Although extremely jet lagged, I still managed a 2 hour bus ride out to the east side of Beijing. It was an interesting trip because the landscape slowly changes from no trees, to occasional bushes, to patches of wooded area, to full blown brush behind all the buildings. By the time we reached this place, the shrubs were so overgrown that it resembled the flora of Southern Illinois. I kinda felt at home. This actually isn’t a part of Beijing, it is a different city, Sonj Zhuang, that has Beijing growing into it. Beijing is growing so fast that even though a local bus will go all the way out there, there is a 3/4 mile strip of road that is just dirt. The bus rocked like a boat in a storm while construction workers busied themselves just 2 meters away with building the road while police officers all around watched and directed the intense traffic. Literally, building a road underneath us.
The village itself is an interesting story. Artists from Beijing found it so hard to pay rent and survive in the city that they some how migrated to this village and created an Artist community, a place with low rent and shared food. They all worked together to survive and eventually it attracted others attention by having so much art in one place; this dramatically increases their sales and since has transformed the village into a somewhat normal city. A Dutch man was so inspired by this that he bought up a bunch of buildings and now allows artists to live for free in dorms. In just the last couple years the place has come across so much money that luxury studios have been built were artists have gallery and workspace, their paintings now sell in the price range of 20,000 to 80,000 U.S. Dollars. The community itself is very friendly, people don’t seem to be in a hurry like a big city, they stop and talk to you about casual things and tell jokes, and most people own dogs and ride skates or scooters up and down the hilly roads.
My wife Haoyue and I went there to visit a friend of ours, Wang Run ,who I call Raven. He is an artist and filmmaker who opened an artist school there. It is doing very well, he has 30 students and 3 teachers and recently found himself a wife from Inner-Mongolia, his home province. Everyone at the school was especially nice and love my daughter Rayne. The played with her all the time. People in China seem to love kids more than anywhere else I’ve been.
Another cool part of Sonj Zhuang is the extensive use of motor bike carriages called Bung Bung or Hop Hop Carts, because they bounce around so much.
As a real treat Raven took us to a restaurant that only artists know about. It is a Mongolian place run by an artist who also lets locals dine there, no advertising on the door. It is still really popular and it has nice seating and restrooms, but no tourists. The food was very, very good!
Sorry I don’t have pictures of the art studios, no photography allowed in there. All of the paintings I saw were excellent and ranged from Western styles of realism and impressionism to traditional Chinese Ink and sculpture.