798 Art Zone; Beijing, China

The 798 Art Zone [(798 艺术区) a.k.a. Dashanzi Art District a.k.a. 798 Art District a.k.a. Factory 798] is a massive area on the outskirts of Beijing: a collection of contemporary art studios, a community of contemporary artists, and an occasional sore spot with the powers that be.

I was told that 798 includes the studio of Ai Weiwei, the national hero currently under house arrest for art controversial by Chinese standards (i.e. he portrayed Mother Government poorly).

His studio has been sealed for more than two months, since the artist was detained.

I was impressed by both the art and aura at 798, politics aside. It was a breath of fresh air in Beijing. Far removed from the city center, it's quiet, clean, and full of vibrant art: everything from installation art and photography, to fashion, painting and design.

The food was some of the best food I had in China, and only 15 元 ($2.31 USD) per dish.

The cartoon caricatures were not so hot, though: My British friend Tom and I both got taken for a ride, but I think his artist was slightly more talented than mine; either way, in hindsight, neither of them could have drawn the talented caricatures laid out on the sidewalk, the ones we saw that encouraged us to toss them a few bucks for these drawings. Tom's is OK, I guess, but why am I flipping the bird in my photo, and why have none of my friends told me that I have a lazy eye?

It's a bit of a hassle getting to 798 (near the airport) but worth the effort. You could easily spend an entire day there, lazily enjoying indoor studios, outdoor art, and quality food.

Tom, or not.