Celebrity author Zhang Lijia answers on her weblog the artist Ai Weiwei, who complained in the weekly Newsweek that Beijing was no longer a livable place for him and a “constant nightmare”. She disagrees and explains why she loves Beijing.
I have immense respect for Ai who is an extremely talented artist as well as an extremely courageous man who dares to criticize the authorities. I wish our government were confident enough to tolerate a few eccentrics like Ai, whom I had the pleasure to meet on several occasions. I am sure that Ai, as someone who appreciates the democratic value, wouldn’t mind that others present different views.
I love Beijing. I fell in love with the capital back in 1993 when I first came to live. I found the city far more exciting and vibrant than my hometown Nanjing. There’s so much to offer, so many things going on and you always meet interesting people doing interesting things. Ai Weiwei himself is just a fine example.
I am surprised that Ai claims that there’s no favorite place for him in the city. Not even his cool spacey house in the art district of Chaochangdi? Usually people carve out their favorite corners even in the bleakest place on earth: you have to make the most out of where you live.
My favorite place is my neighborhood Jiuxianqiaocun – Wine God Bridge Village. Despite its name, it is not a particularly poetic place: it’s rather messy; the narrow streets are littered with rubbish; the low-rises red-brick houses are mostly simply constructed and the public toilets on street corners are smelly. A typical migrant workers’ area. Yet, for me, it is authentic, real and lively. I am renting a house here. There are a lot of activities on the street: people cook, wash their babies and socialize outside (well, their homes are too small). They share food when they cook something good and keep an eye on the neighbour’s children. You have to help each other out when life is harsh. Every day I chat and crack jokes with my neighbours, who always lend me a hand when I drag my heavy electric scooter in and out of my house. Joaquin, a friend stayed with me recently, grew up in Latin America. He described the neighborhood like ‘a slum in Venezuela without the violence or danger’.