Beijing 798 Art Zone

While I was in Beijing this summer, my good friend Jingbo and I met up to spend a day together doing something fun, as was our tradition. She suggested two options and both sounded great, so the temporary plan was to do 798 Art Zone for half a day and then onto Blue Bay. Well, we were still at 798 when night fell. Talking about severe underestimation of how interesting the place was, especially given the fact that it was Monday and many galleries were not even open.

The Art Zone is a re-purposed abandoned factory complex in northeast Beijing. It was built in the 1950s involving both the Soviet Union and East Germany. For those who are interested in history, the Wiki page has many details on its construction, operation, and artistic rebirth.

We strolled on the streets and alleys in the zone and checked out galleries, studios, bookstores, cultural centers, museums, shops, cafes, sculptures, graffiti, and time just flew by. The combination of old industrial buildings and contemporary art forms, of childhood-era antiques and modern-day high-tech, made the whole experience a bit surreal, like time travel.


Some walls still have slogans like ‘Long Live Mao’ from cultural revolution. Strange sculptures at street corners remind people of those days.

King Kong graffiti and artwork in a shop. Similar red brick buildings and walls were everywhere.


I believe those display tables with rotating wheels and foot pedals were once sewing machines.

There were also plenty of weird stuff popping up here and there for us to marvel, to discuss, and to take loads of pictures.

By the time we left, we were reasonably certain that our footsteps covered all the streets in the zone and we saw all there was to see, except those galleries that were closed on Mondays. We also had a simple but good lunch and bought a few cute things. It was such a fun day and I wouldn’t mind going back for another visit.

If you are in Beijing and have already done all the “tourist highlights”, check out this odd but chic place. 🙂 Oh, did I mention that it is free?



Beihai (Northern Sea) Park in Beijing

Beijing SeasThis map shows a part of central Beijing. The Forbidden City is inside the blue rectangle which is the moat. The Beihai (Northern Sea) Park locates outside the northwest corner, with an islet in the middle. It is a classical imperial garden that opens to the public. The combination of “Middle Sea” and “Southern Sea” areas is the home of China’s paramount leaders and remains a mystery to the general populace.

I visited the park three times. The first time was with my dad when I was 6 years old. No photos came out of it as we didn’t have a camera back then. The second time I was with my mom at 15. It was winter time and the frozen “sea” was all covered by snow, quite pretty. The third time was in 2009 when I went back to Beijing for a visit. By then I had a digital camera and was able to capture the beauties of the park.


This was in late fall. The park is far more beautiful in summer when those water lilies are more alive. The 118-foot-tall white pagoda is made of white stone and sits on the highest point of the Islet. You can reach its base after climbing many steps.


In addition to this focal point of the park, I really enjoyed strolling the rest of the park as well. In fact, I got so tired from all the walking that I wasn’t able to get to the famous “Nine Dragon Wall” since it is quite out of the way. I did see it during both of my previous visits so no regrets there, but still, it gives me a good reason to return in the near future.


An Unforgettable Trip to Beijing

Last night I returned from my ten-day trip to Beijing. The main purpose of the trip was to celebrate my mom’s 70th birthday. While I was there, I also met up with two old friends and had lots of fun.

The picture below was from a 10-km walk along the central line of the old Beijing city, from YongDingMen(永定门)on the south side, thru TianAnMen(天安门)Square, to ZhongGuLou(钟鼓楼)on the north side. The scenes along the route were beautiful when the air quality was good.


I also spent a day touring YuanMingYuan (圆明园,Old Summer Palace). It was built in the 18th and early 19th century, an amazingly beautiful and luxurious complex of palaces and gardens for the emperors. Then it was destructed by the British and French troops during the Second Opium War, and further burnt to the ground by the Eight-Nation Alliance. Today only ruins stand as a reminder of this once glorious wonder.


The park itself was made very beautiful, even though the sky was overcast and gloomy. This picture is just one of the many that look like paintings.


Then it was the big celebration of my mom’s birthday with a dozen family members in three generations. Here is a photo of my mother with her two daughters and a granddaughter.


It was a great trip until the last day, when it snowed all day in Beijing and my flight was delayed. Then 3 hours after we boarded the plane, the flight was cancelled. By then the subway was closed, highway was shutdown, and I ended up spending the night at the airport. My return to the US was delayed by 24 hours.


This is just an overview of the trip, each section could easily be expanded into one or more posts. I also plan to resume writing family stories now that I heard more from my mom during this trip. Stay tuned. 🙂


The First Trip of My Life

I mentioned in my last post that the shed my parents were assigned to live in Siping was not a good place to raise children. Therefore, my mom went back to Beijing to give birth to her first child – my sister, who is also the first child in my generation. Needless to say, the newly-promoted grandparents and uncles and aunt were all very excited and poured out their love and attention on her. My sister stayed there in comfort until she was 9 years old.

My mom intended to do the same when I was on the way. However, my grandparents on my father’s side protested and they had every reason to. They hadn’t even got a chance to see their first grandchild yet, so the second one definitely had to be born in their sight in Changchun.

When I was about 40 days old, I made the first trip of my life – my mother brought me to Beijing to see my other grandparents (or rather, to let them see me). After some 20 hours on the train, I met them at last, as well as my almost-3-year-old sister.

I don’t have any recollection of that trip or my time in Beijing. My mom told me stories of how naughty my sister was then. When she came home after playing outside, my mom would tell her to be quiet because ‘your little sister is sleeping’. My sister would nod her head obediently. But the moment my mother turned her back, she would stomp her feet and make lots of noises. I would wake up and cry my head off while my sister ran away giggling. And my mom had to decide whether to comfort me or to chase my sister to give her a good slap on the butt.

After a few months, my mom had to go back to work in Siping. She wanted to leave me in Beijing as well, but it was not practical. My grandma was in rather poor health, and she was already taking care of two kids (see “who is this aunt that is younger than me?”). Besides, my other grandparents would be very upset as well. All things considered, my mom had to bring me back to the Northeast, where the living conditions were much more challenging in many ways.

As a result, while my sister grew up blissfully in Beijing, I had to go through quite some hardship during my childhood. I will write in more details in later posts, after sharing this photo of me from my very first trip. 🙂


Together at Last

My parents were married in May 1970. My sister was born 14 months later. Then I came to this world in 1974. My sister and I didn’t grow up together though. In fact, I only met her twice during the first six years of my life – once with mom and once with dad. Therefore, the four of us were never all together in one place until 1980. Unbelievable, isn’t it? This is just another example of how individual families were affected by national events.

A map would help to show the different places that were significant to my family.

NE map

  • Harbin (at the top) – the location of my parents’ university where they met and fell in love.
  • Beijing (at the lower left) – my mother’s family, about 1,200 km/750 miles from Harbin.
  • Changchun (southwest of Harbin) – my father’s family. We finally settled here starting 1980.
  • Siping (southwest of Changchun, in red) – a small city where my parents worked and lived from 1970 to 1979.

Our fates were totally altered by my grandfather’s great admiration of Harbin Institute of Technology. He decided to send his oldest daughter there for college education even though there were plenty of great universities in Beijing. The policy then was that college graduates would be assigned jobs in the city where they came from. So my grandpa thought that four years away from home wouldn’t be too bad for my mom. How could he ever know that the Cultural Revolution would disrupt his plan, and everything else pretty soon.

Neither of my parents’ family background was ‘red’ – my mother’s father was an ‘anti-revolutionary intellectual’; my father’s father was accused of being a spy for the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang). By the time they ‘graduated’ in 1970, going back to their home cities was out of the question, especially Beijing. So they had to take on jobs in the small city of Siping. The little 1.5-room shed they were assigned to live had no kitchen, no toilet, no sewage, was hot in summer and cold in winter. It was not a place to raise a child. And when everything was controlled by the state, there was no way of renting or buying a place even if they had the money.

This was why my sister was born and grew up in Beijing with maternal grandparents, while I was born and grew up in Changchun with paternal grandparents. During this time, I made two trips to Beijing and two trips to Siping while my sister never left Beijing nor met her paternal grandparents. My parents finally manged to move to Changchun in 1979 after persistently applying for quota, then my sister left Beijing to join us in 1980. The four members of my family could live together under one roof at long last.

There were lots of incredible stories during these early years of my life. I will definitely write about them in future posts.

A Day Trip with My Mom

Today is Mother’s Day – a perfect time to share a day trip that I took with my mom in the fall of 2011 when I went back to China to visit. At my mom’s suggestion, we went to a park called ‘red leaf hillside’ in the suburbs of Beijing. This is the sign near the entrance:IMG_4865

We had nice views of the Great Wall, although it was not accessible.



But there were plenty of trails to hike on:


Different views of the Great Wall. As you can see, this section was pretty worn out and would not be safe to walk on.


My mom and I behind the red leaves:


Here is my mom having fun hiking. I was very impressed that at age 66, she appeared to be in a better shape than me after hiking for 3 hours.


We had lots of fun that day, not to mention the good exercise. My mom was happy and proud that I, a ‘world traveler’ in her eyes, really enjoyed this place that she brought me to visit. Interestingly, I have only been to the Great Wall twice, and both times I was with my mom. I will always cherish the quality time we spent together.

I love you, mom. Happy Mother’s Day!!

Travelogue (VII)

Hello my friends! It has been a while since my last post. Time flies… and snowflakes too at the moment. We are supposed to get over 5 inches of snow tonight, again. This winter is apparently in no hurry to depart. 😦

As I mentioned before, the year 2012 was a bit complicated. I traveled to 8 countries (UK, Italy, Switzerland, China, Canada, Mexico, Honduras, Belize) and spent 71 nights away from home. I saw quite a few wonders of the world, and some other amazing things. The number of trips to New York City was cut back significantly which helped to keep my weight in check.

  • Saw amazing snow geese migration in Middle Creek, PA. It was breath-taking to watch and hear thousands of birds take off all at once and then land back on the water.
  • Saw “El Castillo” (Pyramid of Kukulcan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site) in Chichen Itza, Mexico. This was part of a long relaxing weekend in Cancun, Mexico.
  • Saw many masterpieces and visited many cool places during the wonderful trip to Italy and Switzerland in May. I was beyond excited to finally get to see so many things that I had known since childhood – Colosseum and Pantheon in Rome, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Ponte Vecchio and ‘David’ in Florence, ‘The Last Supper’ in Milan, and Jet d’Eau in Geneva. I will definitely write a separate post for this trip.
  • Saw Niagara Falls from the Canadian side, with a magnificent rainbow.
  • Saw (thru my plane window during taxiing) the space shuttle Enterprise attached to the NASA 747 at Washington Dulles Airport, awaiting clearance to depart for New York for delivery to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.


In addition to feeding my eyes with all these cool things, other interesting trips and experiences of the year include –

  • Caribbean Cruise in December – Hondurous, Belize, Mexico. I went snorkeling and scuba diving for the first time in my life. Even though my focus turned out to be more staying alive than admiring the underwater view, I enjoyed the new experiences.
  • During the Niagara Falls trip, David and I stopped by Toronto pretending to be ‘proud Canadians’ on their National Day. 🙂

To wrap up this post of a busy travel year, let me mention that I also managed to go to London twice for work, Bloomington, IN for a business trip, and Beijing to visit my family. All in all, 2012 was a very productive and memoriable year!