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acrobatics

Art of Varying Forms

798-district-001

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I forgot to mention that last Friday I actually went to go see a Beijing Opera (or Peking Opera, if you’re so inclined) performance. It was interesting. The emphasis of the performance seemed to be less on the spoken words of the performers and more on their physical movements. From what I’m told, most native Chinese speakers cannot understand what the performers are saying (we were aided in this mutual deficiency by the presence of LED boards that displayed the actors’ lines in both English and Chinese). Additionally, there were relatively few oral parts in the performance (one act lacked any spoken parts at all). But the actors’ movements could, at times, be quite phenomenal and frequently resembled something of an acrobatics performance. The actors’ costumes and the accompanying band were also interesting (though the nearly incessant drum banging in Farewell My Concubine got to be a little annoying).

This week, I went to the 798 Art District. It was originally an industrial zone (before the artists invaded) and many of the galleries are housed in old warehouse buildings and factory buildings (as you can see in the above pictures). I saw several exhibits. A lot of the exhibits seemed to have a fairly political bent to them, as in the hutong recreation exhibit (which praised the simple lifestyle of Beijing’s poorer residents) and the sex worker exhibit (which didn’t really seem to be able to make up its mind about whether prostitution was a good thing or a bad thing). There was also an exhibit that re-created the life of Jesus, though in a rather odd way: every scene was garishly colored and all of the characters (including Jesus) were laughing (even post-mortem). There were also a lot of statutes about. My personal favorite was the Transformer, but there were a variety of other displays as well. We also wandered into a more “traditional” gallery, where there were pieces depicting trees and whatnot. Though, the place had a distinctly Western aire, particularly with the French music playing in the background.

Of All Things Wet and Shiny

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Yesterday, I went to the Beijing Aquarium, the largest inland aquarium in the world. It’s located within the Beijing Zoo (which also means you have to buy a zoo admissions ticket in addition to the aquarium ticket) in a large, conch shell-shaped building. You start by walking through a tropical exhibit, which contains several different varieties of some very large fish that I was unable to identify. You then enter the main lobby, from which you can access the Coral Reef exhibit, the sturgeons, and the “Touching Pool” a long, shallow pool filled with fish that you can touch. Of course, touching the fish is easier said than done, as they are quick little swimmers. There was also a large sea turtle at the end of the pool. You weren’t actually supposed to touch him, but most people did (it seems like most rules here are made to be broken). Though, the turtle seemed to have a routine down. He’d swim along the edge of the pool, people would touch his shell and grab his flipper thing, and he’d just keep swimming his circuit.

The aquarium also offers daily shows, which were reputed to be quite interesting. So, I went to one. You have to get there early to get a decent seat (I showed up about 45 minutes before hand), as the shows are quite popular. The first act involved a seal doing various tricks, including dancing, marching, clapping his flippers, etc. He also managed to jump out of the water and bop one of the plastic balls hanging from the ceiling. After the seal, a team of dolphins came out. They did the usual sort of dolphin thing, dancing around the pool, jumping in the air, etc. But they also had a dolphin rider, who managed to ride a pair of dolphins across the length of the pool. She then followed up by riding a single dolphin back across the pool, and then finished the act by having the dolphins throw her into the air. It was quite impressive. I didn’t think you could actually ride dolphins, but apparently that’s a thing.

I finished up my tour by buying what is probably the largest stuffed penguin the world (at a mere $15). I’m not entirely sure how I’ll get it home, but I’m going to chalk it up as the one of the greatest buys ever (and one that will probably make Molly very jealous).

Of Penguins and Pandas

Penguins, doing their penguin thing

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I went to the Beijing Zoo today, which was quite interesting. You can flip through the pictures I took in the album above. It was a fairly large zoo and took several hours to cover. However, beforehand, I lunched at KFC, where I enjoyed a Shrimp Burger. While unexpected, the burger was quite tasty.

The zoo has an unbeatable 20 RMB (about $3) admission fee, which includes the 5 RMB (for reference, Ren Min Bi, aka the yuan or, more informally, the kuai) add-on for the pandas. There was also a 10 RMB add-on for the penguins, which now that I think about it, is quite odd. You’d think that with pandas being a national treasure and all that, they’d be worth more than the penguins and, the zoo would charge more to see the pandas than the penguins. Or maybe this is some sort of government program to ensure that all the masses can see the pandas and thus revel in their great proletarian revolutionary past. I will have to give this some thought.

Anyway, I sent most of the day wandering around gawking at all the cool animals they had in the zoo. There were penguins, really cool goldfish, pandas, deer, donkeys, monkeys, birds, lions, and bears. Oh my! The Beijing Aquarium (the largest inland aquarium in the world) is also located within the grounds of the zoo, but I did not have time to stop by. The exhibits were all quite interesting, and the zoo generally allowed you to get quite close to the animals (especially when compared to the standards of most American zoos). In fact, there were hordes of excited children running around the zoo with bags of lettuce that they would take and feed to the animals, both for the excitement of feeding zebras and such, but also as a way to set-up a better photo-op with the animal in question. I actually saw one guy banging on one of the lions’ cages with a stick so that they would be situated directly behind his son when he snapped a picture. It didn’t really strike me as the smartest idea in the world, but it worked.

I hit the pandas last, mostly because they were on the other side of the zoo, but also because one of the better souvenir shops was located in the Olympic Panda House. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the prices at this place were quite reasonable. I was able to pick up a couple of pandas (one at the behest of Molly, the other one I bought for myself), some rather decent postcards, and a rather cool-looking piece of panda art for about $25. Even the sodas weren’t that pricey. I bought a 20-oz. bottle of Coke for about $0.75. The Chinese have obviously not learned the art of extortion that typically characterizes gift shops.

On an unrelated topic, I also went to go see a Chinese acrobatic performance at the Heaven and Earth Theater on Friday night. Unfortunately, they had a rather strict no cameras policy, so I couldn’t snap any shots. However, the performance was quite interesting, with the acrobats doing all kinds of wild twists and turns (so of which I didn’t think were even possible) and balancing acts with glasses and balls and whatnot. It was quite cool.