To show off my urbane sophistication, I took my parents and my 10-year old niece to 798, a post-modern (or modern?) art district transformed from a decommissioned military factory compound.
The three diligently studied the art work in gallery after gallery--a true miracle for my mother who spends all her time cleaning.
She points at a huge oil portrait, hanging on the wall, of a steely and desperate looking girl. "This looks so realistic," she says, her finger following the flow of her neck. "This vein here looks like about to burst open."
In the next gallery, my niece moves from one huge charcoal painting of a horse to another huge charcoal painting of another horse.
"Like it?" I ask her.
"Yeah," she proclaims with her usual 10-year-old enthusiasm. "But why the artist paints the same thing over and over?"
Because the painter uncle has to make money, the easier way?
After an overdose of galleries, we stroll among the pipes and boilers of the factory compound.
"Now this is nice," comments my father who has quietly studied the arts. "It reminds a little of our old danwei, work unit... Remember, the neighborhood you grew up in? It was a power plant so it also had pipes and boilers like this... Except the pipes would be hissing with steam..."
We walk some more, taking in the silence around us. Indeed it looks just like the neighborhood I grew up in, except it was... silent. Too many signs and posters for galleries. Too many young travelers with their eager heads stuck out in all directions. No workers, or children, or freight trains--filled with coal--whistling in the distance, or loud speakers blaring propaganda songs, or pipes hissing with steam.
Now it's no longer alive, life, once simple and vibrant, has become sophisticated art.
"I like this best," continues my father who walks a few steps behind us. "It brings back some memories... Old memories..."