Articles in natalia ciolko’s travel blog
In matters of culture, momentum is not necessarily a function of time. Haipaicai, or Shanghai-style cuisine, has a history less than two decades old, yet the gravitational pull of the city’s food scene is no less effective or transformative than that of time-honored culinary bastions like New York and Paris.
The concept of creating a unique culinary identity by adaptating various regional flavors from all over China was primarily a marketing scheme devised by Chinese Communist Party officials in the 1980s to promote Shanghai as a happening place for culture, as well as finance and markets. And it’s worked—today there are over 20,000 restaurants in Shanghai alone, and in one way or another, they all owe their history to this culinary development.
At the top of a five-story Adidas store in Beijing, a gaggle of perfectly styled teenagers and twenty-somethings crowded the escalator landing. Gathered for the opening of an art exhibition, the participants were members of Make Cute Club, or MCC, an online fashion forum catering to China’s style-obsessed Netizens, who were meeting in person for the very first time. Decked out with piercings, fake eyelashes and trucker hats, the MCC-ers hugged and mugged, snapping pictures with their cell phones and chattering in the silence of the otherwise empty store. Welcome to the microcosm of self-expression among China’s youth today. . . .
After adding another giant circular weight to the buckling barbell, Zhao Ruixun crawls under the load, grunting in anticipation of the lift. “That’s 290 [kilograms],” said his trainer, Zhi Shouan, owner of the Zhi Shouan Boxing Club in Xi’an. “But 320 is his max.”
After producing five halting squats, Zhao shakes out the strain and sprints down the length of the gym, sweat flying off of his body in a fine mist. Coming to a stop before a streaky mirror, he pumps his fist in the air, shouting as his peers from the world of amateur boxing continue bobbing and weaving behind him.
Zhao works in hope of a boxing career, which would theoretically support him and his family with prize winnings. However, most sports in China, especially boxing, are not commercial, let alone profitable at this point.
“There is no history in the commerce of sports or even amateurism for the sake of recreation in China,” said Maggie Rauch, editor of China Sports Today. “Instead, it’s existed primarily as a piece of China’s state sports machine, with a focus on Olympic and other international competitions.”
Fifteen minutes outside the city center, an outpost of offbeat cafes, galleries and bookstores thrives within a bleak industrial zone. Chinese tourists and fashionable youth pose on tree-lined avenues within the former Soviet factory complex known as 798 District, three numbers synonymous with contemporary art in Beijing.
Observers of the Beijing art scene say the levels of enthusiasm for contemporary art have never been higher, although the scene itself didn’t exist 30 years ago. Rising disposable income among ordinary Chinese is fueling new interest, and 798 is the preferred destination for galleries and artists alike.
But as the art scene has grown, so has the debate over who really controls 798. The government’s positive interest in the district’s success in recent years has contributed economic power, but for some observers has diminished its credibility as an engine of genuine artistic expression.