798 Art District / Beijing
While making our way northwards through China, one of the reoccurring trends we’ve seen is the move towards modernization and development over restoration. Sadly, we’ve seen a lot of old neighborhoods demolished and replaced with acres of ‘copy & paste’ skyscrapers. It seems like the Chinese place far more value in the new and shiny over the old and ancient, the only concession seems to be if tourists are interested in something old, they’ll happily ‘restore’ (replicate) it and add a ticketing booth with a sprinkling of souvenir vendor stalls.
The aspects of China that we’ve appreciated the most have been the unattended ancient buildings and artifacts, (usually in the side streets off the main tourist track) where the focus has been on craftsmanship as opposed to cheap mass production.
We felt right at home in 798 Art District – previously an abandoned 1950s industrial area, it has been colonized by artists and turned into a creative hub nestled in central Beijing. 798 is a lovely break from the standard issue uniformity and conformity seen in most other parts of the country and feels like a place where you can be exposed to different points-of-view. With quirky cafes on every corner, it’s an artistic haven and a primordial soup for ideas and innovation. We couldn’t help but feel inspired and motivated to create!
There isn’t a metro that will take you there directly (when we visited) so we caught the metro to … and a taxi to gate 4 of the 798 district (the driver knew exactly where to go and the ride only cost around 25 yuan to get there and about 25 to get back). We were told to avoid catching a taxi from … since that was on the main express route to the airport both the closest metro + cab fares are expensive. If you want a decent fly through the area, 3-4 hours should be plenty of time – but if you’re into your modern art, we’d recommend a day to visit all the galleries. The galleries open at around 10am and start closing at around 5:30, but the cafes, bars and parks seem to stay open later.