encouragement she mastered it handily. After that, she wasn’t afraid of any bathrooms we encountered along our travels and she considered herself quite the expert!
Once lunch was over, we all walked back into the Art Zone and saw a second ticketed exhibit, Heart of the Tin Man in the M Woods gallery. It was another fine exhibit and the gallery itself was interesting with its industrial defunct factory feel. The kids’ favorite part of the exhibit was the virtual reality piece. They stood in line for quite awhile, patiently waiting to participate.
After seeing the Heart of the Tin Man, we piled back into the van and drove back to our hotel. We rested in our rooms for a short bit and then ventured out on our own for dinner. We ended up in a fast food noodle shop, which turned out to be just fine. We managed to order okay in spite of the fact that the employees spoke absolutely no English. We managed to make our selections using the pictures on the menu — thank goodness that every menu in Beijing seems to include photos of the food.
One particularly humorous episode during our noodle dinner was a table of men sitting way in the back. Large signs posted everywhere said no smoking, but they were smoking and drinking beers (which the restaurant did not serve).
After getting the kids settled into bed, David and I went downstairs to the hotel bar. It turned out that the bar had only a couple of things to drink, much fewer than listed on the menu. The chairs were nice to look at, but incredibly uncomfortable for sitting. Service was next to nonexistent, but that was probably because the bar was quite empty. Perhaps the most unpleasant part was the dank, sewer smell. This smell permeates many parts of the city, from what we experienced. We’d often get a huge whiff of it just as we were rounding the corner in the lobby and heading to the breakfast buffet. It was quite predictable, but still every time it would catch us by surprise. You’d think we would’ve learned to hold our breath!