Written by Lim Sio Hui Illustration by Marion Vitus
Explore the contrasts of old and new in Beijing with Aric Chen, curator for Hong Kong's upcoming M+ museum, and Beijing Design Weeks creative director.
"Dashilar has an authentic Old Beijing feel theres this incredible life to the neighbourhood that you don't see much anymore," says Aric, who believes the best way to experience it is to wander off the main streets of Dazhalan Street and Qianmen Avenue.
"You can find great traditional shops, such as the Rui Fu Xiang Silk Store which has been here since the Qing Dynasty. Nei Lian Sheng is famous for its shoes – they still make these hand-sewn cloth-soled shoes, made of layers and layers of cotton." Aric also recommends Dai Yue Xuan for beautiful Chinese calligraphy brushes of all shapes and sizes, crafted with different animal hairs. "They make them in the store, so you can watch them doing it," he shares.
Many independent artists and design boutiques are also starting to move into the area, tips Aric. The young filmmaker Gareth Repton just opened Luma Lu studio: "He specialises in a type of DIY filmmaking using hand-crank lomo cameras and iPhones, and will be doing public workshops in the weekends." UBI, just recently opened, is a gallery that specialises in contemporary Chinese and Dutch jewellery and ceramics – "It's held in a beautiful old building with a little courtyard and a lot of original woodwork."
For an authentic Beijing meal, head for Tian Hai restaurant: "My favourite dish there is dou zhi, a sour soybean porridge, but its an acquired taste most people hate it! Tian Hai is also known for its stewed offal, but they also have very good dumplings and more normal dishes for the not so adventurous. The owner Mr Jia was born in the neighbourhood. His real passion is photography and he also puts up exhibitions once in a while, usually of
Not far away is Gege Su, a classic Beijing snack sold from a window on the street. "These crispy corn crackers come in sweet as well as savoury flavours – it's probably not for you if you're on a diet, but if not, it's really quite delicious!"
After a day exploring Dashilar, Aric recommends dinner at Capital M restaurant. "It serves fantastic Mediterranean fusion food overlooking Tiananmen Square book ahead for a seat on the terrace."
New Yorker Aric Chen to moved to Beijing four years ago to help launch Beijing Design Week, which has many activities held around Dazhalan Street (pronounced Dashilar in the local dialect), one of Aric's favourite neighbourhoods. Once the central business district and commercial centre of the ancient capital, Aric considers Dashilar a special microcosm of Beijing. "There's no other neighbourhood in the city – or China, for that matter – that shows so many layers of history in its urban fabric."