A Cultural Renovation

by United Blogs of Benetton on: 五月 1st, 2010

The Cultural Revolution decimated Beijing’s 3.000 Buddhist and Taoist temples, through arson or conversion to housing and manufacturingThe Hong’en Temple in Zhangwang Hutong also bears scars from that period. Rediscovered by Brunei architect Robin Foo in 2004, this Yuan Dynasty temple served congregations of Buddhists in the Yuan dynasty and Daoists in the Qing dynasty, stored machine parts in the 1970s, and was finally converted into dormitories and a wet market for locals. Foo took it on himself to rescue this ancient space.

Now a glass roof connects the temple to the rest of the complex, creating a capacious covered courtyard now dotted with tall, slender lounge seats and velvet topped tables, ready to be candlelit and serve as the reception room for invitees to one of the exclusive events managed by Foo and his team, operating out of the temple complex as events management company Contempio Beijing.

The main temple, now a fully equipped theatre for performances and seminars, has its unassuming door surmounted with a faded picture of the Great Helmsman. Since he unleashed the Cultural Revolution, Mao is in some ways as much an architect of the Hong’en Temple’s current anatomy as Buddha or the Dao. Dramatic scarlet velvet drapes create the theatrical mood in the bar area, its mezzanine boasting a pair of beautifully restored Chinese four posters.

The rear office space also enmeshes international sophistication into its unmistakably Chinese backdrop, a spectacular crystal chandelier hanging from the joisted ceiling beams, rotating and reclining easy chairs rubbing up against an antique backless wooden bench, and an ancient quern- haped stone resembling a wellhead has been transformed into a coffee table, providing a stable underpinning for delicate glass ornaments and modern living magazines.

The preservation of the old takes precedence over the convenience or glitz of the new, and the resulting space has a calm and a sophistication Beijing’s legion of modern events spaces fail to achieve for the simple fact that they have no history.

Stylites in Beijing, Photos by Eric Gregory Powell


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 Yuanyuan Says Hobbies are More Fun

by United Blogs of Benetton on: 四月 8th, 2010

Most full time white collar jobs in Beijing don’t provide enough outlets for creativity. Typical Chinese parents tend not to encourage many interests in their children beyond getting top grades in school, mastering English, and securing a high paying job. Efforts of parents, relatives, and teachers often make the lives of children so restricted prior to university entrance that the various avenues for self expression open to them are very limited.

As with children anywhere else in the world, this encourages rebelliousness and a desire to break beyond established barriers. In China this period of questioning is often delayed till the twenties.

It is a blessing when such disobedience finds productive creative outlet.

Growing up, Yuanyuan was never given enough time to pursue her interest in handicrafts. Despite her lack of interest in all things related to calculations of profit and loss, Yuanyuan was forced by her parents to study finance in college.

She found it entirely boring and after graduation had no interest in jobs in related fields. Still, the only real road open to her was work in the corporate sector and she entered a foreign public relations company. This was somewhat interesting, but she still felt that something more enriching had to be around the next corner.

So she returned to her childhood interest in creating things and them making by hand. She asked her boyfriend for a sewing machine for her birthday and most spare moments are now spent knitting scarves and other objects. From her courtyard in the heart of Beijin’s Shichahai community, she makes pillow cases, scarves, hats, books, booties, knit ties, and just about everything else she can possibility get her mind and hands around.

Her life is quite idyllic when she isn’t in a high rise in front of the screen. She is lucky to live in Beijing’s most captivating neighborhood, where despite boring bars and noisy tour groups, remaining are the charms of getting lost in the winding hutongs (alleys) with their water stained walls and wind beaten red doors. Some corners remain where life has changed little since the Qing Dynasty even as China as somersaulted wildly and brilliantly out of its past.

She has various plans to start businesses related to her crafts, perhaps having local people produce them for sale in markets throughout the city. However, thus far the more practical demands of work have made realizing these goals challenging.

In the end, having such a stimulating hobby is often a great enough reward in itself and makes getting through the work day a bit less tedious.

Stylites in Beijing


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