Written by Lena Blackmon and Shelby Marcus
With the assignment of urban observation in hand, our group of Stanford students embarked to the eastern outskirts of Beijing to the modern art district, 798. The first time I arrived at 798 in 2012, I counted the number of foreigners I saw in the neighborhood on two hands and the number of domestic tourists on one hand. Every year since, I have walked the art clad streets and noticed more and more foreign and domestic tourists joining me. 798 is becoming a tourist stop despite not having a subway stop within its premise.
Despite the general unpleasantries of increased tourism, 798 remains more or less the same niche of Chinese and fusion modern art. Today, I found the same cafe I’ve ate at every summer for the past five years effortlessly by tracing my way through the familiar alleyway shops and galleries. As we ate, I noticed the absence of the red dinosaur sculpture that had always been a focal point of the view from the patio.
As our group wandered through the alleyways, we came upon a doorway with the Chinese character, 拆. This character denotes a notice of demolition, a destruction. I had never considered what 798 had built over when it became the art district. I had been so focused on its preservation without acknowledging what it had demolished in its construction.
I’m not sure what I will find when I return next year or the year after that or in a decade. 798 has the potential to be something other than another tourist spot in Beijing. It’s not yet the generic entertainment or historical landmark that attracts tour groups and busses. Experiencing 798 requires interaction, conscious observation and inspection.
While we explored 798, our Qinghua counterparts hopefully enjoyed the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Today, during breakfast, we ate lotus moon cakes and regaled the story of the original Mid-autumn festival: Hou Yi, after taking a magic elixir for eternal life, but took too much and floated to the sky, all the way to the moon. On her way up, she grabbed a rabbit so that she could have company on the moon, and they have resided there ever since.
A common metaphor about mid-autumn festival is that it is the Chinese equivalent of Thanksgiving in America, because both holidays are family and food centered. In the holiday spirit, we received holiday good will from a man who took a photo with us yesterday. He added a nice frame to our photo and posted it to WeChat with the caption:
"To friends in my circle foreign and abroad I wish a happy holiday. Hope your work goes well and that you will find success at whatever you set out to do."
As a group, we’d just discussed how out of place we can feel as foreigners this morning, so it was touching to me to see a WeChat post so kind to foreigners and friends.
Finally, in our 中秋節 celebrations, approximately half the class got dinner—we went to a nearby mall, which was quite crowded due to celebrations. But, the full moon was bright, and we eventually took a photo with it. The night ended quietly, but most importantly, I spent a mid-autumn festival full of laughs and friends well.