Beijing

The rain eventually lifts. A new moon lights up the dusky city as a vast network of lamp posts ping to life, street-peddlers emerging from tarpaulin shelters to reassemble their mobile trades on wet street corners. Mahjong tables are hurriedly setup for impatient contenders, street barbecues lit, noodles soaked. Beijing breathes a deep sigh and sheds a warm glow across its crenellated skyline, a fiery horizon silhouetted by smokey orange haze. The promise of a better tomorrow, today.

Guarding Mao

D4 / 70 – 200 f2.8 / Beijing

Sanlitun throbs with a rhythmic beat, a tangle of pulsating veins, criss-crossing vessels carrying their cargo to and from the dazzling array of boutiques and eateries lining the artery walls.

Four Elements – Fire

D4 / 70 – 200 f2.8 / Beijing

A stark metallic bulge emanating from behind Tienanmen, the National Center for Performing Arts could very well be an escape platform for times of alien invasions, zombie infestations or an all-out meltdown. Skirting it’s circumference runs a medieval moat that stops all but the brave, or stupid, from approaching the blemish-free panelled hull. Orbiting like satellites, small electric police cars whizz by, chasing would be intruders who step too close to the water’s edge.

The PRC

D4 / 70 – 200 f2.8 / Beijing

Red Wall

D700 / 50 f1.4 / Beijing

Rising high above Tiananmen, the dominant Red Walls of Beijing’s most revered Hutong keep out the prying eyes of passers-by. The once bustling inner courtyards link one another through ancient stone arches, each emerging to wide open spaces filled with an emptiness of biblical proportions.

A Crowded Ecosystem

D4 / 70 – 200 f2.8 / Beijing

80 percent of domestic Chinese tourists are in 20 percent of the places, states the guide book, and a trip to China supports this rather intense fact. The famous destinations in the guide books are notoriously crowded as internal tourism has grown rapidly over the past 15 years. However, in order to escape the suffocating crowds, a short walk away from the main site can often offer surprisingly quick relief.

Panjiayuan

D4 / 14 – 24 f2.8 / Beijing

I leave feeling like I’ve just waged a war and am not sure if I won or not. My heavy rucksack suggests I found a few items of interest, my hoarse voice that I negotiated my heart out, my empty wallet that I didn’t barter well enough.

Sanlitun

D4 / 14 – 24 f2.8 / Beijing

798

D4 / 14 – 24 f2.8 / Beijing

An enclave in north-east Beijing, 798 district is a bastion of expression and freedom in an otherwise barren and repressed landscape. Or at least that’s what we’re told. Wandering the exhibitions, the galleries and work spaces, climbing the rusting steel gas works, peering through mouldy glass windows, peaking behind closed doors, taking in the art all around, you get the distinct feeling this enclave is more of a gated compound keeping things in, rather than the other way around.

A Stark Reality

D4 / 500 f4 / Beijing

Winter is harsh in northern China. Long gone are the heights of summer, whiling away the days on the shores of the city lakes, eating freshly cooked street food with a cold beer and great company. Autumn is but a blip in the calendar, perhaps a day, a week or two at most, and then winter drops a long, harsh, steady stream of arctic wind, snow, and temperatures so low you barely make it out and back alive. As the cities’ power stations fire up to 11, so does the pollution descend across the entire northern countryside, spanning thousands of miles from the eastern seaboard to deserts far away in the west. A heavy, sickening, choking mixture of coal and petrol and diesel and smoke and chemicals and everything else burning for as far as the eye can see cooks up a dense grey veil to cover the city, and with it, heralds the beginning of another harsh winter.

The sun looks old. Wrapped in a blanket of dense smog, the smouldering disc climbs low in the sky, heralding the start of a new day in suburban Beijing.

Sheltered beneath flimsy make-shift, blue-roofed corrugated housing, peasants stir from fractured slumber to a cacophony of groans and sighs. Belaboured migrants don boots with matching hard-hats as they swig Baijo and light-up in-between mouthfuls of packet noodles. Congregating en-mass outside their zero-star accommodation, the blue hats meander like a heard of cattle, heading in the general direction of the nearest construction site for another day building Beijing’s skyline.

The early afternoon heat leads to heavy summer rain. Drops of sooty water crash down into the lives of peasants and the nouveau riche alike. There is no prejudice here. Gucci-clad animal furs dart from mall to mall in vibrant yellow Lamborghinis, their eyes glued to large black mirrors as they plan their Friday night on the town. Tonight there’s a whisper of a VIP party at the newly refurbished Ambassadors residence, cocktails at Alchemy, and Mexican in NLGX. Finally it’s off to the late night bars in Sanlitun and beyond for dancing and drinking in to the early hours.

For others, a menu of Baijo and packet noodles in a wet, corrugated shed will be sufficient to see the day to a close.

The rain eventually lifts. A new moon lights the dusky city as a vast network of lamp posts ping to life, street-peddlers emerging from tarpaulin shelters to reassemble their mobile trades on wet street corners. Mahjong tables are hurriedly setup for impatient contenders, street barbecues lit, noodles soaked. Beijing breathes a deep sigh and sheds a warm glow across its crenellated skyline, a fiery horizon silhouetted by smokey orange haze. The promise of a better tomorrow, today.

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BARNABY JACO SKINNER

Photographer & Artist

All content copyright Barnaby Jaco Skinner 2018

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error: All images and text are copyrighted by Barnaby Jaco Skinner 2018
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