Sascha passed away on the 9th of April, 2015, aged 40. We last met a year earlier to his final day in Beijing, during his residency in the Three Shadows in Chaochangdi. The Fotografie Forum Frankfurt shows some of what remains: his photos. The exhibition will be still on until January 29th. As Sascha has put it before: "The perfect moment has to vanish. Otherwise we would just stay". Sascha was a romantic traveller with a camera.
In the last weeks, during the APEC conference, we were spoiled with blue skies. But today Beijing put on its grey face again, as if it wanted to remind me, that it is really time to go. Something changed though, since APEC is over. The website of the American Embassy air quality monitor is censored now by Government Order. And the published reading for the city average shows AQI 78, which is now called “good”. Somehow I can’t match the view out of the window with the data. I must be just in an exceptionally bad area, if the city average is still 78. Happy for you guys out there in the rest of Beijing. And sorry for dragging down the city average.
I wanted to post a small photo gallery of some of our Saturday walks in Beijing. But since APEC is over, not just the smog came back, but also the Internet is more crippled than before. There has been a lot of cynical talk about Beijing being able to clean up its mess for the international conference, but not for its own people. But I think this was a very interesting experiment, determining how much industrial production, traffic reduction and economic activity actually has to be shut down or switched to something else to make Beijing healthy again. At least we have a data point now. Getting 50 % of cars of the road, is one of them. Closing more than 2000 factories is another one. Good to get a feeling for the magnitude. This needs more than just a few filters in chimneys and another subway line. It means a whole structural change, not just of Beijing, but also in the wider surroundings. And another datapoint we have, is to see how nice Beijing could be. When I had lunch with a friend last week, he named Beijing “The World’s Worst Paradise”. Compared with other cities, I agree.
As of Internet, a few days ago my VPN account expired and won’t expand its service only for a few days more until I leave. The the upgrade of my MacBook’s operating system seems not to be very helpful either. So, I don’t exactly know what cases the problem. Luckily, my website can receive mailed in posts, which do not require me to log on the system itself. That makes it easy to publish, as long as I can send e-mail. But the features are a bit limited. So, I don’t know what you see, until I have a chance to open my website myself again.
All I attach for now, is a photo of the small bridge in my favorite Beijing Park, The Temple of The Earth. More will follow, after we crossed the Great Chinese Internet Wall. I have seen this bridge many times and in different seasons, also with lush grass and bright flowers around. This time it is having the atmosphere of cut flowers after you had them for a week. Don’t want to let them go, but happily looking forward to go to the flower market again and get some new ones. That’s the mood I am in looking at the whole city these days. Time to leave in a few days from now.
Beijing made us really a wonderful farewell gift, as we are strolling through it this weekend under APEC conditions. As the impression often is shaped by how the whole experience ends, this looks like a perfect epilogue to our time in Beijing. Today we drove along the Changan Avenue, passing by Tiananmen Square to visit friends on the other side of the city. The sky was blue and the traffic in flow. The traffic management simply took half the cars off the road and put at least one traffic police every few hundred meters. The Tiananmen Square itself is heavily guarded by military and armed police. While we were driving along the landmarks of our memories of Beijing, we nearly felt like a "state guest" ourselves, even we were not in one of the black limousines, but just on the back seat of a shabby Hyundai taxi. Even the air is really clean in some areas you are advised not to open the window, as there are snipers on the roofs, which might misinterpret that move. Well, there is nothing I want less on my last days here than a nervous sniper. You can't have it all. But that's fine for me. As we say here: Ente gut, alles gut.
"Die Grosse Chance" is a solo photo exhibition of the German poet Dieter M. Gräf in the Three Shadows Photography Art Centre in Caochangdi, Beijing. It will be shown from August 09th until September 5th and represents a series of pictures, taken by the poet while (re-) exploring his parent's house after both's death. The hanging shows the ups and downs, like walking though the house. The location is a village near Mannheim (Germany) and I can quite well relate to these pictures. What surprised my technically, was that they are all taken with an iPhone, and still come out quite well in large print. The exhibition is curated by Nina Zlonicky who, as an architect, reanimated house's building layout on the gallery walls. Beside the artist's work, there have been many people involved in technically turning a USB-stick into a fully fletched photo exhibition in just a few days. It was supported by the Goethe Institute Beijing and what made it special for us, was not just the nice collaboration of many professionals, but that Feibai got an insight into the process by being part of the team.
These are windy days and it is nice to see the blue sky and even some stars in Beijing. Also the traffic was not too bad this weekend. Well, I spend most of the time away from the busy crowds anyways and enjoy my last few months here, to keep the city in a good memory. A weekend like this one, make it easy.
Finally my arms got too short to properly be able to read small text. They call it Hyperopia, and it means I am getting far sighted. First I though of getting longer arms is not that easy, and may look rather imbalanced when I am scratching my feet walking along. So we went to the Beijing Glasses City. Here you get custom mades glasses starting from 5 Euro, and it is quite some fun also.
I found 5000 Names is a very interesting exhibition on the Chinese work and legacy of the Dutch born curator and scholar Hans van Dijk. It shows works, letters and artifacts of the time in the 1990, when he was a mentor of the coming generation of contemporary artists, when there was no such thing in China.
The exhibition is running until August 10th in the UCCA Ullens Center of Contemporary Art in the 798 Art District, Beijing.
In the South-West of Beijing lies a limestone area resulting in a magnificent karst landscape, North and South of the Baojin Shankou Canyon. There was a bit of haze today, but it clear weather it must be even more beautiful. On the South there are gardens and small farms. In the past all over here food was grown. Now there are just remains left, but they are still active.
You may download here the GPS track in gpx- and tcx-format. We started a bit late today and did not explore the area to the fullest. Given the geology, there must be caves around. We met a teenager with a torch (and an acrobatic throwing knife, which impressed me a lot) who was heading for one of them. But we returned to avoid sunset before reaching clear trails again. To reach the starting point you will have to cross a bit of "Tourism with Chinese characteristics". But no worries, they will all disappear into some sort of park worshipping with their mobile phone cameras some sort of plastic Confucius. This absorbs them all, really.
Here comes position and GPS plot:
Before traveling to Europe for about a fortnight, I cycled along some old residential places in Beijing. Actually, they are not old by normal standards. But they have become rare here, while land has become incredible expensive. They are not in good condition either, and would be costly to renovate; not even to think of the "opportunity cost" versus putting a few high rise buildings there. They are not Beijing Hutongs, which have been partly accepted to be a heritage, and they are neither "useful". So, they are neither seen as heritage, nor are they viewed as something of value. Their time has come.
I decided to come back with a camera and take a few snapshots. I was lucky, because when I returned today, some of them were already demolished (the satellite photo underneath still shows the blue roofs which show that this was a more recent development) . They are/were along the canal, outbound the city, beyond the 4th ring. Please refer to the co-ordinates in the grid below for exact location.