Finally arrived in Beijing after another day and night on the train, this time in a spotlessly clean, comfortable train which had been cooled to sub-zero temperatures. Exiting the carriage with my huge backpack (still need to lose some weight in that regard), the heat hit me like a wall.
I stayed with Bamor, a 31-year old marketing manager who kindly agreed to host me via Couchsurfing. Such a luxury, to suddenly have my own couch in a lofty apartment with clean bathroom and kitchen! Bamor couldn’t have been a better host. She has a wide smile, has travelled widely, has an interesting perspective on Chinese culture and society and not only opened the doors to her home but also to her circle of artistic friends to me. On my first night in town we had dinner with her friend Fong, as sculptor and tattoo artist, then went to the gallery opening party of two Austrian girls. There, I proceeded to be eaten alive by mosquitos while explaining every two minutes that I wasn’t an artist living in Beijing, but rather had just stepped of a train and didn’t really know anyone. I had a great time!
The next morning, Fong and I went to visit the studio of Gao Zhen, whom I had randomly met in a café the day before while waiting for Bamor. Zhen and his brother use art as a political medium and are of the same generation of Chinese artists as Ai Weiwei. You might have heard of their hug performances. The studio space was impressive, with large sculptures, huge photographic works and some interesting paintings that I personally liked best. However, communication was difficult since Zhen only speaks little English. After we left to visit Fong’s tattoo studio, Fong remarked “He seems vain. Other artists talk about art, he only talks about himself.”.
Note: I'd like to include some of Zhang's art here, but I don't think it's published under a CC license. Have a peek at Fong's tattoo studio instead.
The tattoo studio was more authentic. Fong and three friends started it 6 months ago, and are working on designs with a modern twist to traditional Chinese themes. In China, tattoos are still frowned upon, especially on girls, but are quickly becoming a thing among the young bohème - the night before, 3 girls at the party had signed up for a session with Fong. Her workplace is located in a slightly grimy housing complex, on the 7th floor in an unmarked apartment. The guys seem to have made this their second home, with customers casually dropping in (or rather, being collected at the door since the buzzer is broken) and people ordering McDonald’s in preparation for a 2-hour tattooing session. With regard to tattoos, however, Fong was very meticulous, keeping a super-clean work area and sketching out her designs with a lot of love to detail. Since I had some serious sightseeing to do, however, I bid my good-bye before the burgers arrived and headed out into the Beijing smog.