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In the middle of an eastern whirlwind

Category Archives: Travelling

Images from the capital of the middle kingdom, snapped throughout the past year. No point, no grand story, no artistic intentions, just images of moments lived here.

Transformers are popular in China.

And one wouldnt believe sometimes..

..the loads one sees on anything that has (a) wheel(s)

Sometimes, roads get blocked for no reason but every single driver being an %ss…

mostentimes roads get blocked because there is simply too much traffic. This is what the third ringroad looks like every day from 4 pm till 6:30 pm.

Weather forecast: after the rainstorm, blue skies and sunny. A rainstorm can clean up the air quite thoroughly. This is a particular good day and rare view from our window..

..more often, the same view looks like this. The weatherforecast for this day: blue skies and sunny. pollution count: 420. 2.5 pm particle count: 250 (!!! instant cancer, all for the better gdp!)

In black and white: Beijing in 1956. (Though if you had told me it was 1930, I’d have believed you) The little colour insert is a picture from the same spot, last year.

in one of the many temples where old times linger

New fish, old fish. Fayuan temple.

What a rich home’s door looked like a few centuries ago (now a poor home)

What the door to a fancy disco/club/restaurant looks like nowadays

If you want to be classy, you can buy yourself some copies of western classics here

What does it take, to make a brand new China?

What does it take, to make a brand new China?

Nice piece!

Nice piece!

Music by an american to honour the revolution. Seen at the exhibit in Soong Ling Ling's house (former wife of Sun Yat Sen)

Music by an american to honour the revolution. Seen at the exhibit in Soong Ling Ling’s house (former wife of Sun Yat Sen)

What is strange about this poster?(Hint: two kids..)

What is strange about this poster?
(Hint: two kids..)

Someone once said: 'In China, one doenst need to make art, it's just there, on the street' And he was right. This is in Song Zhuang, an unintentional installation. Brilliant. The white plastic bag is the last detail that was really needed to make it perfect.

Someone once said: ‘In China, one doenst need to make art, it’s just there, on the street’ And he was right. This is in Song Zhuang, an unintentional installation. Brilliant. The white plastic bag is the last detail that was really needed to make it perfect.

Bread and play, is that liberation?

Bread and play, is that liberation?

In Song Zhuang, there is some serious cooking, as this kitchen exhaust shows..

In Song Zhuang, there is some serious cooking, as this kitchen exhaust shows..

A small town just west of Beijing

A small town just west of Beijing

Train  viaduct soewhere in the mountains west of Beijing

Train viaduct soewhere in the mountains west of Beijing

A cute bubble bike.

A cute bubble bike.

Snow in Beijing.

Snow in Beijing.

Snow in Beijing.

Snow in Beijing.

Zhong Guo.

Zhong Guo.


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Now that I have been at most well known tourist attractions in Beijing, I try out the somewhat lesser known spots. This last weekend, I went to the Taoist Dongyue temple, not too far from our home. This temple was once built outside of Beijing and is now surrounded by Chaoyang. Business driven, concrete and glass covered, expat filled Chaoyang. This is a spot of old China right in the middle of booming new China. I have seen plenty of Buddhist temples by now, of which the Yonghegong, or otherwise known as lamatemple, is the biggest and most reknowned, but not actually the most charming one (that prize goes, in my book, to the Guanghua temple, with the Fayuan temple on a very close second place, both several centuries older then the Yonghegong) My first encounter with a Taoist temple was in Hong Kong, an open space at the seashore with a pagoda, amidst several abundantly coloured, almost plastic looking fantastic creatures, depicting various Gods, Godesses, spirits and demons that rule over the sea, the streams, earth, wind, mountains, fortune, sexuality, commerce, health, houses and whathaveyou. This Hong Kongese temple was built and dedicated as late as 1972. The Dongyue temple dates back to 1319, and its colours are far more muted, its creatures displayed more austere. But this temple it is a haven of tranquility and wonder, and so very different of the several buddhist temples I have seen.

One of the generals guarding the entrance to the temple.

A poster for a festival displayed in the courtyard.


One of the cleaners taking a quick rest..

when the cleaning and the fire department come together, the result is a calm instalation.

I find it only logical, that Taoism departmentalized the supernatural world, mirroring the bureaucracy of their worldly affairs onto the heavens, or is it maybe the other way around? What was first, the chinese idea of a bureaucratic heaven which they fashioned themselves after, or the chinese tending to bureaucracy and fashioning their idea of heaven after themselves?

I know virtually nothing about Taoism (Or Daoism, as the chinese word it originates from is Dao, way or road or lane (of the road)) There are 76 departments through which the world is ruled, each featuring their officer and guardians and several ghosts, human or otherwise, pleading at the office. All of these are featured at the Dongyue temple, in little booths displaying plaster statues of the creatures mentioned, and walking past them is like wandering an eerie, chinese netherworld display booth. Four halls are bigger, better maintained then the dark, dusty sidebooths with peeling wallpaper on the old wooden ceilings, with cracking walls and flaking paint. These four halls are dedicated to the main deities: the Gods of China (in a scene much remniscent of important generals having an audience with two emperors) the God of Mount Tai (which the temple is dedicated to) the God of Fortune and profit of fair commerce, (whose offerings box was filled highest) and the Gods of fertility and abundant kids. (which, I guess, the chinese cannot really pray to?) Unfortunately, it is forbidden to take pictures within these bigger halls, so the rows and rows and rows of golden statuettes in the hall of fortune and the warrior clad burly chinese men with beards that have numerous of those typical chinese kids with just one lock of hair on their laughing bald heads crawling all over them I cannot show you. For that, you will have to go yourself should you ever find yourself in Beijing and I highly recommend you do.

(Then you might also spot a few of those kids in the hutongs. Its not as prevalent anymore, but still one can see some very young chinese kids with just this single tuft of hair on their foreheads..)

One of the 76 departments

The department for raingods..

Brawling mongolians in the ranks..

In the Urging department. The what? The department for urging. ‘Tis what you need in a bureaucratic world. You need the talent to stylishly, relentlessly, ever so subtly urge whomever needs urging. This blue guy will help you.

The department for wandering ghosts, with its extra tough official..

When you’ve wandered along the 76 departments, do wander on into the courtyard behind this main space, to find an even older hall, in which you’ll find even older, and dustier, wooden statues, from the looks of it they date from before the Ming era and are surrounded by even older, thicker wooden beams and patterned windows filtering what little light there is. Here, too, taking photographs is prohibited, alas, and the rule enforced by a sleepy Taoist monk behind a little table. Which is a shame, as here truly, you get transported to old China as you would have imagined it to be many centuries ago.

Typical guards..

..and shy demons..

and everything else that lives under your bed..

So, what are these departments called? What kind of departments are there, in the Daoist otherworld? How is the world, and the heavens, organized anyway? And does that tell us something about the world the chinese live(d) in?
I jotted their names down in the order I walked past them, from the big main hall in the back to the left and around. I have no idea if that was the right way to walk (there is, after all, one right way..) but it gives a good glimpse of the bureaucracy that permeates the chinese worlds, existing and non existing:

Department of signatures.
Department of signing documents
Department of recording merits
Department of determining individual destiny
Department for three month long meditation
Department of confiscating unwarranted property
Department of official morality
Department for examining false accusations
Plague performing department
Department of forest ghosts and spirits
Animal department
Department of the hell
Department for implementing 15 kinds of violent death
Department of rain Gods
Measurement Department
Abortion department
Monk and taoist priest department
Department of controlling theft and robbery
Department of earth Gods
Department for demons and monsters
Unjust death department
Interrogation and examination department
Department for preservation of of wilderness
Department for distribution of medication
Punishment department
Department of betrayal
Department for bestowing hapiness
Egg birth department
Insect birth department
Longevity department
Urging department
Toxicant department
Department for resurrection
Department for raising descendants
Department for upholding integrity
Supervision and examination department
Department in charge of suffering and distress
Department of instant rewards and retribution
Department of Zhenguan earth Gods
Department of pity and sympathy
Department of judging intention
Inspection department
Escorting department
Timely retribution department
Department of accumulating justifiable wealth
Jaundice department
Department of reducing longevity
Aquatic animal department
Water birth department
Mammal birth department
Department for indiidual destiny
Department for upholding loyalty and filial piety
Department for rewarding good conduct
Department of halting destruction of living beings
Department of opposing obscene acts
Department of reclaiming life
Door God department
Department for controlling evil spirits
Department of mountain Gods
Department of city and township Gods
Department of controlling bullying and cheating
Department of suppressing schemes
Department of wind Gods
Department for wandering ghosts
Department for promotion of 15 kinds of decent life style
Department of river Gods
Deep rooted disease department
Flying birds department
Department of petty officials
Evidence department for issuing a warrant
Department for increasing good fortune and longevity
Execution department
Final indictment department
Scripture reading department
Department for giving alms to taoist priests
Death and life department

Ming official, very han chinese guard.

Mr Piggy in the animal department.

Guess which department this was…

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In Beijing, there are quite some pigeon breeders. Especially in the old hutongs, one can see haphazard cages built on roofs, with pigeons fluttering in and out.
Often, these pigeons get a wooden whistle bound to their backs, that makes an eerie, eerie sound when air flows through it at speed. The first time I heard it, I needed a few minutes before I understood what it was that I was hearing. The wildest thoughts entered my mind, from UFO’s to radio devices, from the secret chinese pigeon squad to electricity wires going crazy in the cold, until I realized it must be the pigeons and it musty be that bulb on their backs…..

Listen for yourself: Beijing pigeons flying overhead.

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This voice is on repeat and on repeat and on repeat and on repeat the whole day. From 7 am till 11 pm, this is what you hear in the IKEA Beijing parking lot.

This country is heaven for those who appreciate the absurd.

Directions one must take..

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Once you start you notice, Chinglish is everywhere. It is in the translations of the descriptions the tourist guides post up about themselves (“Showing Beijing to you with my sincere smiling service”) all over the rules and regulations who may and who may not take the cable car up to the great wall at Mutianyu (those who have “customary abortions” for instance) it is in the roadsigns, in the advertisements, advertisements that sport, apart from weird translations, another remarkable thing: when advertisement in China depicts succesful men, then they are more often then not white men. Chinese people one sees as well, but mostly in the role of the happy middle class family. Chinese men (let alone women) depicted as succesful businessman is still a less common sight in advertisements.

That will no doubt change.

Apparently, sites dedicated to chinglish  are blocked on the chinese internet (like this one: by the producer of the two chinglish books I have seen so far, and probably also this one: the chinglish pictures pool on flickr, where people from all over share their pictures of found chinglish. So if you cant have enough of it, here are some other fine pictures to browse. Like “stampede point” or “cream of screw powder” and that superb one of a sign near a cashier that says: “Please send money to be considered clear enough”) The chinese government is a bit embarrassed by chinglish. They think it is a disgrace.

(I personally think it is a joy)

I often wondered why there is so much english on their signs. The explanation is given in this article about chinglish that can be found here: an article on

But the biggest reason for the whacky translations is the way Chinese language is built up, what words they use to describe things, how they make new words by combining two shorter words into a new one, and then google translate picks the meaning of these two words separately, instead of the meaning the words have when combined. That, and moreover, the knack they have to describe something as being good in the tallest superlatives one can think of. Somthing is not ever just ‘good’ in written chinese -do remark that in spoken chinese, it is a different matter!- things are either harmonious, heavenly or perfect. Saying it in any lesser way is the same as saying you didnt think much of it at all.

A particularely nice example of chinglish I found on magicseaweed, a site dedicated to surfing, that recounted a trip to Taiwan:

Throughout Asia a common occurrence is the mistranslation of phrases, shop names and public notices. In the literal sense I suppose they’re correct… kind of. But it’s always a funny thing to see — here are some top Taiwanese examples I’ve seen around the place.

Happy Joy Smile Wedding Shop – A Bridal Boutique.

Secret Garden of Your Charming Smile – A Dentist.

Delicious Breakfast Is Always In Beauty Castle – Breakfast-food Shop

Travel of the love story meets the soft love in the snow-white world. Tight dependence this instantaneous eternal – Printed on a box of white tissues.

And my favourite, posted in the elevator of a friend’s apartment block.

The club swimming pool will go to from November first next year to close the pause to open the usage on March 31th.

…And I swear I haven’t changed a word of this.

But on the flip side can you imagine trying to translate anything into Chinese?

Taken from: Magicseaweed

Here are a few of the pictures of Chinglish I encountered while in Beijing. Just a few. The collection is evergrowing.

A note to the last picture: It is the picture of an ad in the subway. Notice the young chinese behind me who wanted to get in on the picture, and did, in the reflection of the glass. Maybe he realized why I took the picture, knowing english much better then the previous generations do. I wouldnt be surprised if it turns out not to be a disgrace to him at all: He is chinese, and the chinese are back at the top of the world, where they are supposed to be. That is the atmosphere that one can sense in Beijing. It is palpable, it flows in the air amongst the wealthy Beijinger: the most distinctive sense of “yes we can! -and we WILL!” I have felt in my life thus far.


These are in a totally different category from anything I have seen in the West. Most of them are very, very cute. it is a shame they are disapearing, making way for the statussymbol extraordinaire: the car. Several thousand new cars enter the Beijing roads every day…. Expensive, clogging up the whole city, polluting, and not beautiful in any way anymore since the end of the seventies. (except a certain strand of VW vans of course, those lost it in 1991 only..)


These pictures of 798 art district were taken at various visits to that part of town, in autumn as well as winter.

Relevant links:

Ullens center for Contemporary Art

798 Space

Beijing Commune

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