When Vince Li moved from Hong Kong to Beijing with his band, Offset: Spectacles, they settled in Tongzhou, a development on the outskirts of the city. Tonlifornia, an alteruniverse modeled after sunny Californian suburbs, was just the beginning of Li’s topsy turvy adventures in Beijing. Senior citizens dancing to M.I.A., buying bootleg CD-Rs while Waiting for Godot and starting a DIY analog label with his best friends would have most people lost in translation. Luckily, Li’s experience living everywhere from Vancouver Island to Kathmandu helps navigate the ins-and-outs of Beijing’s Wild West.
Vince Li, Wentai
Brief bio, occupation:
I relocated from Hong Kong to Beijing with my band, Offset: Spectacles, almost two years ago. I started Rose Mansion Analog, a DIY analog label with my best friends. Been trying out different jobs like subtitle translations and personal assistant/translator for overseas acts. Fun times.
What is the landscape of contemporary culture in China like these days?
Some call it the Wild West; regulations are loose and you can do whatever you want as long as you play by the rules of local “departments.” People are aware that whatever they do might vaporize with a snap of the fingers from whoever’s running the show.
It sounds like there’s a lot going on in the music and art scenes in Beijing. What are some of the places you feel like our readers should check out in the city?
There is a lot going on but you will find that many artists, despite years of being in the limelight, are still in the imitation stage of their artistic development.
242 Chengfu Lu, Haidian District.
D22 in Wudaokou area (五道口) is still the place to be if you are looking for the most interesting new acts in border-pushing rock music.
EAT & DRINK
What local dish is a must-try? At which restaurant do you recommend eating this dish?
Cucumber Salad (拍黄瓜). You can get it basically anywhere. It’s chunks of cucumber loaded with garlic, MSG and black vinegar. So evil, yet so delicious.
What dish should one stay away from?
Anything with an obscene amount of oil. Lamb skewers are a big favorite amongst Beijingers, but a lot of restaurants use lamb-flavored recycled oil to cover up expired meat parts and sell them. It doesn’t pose an immediate health risk, save the night spent in the bathroom and possibly a full roll of TP.
If you had one last meal in Beijing, which restaurant would you eat at and what would you order?
When our band first relocated to Beijing, we moved to a suburban district called Tongzhou (通州), which some locals call Tonlifornia, worlds apart from the city. There’s this nameless diner adjacent to our apartment complex that makes the best stir-fried cabbage (炝炒圆白菜).
Best cafe for coffee and working on a laptop:
Sanlitun Village North (三里屯北区), 11 Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang District.
The cafe is hidden away in a basement/open-air plaza, removed from the noise and bustling pace this shopping district is famous for. I usually don’t like to go to expensive cafes like this, but the cupcakes are really too good to pass up. Free Wi-Fi.
Waiting for Godot
Bldg 4, 24 Jiaodaokou Dongdajie, Dongcheng District.
This cafe has been a favorite among my friends and you can get bootleg spoken word CD-Rs for cheap. Good coffee, free Wi-Fi, the works.
Best bar and drink in town:
7 Dongmianhua Hutong, Jiaodaokou Nandajie, Dongcheng District.
Jianghu Bar (江湖) has the best vibe in town. It’s a hutong-style establishment, with folk music of various types on rotation and live folk on the weekends.
Best vintage/used bookshop
18 Huaweili, 4 Chaoyang District.
Panjiayuan (潘家园) is a huge flea market that sells mostly antique furniture and accessories. Hidden in the back of the market is a little alley where you can find all sorts of Chinese literature and pre-Liberation publications.
Best vintage clothing shop:
None in Beijing, but you could spend 50 kuai, hop on a high-speed train and head over to Tianjin, which only takes about 25 minutes, to a place called Shuguang Shichang (曙光市场). There you can find cheap vintage clothing imported from Japan and Korea.
Favorite outdoor space:
North and South of Dongzhimen Waidajie (东直门外大街).
You can go there anytime and find peace and tranquility in those practically empty streets. My favorite time to go is during winter.
Three Shadows Gallery
Favorite art space/gallery/museum:
Three Shadows Gallery
Caochangdi (草厂地) Arts District.
In terms of truly exciting up-and-coming photography and visual art, you should definitely check out Three Shadows Gallery founded by artist/photographers RongRong and inri.
Only local does or knows about:
Over a hundred senior citizens dancing to M.I.A. near Shuangjing (双井) subway station every night, no joke. They rock harder than most college boys.
How would you spend a day off in your city?
I’d spend the night on a moped cruising through 3rd Ring Road at 3am. That’s the true definition of beating the traffic.
Best website for local info:
TheBeijinger.com, best classifieds around town
WeLiveInBeijing.com, online community
PangBianr.com, an up-start DIY oriented website with everything from recipes to gig reviews (which is lacking in the city)