I decided to put the two weeks together because ‘I didn’t do anything’ during week 6 but I realized I did a lot that week too…oh well. Next thing you know, week 8 came and went. Here is week 6, 7, and 8 on the PKU program! I went to 798 Art District in Beijing for the first time in nine years (suddenly feeling really old) and visited Tokyo after a long, long time as well (circa 2004).
798 Art District
Saturday of week 6, I got to visit the famed 798 district with my local Chinese friends. It was gallery week there so a lot the galleries were free, but of course, we picked one that wasn’t. We got to see a gallery which featured a host of artists called The New Normal. It was a super meaningful exhibit which presented a look into our present reality and the development of the world in relation to history and ongoing occurrences. Some of the pieces were strange, some were beautiful, and all of them were thought provoking. The exhibit was very well-made in my opinion, introducing a wide range of topics and also being able to present them in a way that was easy to understand.
There was also a few other exhibits I visited a little ways outside of the main 798 area. There was one on ancient astronomy with a reconstructed astronomy tower, an exhibit on pollution (specifically Beijing), one on the death sentence, and many more. What I found interesting was that many of the artists, despite having different topics and styles, retained a distinctly Chinese approach to their works. Since I grew up in a Western country, my exposure to art whether from the Renaissance or in modern art, has always been well…Western. It was quite interesting to see a completely different side of art and culture.
I also spontaneously bought a gold covered matcha ice cream because who doesn’t want to poop out gold?
Since it was the Tomb Sweeping holidays (清明节), I organized a trip to Tokyo with my roommate since she has never been there before. Tokyo is just as fun and amazing as it was when I was a kid and I’d love to go there again and stay a little bit longer to take in all that it has to offer.
For our first two nights, we stayed in a ryokan-a traditional Japanese inn-in Asakusa. I was scared that the room would be too small since I booked an ‘economy’ sized one (cheap college student), but it was the perfect size and super comfortable. I really enjoyed my stay there. There was even a little onsen bath downstairs that you could use privately and the place offered traditional breakfast every morning. My roommate and I also booked a kimono experience with Yae in Asakusa and the service was impeccable. There were tons of designs to choose from and they do your hair for you too. I would definitely recommend this place.
While in Tokyo this time, I got to appreciate a lot more of the more local way of life. When I was little, I went with a tour and it felt super rushed and I didn’t really get to enjoy a lot of things I would have rather spent more time on. This time around, I got to travel the city on my own time and through public transportation and got to experience a lot more spontaneous and personal things. Traveling on your own, you get to interact a lot more with people and I find that a lot more fun and meaningful. Though I barely know any Japanese (time to learn more languages), I got to have some short conversations with locals which is always insightful and a great way to get to know more about a place. Since it was sakura season as well, I got to witness the hanami (花見)! Between my sister and I, we finally experienced all the seasons in Japan.
Back home to Guangzhou
Since it was 清明 and I would normally be in America during that time, I flew back home right after Tokyo to participate in the tomb sweeping rituals this time around. I got to meet up with my dad and relatives and eat lots of good food which I missed while in Beijing. It’s not that Beijing doesn’t have good food, it’s just that all the good food is in Xicheng and Dongcheng and PKU is an hour away from all of that, and I’m a lazy butt hole who doesn’t want to ride the metro after getting off from class.
Back to tomb sweeping, I managed to get eighteen mosquito bites in about five minutes after getting off the car and they’re killing me right now. I wish they didn’t form rashes and just fade away like it does for other people. After tomb sweeping, my dad brought me to the Guangzhou version of 798 (sort of, its more just restaurants), and we visited a very large and pretty cat and dog cafe and we had some father-daughter bonding time.
My Chinese teacher is always telling us to talk to locals to practice our Chinese, but since I’m always with my friends (I mean we speak mandarin together but still) I’ve never really talked to true local Beijingers. I finally got my chance while returning from the Beijing airport to my dorm. My taxi driver started showing me his mixtape and told me about his dream to become a singer. He basically told me his entire life story, from how he sold popsicle in the summer and bao in the winter as a child, to when he quit his construction job at twenty-one when he almost fell from the scaffolding. I found his story really touching and very reflective of the situation that millions of Chinese still face today, even as the country hosts the second largest economy in the world.
While I’m riding in a taxi, a seemingly normal thing, there are people who are waking up at 4am and riding or walking to their jobs that are paying them barely enough to get by. While I’m sleeping in a comfortable bed with a heater, there are people that still don’t have electricity everyday.
At the same time that his story made me realize the inequalities of this still developing country, I was also able to realize how far things have really gone.
Despite having to support his family as a taxi driver, he still continued to pursue his dream of being a singer and I found that extremely admirable and I wish him luck in the future.
I decided to make myself more productive in Beijing. So far, I’ve set up a few goals. I want to visit 798 another time because I didn’t really get to shop or eat there (very important) and I want to check out more galleries. I also want to visit more places surrounding Beijing. I want to visit many more cafes around the city and to also try more of the cafeterias on campus. Here’s to getting out of the dorm and onto the streets!
P.S. I met two really cute guys during the Tomb Sweeping holidays. One was this guy in Akiba who saw me struggling in Japanese and helped me translate (and he smiled this really nice smile at me oh my gosh, I’m dead) and one was at the Beijing airport who told this dude to stop smoking in the no smoking zone. Because I’m shy, shy, shy, I didn’t really talk to them. Ah…admire from afar. Be a creeper.