It’s called Factory 798 because the grounds used to operate as a factory, but now hold dozens of contemporary art galleries. It’s an atmosphere unlike anything else in Beijing – a little gritty and a little European feeling (or, what I imagine parts of Europe might feel like) – with lots of little studios and coffee bars and cafes. Remnants of the factory still remain.
It’s an odd little place – which I loved. The art galleries were mostly contemporary. And the streets were lined with huge statues and the first instance of “graffiti” that I’ve seen in China. Although it really probably wasn’t graffiti – it all seemed pretty perfectly planned out. Photos of the district are on Flickr here.
Factory 798 is also the location of Swiss House, which I briefly visited. Sadly, the chocolatier was not available so they didn’t have any samples. They did have Swiss army knives though. Not exactly as fulfilling. You can listen to the sound of Switzerland – in Beijing – on Flickr here.
Most of the galleries close at 7pm, so from there I met a volunteer couple for dinner. We went to a Chinese restaurant around Ghost Street – where the restaurants and streets all glow by lantern light and traditional Chinese decorations
We weren’t sure that we were in the right place – we exited our cab and the driver motioned for us to go down a dark alley. We went.
Sue almost didn’t, but we convinced her… Past a dry cleaners. Past a traditional hutong residence. Stopped at a single red lantern. Turned left. And found Dali Courtyard – the most darling little oasis in Beijing.
It looked like a stack of cinder blocks from the outside, but inside it was an open air dining room under a nearly full moon and white Christmas lights.
The menu was set, so there were no decisions to be made. And they just kept bringing us plates and plates of food – beans, tofu, vegetables, chicken, shrimp, fish, fruit, wine, and a few things that I cannot discern (and probably don’t want to). I wish I’d taken photos, but I really didn’t want to ruin the atmosphere.
We had an easy time finding a cab home – although we’d all forgotten our handy “cheat sheets” with our apartment address and directions written in Mandarin. After nearly a month in China, I was able to pronounce the nearest subway station – Dong Si Shi Tiaou – clearly enough that our driver understood. I was a little proud.
So, here we are… Another night in Beijing comes to a close. And only four more to go!