Dear Shaded Viewers,
I’m relaxing on the rooftop patio of my hutong hotel, The Orchid, here in Beijing and going over all my photos and notes from Beijing Design Week, which wound down yesterday. (The internet is a bit dodgy here so it’s been difficult for me to post anything.) My longtime pal and former New Yorker Aric Chen is the Creative Director of BJDW and his goal is to change the tried-and-true slogan “Made in China” to “Designed in China”–a hurculean task that involved shipping a lot of European design folks in for the event (some of who were quick to divulge their lengthy analyses of their first visit to China, despite having done nothing more than stroll around the Western-luxury boutique district of Sanlitun during the first day of their trip.)
Aric did a marvelous job of orchestrating exhibits that were mainly centered in two areas of Beijing: Dashilar Alley and 751 Design District. Dashilar Alley, my favorite of the two locales, is located in an old-school hutong neighborhood just south of Tiananmen Square. The execution of the pop-up shops, teahouses and the “fashion factory” at the end of the Design Hop ensured that the exhibitions were integrated gently and organically into this un-globalized ‘hood populated by local, lower-income Chinese, whose families have been here for decades. So there was no obnoxious gentrification feeling; no slick, sanitized boutiques shoehorned between the old, ramshackle courtyard houses (which are not terribly dissimilar from Rio’s favelas, minus the violence).
The opening night of BJDW in Dashilar Alley on September 24th was great fun, with tons of things to see (I went back several times to take it all in), and ended with a lively dinner at a local Chinese restaurant where some Helsinki Design folk were staging a project.
The entrance to the TimeOut Beijing pop-up shops in the old factory.
The exterior of the Factory. Don’t call the writing on the wall graffiti; Converse, an event sponsor, has euphemistically re-named it “urban typography interventions.” (You can stop rolling your eyes now.) These colorful letters were created by London artist Ben Eine
My pal Alice McInerney, whom I met last spring at Singapore Fashion Week, in her pop-up shop that was erected to promote her new e-commerce venture AnyShopStyle.com. She’s wearing one of the designers the e-shop sells: this cashmere tunic sweater is by Yang Du, a Chinese designer based in London who graduated from Central St. Martin’s. She’s known for her graphic pop-art-like prints that reference superheroes and other cartoony stuff.
AnyShopStyle.com is the first online store to bring together emerging Chinese designers in one place. The site is available in English and Mandarin, and currently only ships within China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, but will be launching in other areas over the next few months.
Alice’s other venture, AnyWearStyle.com, is a recently launched China-centric fashion platform that brings together the hottest local fashion and design from China with an international perspective. Their central focus is cutting-edge, emerging designers alongside up-to-the-minute insights into the burgeoning mainland market. They cover the latest collections and pioneering events in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan alongside global fashion stories and trends, with stories in both English and Chinese.
So take heed everyone who has been asking me “what is Chinese design? what is really going on over there? Is it just empty government propaganda?” Bookmark Alice’s site for an ongoing chronicle of China’s full gallop into design.
More of Yang Du’s designs…
One of the winners of the TimeOut BJDW t-shirt design contest. This was my personal favorite and I made sure to nab one.
I’m not much of a fan of TopShop/TopMan clothing, which also popped-up shop at the Factory, but I liked this fast-food tee. (I only eat hot dogs in secret, either in a far-flung corner of Central Park or under the Coney Island boardwalk, so I would never wear a t-shirt advertising my shameful vice.)
Some of the installations had an early ’00s Williamsburg art-scene feel to them–but in a good way.
Hutopolis was quite interesting. This interactive city analysis project argues that urban planning theories about community and nature just now emerging in Europe were already present in Beijing’s hutongs thousands of years ago. To shed light on this theory, Hutopolis offered an interactive screen where you could drag courtyard houses, temples, trees, etc. onto a gridded screen, thus designing your own hutong neighborhood.
But as much as I adore the charm, culture and people of the old hutong ‘hoods, and would join the fight to continue the protection of the Dongcheng Hutong District (where I’m staying now), it must be said that the single-floor courtyard house hutong system in its current state is not entirely conducive to modern city life. Not too long ago (back in the ’80s) much of the city of Beijing was still nothing but hutongs. Imagine if a city like Rio was nothing but favelas….a city of slums, essentially. There has been much outcry about the demolition of hutongs, which is just, as the humane relocation and human rights of the old city residents must be defended and guaranteed.
However, a city cannot move forward into modernity and efficient infrastructure without 21st-century development. Ideally, the city would make more efforts to modernize the remaining hutongs (which they’ve done with the advent of electricty and spruced-up public toilets. But they should ban cars as many of the alleys are too narrow for them–but they drive right through anyway. More bicycles would obviously herald cleaner air). Hopefully, Beijing will maintain its balance of modern skyscrapers and historically important courtyard houses, because without the hutongs, Beijing would no longer have a soul.
ChART Contempory and Open House Living (a Hong Kong-based home furnishings brand) collaborated to produce ChART HOME, a conceptual installation that considers the function and significance of HOME.
ChART’s Home is Where the Heart is postcard project. I sent a postcard to my dad (on the right) but I think I put the wrong zip code on it! When I first came to Beijing in May, I sent a Maoist postcard to my dad’s office, hoping to infuriate my right-wing uncle who once harboured an anti-Communist, McCarthyist belief system. But it seems today the Chinese government is looking more attractive to certain lunatic-fringe Republicans. My uncle especially loves China because, “they don’t have unions there.”
ChART’s Megan & KC Vienna Connolly. Loving the tights, girls!
The Bye Bye Disco pop-up shop had the dubious distinction of being located far away from the action in Dashilar Alley and closer to the Qianmen subway station, on the edge of a strip of tourist shops and steamed bun joints. So there was a surreal quality to stumbling upon this shop in a decrepit courtyard where this very cool girl was sitting alone, eating a popsicle and blasting disco-punk music. I was also treated to Pei Pei’s (Bye Bye Disco’s proprietor) discerning DJ skills at an excellent little 3-floor club near my hotel called Siif. I was taken there by Beijing’s # 1 dandy, Jeffrey Ying.
Right before the Olympics, the government launched a campaign to translate all signs into English. As you can see, the translations sometimes produced rather verbose restaurant names.
One restaurant features this rather serene painting of a reflective Mao Zedong.
Some of the elegantly aged buildings on Dashilar Alley reminded me of Central Havana.
After a celebratory toast with Alice and friends at the Factory, I headed over to a press dinner at Tian Hai restaurant which had been temporarily tagged with a project called Wonderwater. This brainchild of the Helsinki design gang aimed to raise awareness about the the water footprints (similar to carbon footprints) of food production and preparation.
Dishes were served with flags that told us the level of water use (low to high) to make us think about the impact of what we eat on local and global water use. So is a high water footprint bad? Not necessarily. A product with a small water footprint transported from far away may look good but it can actually have a huge carbon footprint. And a product with a small water footprint produced in a water-scarce area may have a large social and ecological impact, while a product with a large water footprint produced in a water-rich area might not have a large impact. The mind reels.
The Finns set up a water-tasting station with H2O from various areas, which drinkers were challenged to guess. I guessed “New Jersey” but was told my sip originated in Tibet. (I still think it was New Jersey.)
Tian Hai is notorious for its foul-smelling offal stews (massive amounts of pig stomachs, snouts, intestines, god know’s what else) which they cook up in the open-air entrance of the restaurant, filling the street with a pungent smell of boiled innards. Even adventurous eaters like myself were given pause.
The offal truth…
Inside Tian Hai
I felt like I was back home in NYC in my Mao Room….
This Chinese cabbage had a low water footprint but a high level of heat! It was slathered in very delicious but very hot mustard.
Delicious boiled funghi
The dreaded pig-snout-and-trotters stew that a brave few of us tried. High water footprint because any dish involving animals involves the water consumed in the lifetime of the animal. For the record, I like a lot of offal–for example, I’ve had some divine fried pig intestines at a Malaysian restaurant in New York and I adore sweetbreads–but there was something profoundly unappetizing about the flavors in this stew.
We greedily devoured the delicious rounds of cornbread in this dish but everyone passed over the angry-looking fish which I thought had a distinct resemblance to the underwater monster Elizabeth Taylor tries to serve to Noel Coward in BOOM.
The infinitely amusing Caroline Roux of London’s Financial Times enjoys some of the delicious candied bananas which one had to dip into a bowl of water immediatly before consuming or the the thick, syrupy coating will turn to cement in your stomach. Eating on the edge!
More to come, including my visit to Wuhao Pop-Up Teahouse, 751 & our wild rickshaw ride to the “Tarantino Cultural Revolution Film Park” in south Beijing…