At the moment my plane is landing at Beijing Capitol Airport PEK in the late afternoon, the smoggy haze begins lifting. Feng and her husband SUN Libin find me in the Korean restaurant in the recreation building opposite my wing, the only place open at this late hour of 8pm for me to eat. We exchange gifts. They have brought me a ceramic bottle of Korean miijiu, 51% alcohol. Whoa baby! Back in my room we open it and have a little welcome home party. It feels great to be back in the big city and seeing my friends again.
Out the window on my first morning in Beijing, I see it is clear and breezy. A magpie greets me, against the pale blue morning sky, standing on the roof of the adjacent building in the courtyard of the Xijiao Hotel complex. This hotel is affiliated with Tsinghua and is located off campus in Wudaokuo, very convenient. In Beijing today 42F / 25F and clear or 5C / -4C. In Dunsmuir, it’s also clear 32F / 17F or 0C / -8C.
After meeting Eunice WU for breakfast in the big dining room in the main building, I ride to campus and meet TONG Pei at the East Gate. She rides me sidesaddle on the back of her bicycle to the center of campus where I rent a bicycle for the three weeks I will be staying in Beijing. 100Y or $16.36. Later, I get my hair done at the Jiasuo Guest House salon. The ladies remember me! 180Y for cute cut and L’Oreal color or $29.45.
The Qinqi Fitness anmo clinic proprietor also remembers me. Her face lights up. We hug and air kiss. At the tailor in the basement of the TusPark building, she also remembers me. I buy a short, plaid corduroy, pleated skirt, also 180Y. Her business has grown, and she now has an apprentice. At the TusPark ATM I see for the first time the VISA/Mastercard logos.
By Thursday, it’s colder 34F / 18C or 1C / -7C and clear but windy, feels like 21F or -6C, riding my bike to campus to have lunch with my former colleague SONG Peijing. The former Overseas Office building is empty. All the buildings in a row north of the library are deserted and surrounded by a construction fence. The long anticipated expansion of the library is underway. The huge bauhinia trees that once shaded the bumpy parking have been dug up and removed to another location. SONG guides me to the new offices in refurbished dormitories next to the gymnasium.
The Centennial Park, where 100 world university presidents planted friendship trees the first month I was at Tsinghua in April 2011, commemorating the centennial of Tsinghua University founded in 1911, looks good, even now in winter. I think I see some hulking carcasses of transplanted bauhinia trees, wrapped in burlap and rope, and cut way back. I take a picture of myself in front of the UCLA pine tree and send it to Chancellor Gene Block. Here’s the link to my blog from April 24, 2011 .
In Dunsmuir today, it’s 50F / 29F or 10C / -1C and clear. In Pyongyang, my next destination, it’s 25F / 10F or -4C / -12C and snowing.
I'm sitting in a tiny coffee shop behind Dongsi subway exit in the Dongcheng District, home to the Forbidden City, known as the National Palace, and Tian’anmen Square, with a kaffei Americano 20Y or $3.27. Traveling here from Wudaokuo train station is mei wenti, no problemo. I take Line 13 to Xizimen Station. Wo zuo 13 haoxian qu Xizimen zhan. Then I transfer to Line 2 for only one stop before transferring to Line 6 and going all the way to Dongsi. Ranhou wo huan 2 haoxian yizhan zhiquian wo huan daodi 6 qu Dongsi. A single subway ticket is 2Y or $.33. The Puffee Café has a secure network with a password. Today is 35F / 17F or 2C / -8C brrrr! It is not windy and seems pleasant in the warm sun.
A new friend from the conference, xin pengyou, Mike ZHANG is meeting me here. He is Senior Editor at Commercial Press Shangwu Yingshiguan, founded in 1897, the first modern publishing house in China, currently employing approximately 600 persons.
We walk to the nearby National Art Museum of China NAMOC to see the new shows of contemporary traditional huahua painters
on the main floor before going upstairs to the fifth floor where the breakaway contemporary artists from the 80s exhibition. When China was opening to the west and their artists were exposed to outside ideas, all western art from the Greeks through Renaissance and Impressionism to Expressionism was promoted through a small art magazine called Translations of Fine Arts. The first issue was launched in 1980 by the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts and is still in circulation. The publication reprints articles in English on all the styles and major movements in western art.
With a massive body of traditional Chinese art going back millennium, contemporary artists are at a crucial juncture—to carry traditional styles and ideas into modern themes and techniques or materials OR to breakaway entirely into new directions. It is difficult to discover originality for ALL artists, Eastern or Western. Everything seems to have been done already—and better—by someone else before. Along comes the digital camera to further reduce the artist to a collector of artifacts.
Next, we walk to his place of business located on the trendy Wangfujing Daije shopping street, on the south end that is mainly commercial businesses. The Commercial Press, CP, produces paper books and nothing in e yet, although they do publish American bestseller authors. We tour the gift shop and sip tea. Mike has to run upstairs to meet with his colleagues, so I walk around, buy a Beijing street map 15Y $2.45 and visit a mezzanine art gallery of calligraphy before he returns and takes me to see his office and meet his co-workers. He’s working on the latest edition of the Oxford Dictionary in English with equivalent Chinese words. He’s on “P.”
At 5pm we leave and walk up Wangfujing Daijie to the fashionable retail end to meet his wife Xiong Jie and her friend Mei LEI. His wife, Jane, is an accountant for The World of English, a monthly magazine of English learning and a subsidiary owned and run by CP. This means they can commute together from their home in Haidian District. Mei LEI is a Senior Partner and Attorney at Law in the Beijing office of W&H Law Firm with offices in Asia, Canada and San Francisco. The women are waiting for us when we arrive.
The restaurant 西贝莜面村 (Xi Bei You Mian Cun) is famous for its northwestern style Chinese food, specialized in making noodles, oat noodles. It was established in 2001, headquartered in Inner Mongolia (a region noted for its top-quality mutton), with branches in many cities around China.
1. 果蔬拌菜 (guo shu ban cai, salad mixed with fruits and vegetables)
2. 凉面 (liang mian, cold noodles)
3. 豆芽炒河粉 (dou ya chao he fen, rice noodles stir-fried with bean sprouts)
4. 自制酸奶 (zi zhi suan nai, home-made yogurt)
5. 自制蜂蜜 (zi zhi feng mi, home-made bee honey)
6. 羊肉串 (yang rou chuan, mutton kebab)
7. 功夫鱼 (gong fu yu, Kung Fu fish)
Going down through the mall by escalator, we pass shops Bulgari, Rolex, Zara and more. To get to the exit we walk through a large, children’s toy store to the street. Under a waxing moon, no stars in the velvety night sky, people are out in the evening on the brightly lit walking street. At the Wangfujing subway station we say byebye to Mei. I travel a few stops with Mike and Jane until I get off and transfer to Line 2 heading north, getting home about 9:30pm.
Hou tou jian