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After a stroll through the 798 Art Zone with NKL (see previous post), he took me to the Art Museum of the Central Academy of Fine Arts (中央美術學院; CAFA) in Beijing. CAFA is an art academy managed by the Ministry of Education of China. It is considered one of the most selective schools in the country.

The CAFA Art Museum, designed by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki (磯崎 新), is located at the northeast corner of CAFA campus. The Museum opened in October 2008, for the University’s 90th anniversary.  So this year is the University’s centenary anniversary.

The school drew media attention during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, during which the students protested by creating a large statue, called the Goddess of Democracy.

NKL took me to see the special exhibit on the works by Xu Beihong (徐悲鴻; 1895 – 1953) who is the first president of CAFA and a painter.

Self portrait oil painting 1924

He was well known for his traditional Chinese ink drawings of horses.

Traditional caligraphy. I am no connoisseur. No masterpiece here.

He was also regarded as one of the first to create monumental oil paintings with epic Chinese themes – a show of his high proficiency in an essential Western art technique. These oil paintings are so strange as we are all used to seeing Western faces, green eyes and blonde hair.

In 1919, Xu studied overseas in Paris at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, where he studied oil painting and drawing. Notice he signed this drawing in French: Péon 1924.

Xu constantly pushed the boundaries of visual art with new techniques and international aesthetics, in bid to reinvent Chinese art.


1940 portrait made in Singapore

Between 1939 and 1941, he held solo exhibitions in Singapore, India and Malaya (Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh) to help raise funds for the war relief effort in China.

There were quite a lot of people on that day since it was raining outside.

There was a mock up of his study. He was a pioneer and a patriot.

It is really an interesting show about a painter that played an important role in the development of Chinese modern art.


While I was in Beijing, I met my high-school friend NKL who is in the art business there, and he took me to see the famous 798 Art Zone or 798 Art District (798艺术区).

By the way, I am not sure if the pile of bicycles in front of the 798 sign is art or a sign of excess of the sharing economy (people not returning the bikes that were shared via services like Uber).

It was a ugly rainy day and many of the galleries and eateries were not open. The consolation was that there were fewer people. The pictures are not pretty but you will get an idea of the place.

751 D-Park

Wikipedia has a lot of information on the history of the zone. So I will use their information in much of what is to come below.  The official web site is at

751 Ace Cafe

The 798 Art Zone is located in the Dashanzi (大山子) area, Chaoyang District, to the northeast of central Beijing. It is the site of state-owned decommissioned military factories including Factory 798, which originally produced electronics. The zone comprises a complex of 50-year-old factory buildings boasting a unique East German Bauhaus-influenced style (Dessau Design Institute). Factory #798 is only one of several structures inside a complex formerly known as the 718 Joint Factory.

Construction started in April 1954 and the factories started production in 1957. The factory quickly established a reputation for itself as one of the best in China. The Joint Factory produced a wide variety of military and civilian equipment. Civilian production included acoustic equipment such as all the loudspeakers on Tiananmen Square and Chang’an Avenue. After 10 years of operation, Joint Factory 718 was split into more manageable sub-Factories 706, 707, 751, 761, 797 and 798, following the Chinese government’s method of naming military factories starting with the number 7.

718 Art Ahead

The plans for the factory buildings, where form follows function, called for large indoor spaces designed to let the maximum amount of natural light into the workplace.

Arch-supported sections of the ceiling would curve upwards then fall diagonally along the high slanted banks or windows; this pattern would be repeated several times in the larger rooms, giving the roof its characteristic sawtooth-like appearance.

In 1995, Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA), looking for cheap workshop space away from downtown, set up in the now defunct Factory 706. In 2001, American Robert Bernell moved his Timezone 8 Art Books bookshop, gallery and publishing office into a former factory canteen; he was the first foreigner to move in. Later that year, Tabata Yukihito from Japan’s Tokyo Gallery set up Beijing Tokyo Art Projects (BTAP, 北京东京艺术工程) inside a 400-m² division of Factory 798’s main area. BTAP’s 2002 opening exhibition “Beijing Afloat” (curator: Feng Boyi), drew a crowd of over 1,000 people and marked the beginning of popular attention in the area.

In 2002, designer artist Huang Rui (黄锐) and hutong photographer Xu Yong (徐勇) set up the 798 Space gallery (时态空间) next to BTAP. With its cavernous 1200-m² floor and multiple-arched ceilings at the center of Factory 798, it was and still is the symbolic center of the whole district.

Beginning in 2002, artists and cultural organizations began to divide, rent out, and re-make the factory spaces, gradually developing them into galleries, art centers, artists’ studios, design companies, restaurants, and bars.

Insight Bookshop

Giant mural of the zone in isometric view

Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, UCCA (尤伦斯当代艺术中心) is an independent institution of contemporary art, founded in 2007 by Belgian philantropist, Guy Ullens, out of a commitment to bring Chinese contemporary art into global dialogue.

In June 2017, a group of China-based investors came together to restructure UCCA, separating its commercial and non-profit functions, ensuring its long- term presence in the 798 Art District, and securing its future vision.

When we entered the Center, a volunteer gave us a guided tour of the exhibits in Mandarin. He was enthusiastic and memorized the opinionated spiel about the paintings. But it took too much time and our attention, so we declined the personal tour after a few rooms. I did not take any photo in the Center except in the shop which had a decent range of books and design objects.

Apart from contemporary art, we visited the gallery of a copper artist/craftsman who made incredibly beautiful and complex copper sculpture.

798 Art Zone mixes art, commerce and tourism. It is exciting and exhausting at the same time due to its size, novelty, and diversity. If I live in Beijing, I will come here regularly.

One could think of this as Beijing’s version of New York’s Soho. While the development of the Zone has undergone a similar industrial to artistic to commercial pattern, it is not quite the same. The Zone is in a suburban area, not central Beijing, and much larger in terms of area. To me, it felt a bit like a theme park.

After the 798 Art Zone, my friend took me to the Museum of the Central Academy of Fine Arts. See the next post.


Closer to home …

Earlier this year while the 2018 Winter Olympics games were being held in South Korea, we went to visit our town’s most famous tourist attraction – the Olympics Museum (Le museé Olympique).

The museum is located on a slope facing Lac Leman, not far from downtown Lausanne. We took a city bus to get there.

The museum houses permanent and temporary exhibits relating to sport and the Olympic movement. With more than 10,000 artifacts, the museum is the largest archive of Olympic Games in the world.

The museum was founded on 23 June 1993, on the initiative of then-president of the IOC Juan Antonio Samaranch.

After 23 months of renovation between 2012 and 2013, the Olympic Museum re-opened on 21 December 2013. Outside the museum is a park filled with sculptures.

The permanent exhibition is organized into three major themes on three separate floors: Olympic World, Olympic Games, and Olympic Spirit. A visit begins on the third floor, where the Olympic World part of the exhibition informs visitors of the history of the ancient Olympic Games and the rebirth of the modern Games in the 19th century.

Highlights include a display of Olympic torches, as well as a video documenting major moments in the history of opening ceremonies history.

The second floor focuses on the Olympic Games.

Mascots from previous games.

Models of stadiums – Bird’s nest from Beijing 2008

Sporting equipment for a variety of sports are on display as well as the more than 1,000 video clips of Olympic Games events and athletes which can be searched and viewed at individual viewing stations.

The uniforms.

On demand are video clips of so many dramatic and magical moments.

The final part of the permanent exhibit covers the Olympic Spirit, where visitors are invited to experience being in an Olympic Village and they can test their balance, agility, and mental skills with interactive exercises.

Interesting optical illusion painted on the ceiling and walls of the stairwell leading down to the Olympic Spirit section.

Olympic medals are also on display. These were from the Winter Games of 1972 from Sapporo, Japan.

We had a lunch buffet which included some Korean dishes while watching the games on the big screen.

There was so much to see. One could spend days here. It was for us a very nice Sunday indeed.

Continuing with our desert adventure in Wadi Rum …

Wadi Rum is Arabic for “Sand Valley”, as Rum ( رَمَّ‎) means sand, especially light sand that can be carried by wind.

The official site describes …

Wadi Rum is a protected area covering 720 square kilometers of dramatic desert wilderness in the south of Jordan. Huge mountains of sandstone and granite emerge, sheer-sided, from wide sandy valleys to reach heights of 1700 meters and more. Narrow canyons and fissures cut deep into the mountains and many conceal ancient rock drawings etched by the peoples of the desert over millennia. Bedouin tribes still live among the mountains of Rum and their large goat-hair tents are a special feature of the landscape.

If you are curious about the local geography/topology, there is a map of the desert and rock formations online here.

The experience in the desert was otherworldly to say the least. There was not much wind (thankfully) and it was not scorching hot. There was no smell.

Distance was difficult to estimate except by the haziness of more distant objects. By the way, there are a few tents just below the smaller rock formations if you can spot them.

While criss-crossing the desert in canyons formed between the little and big rock formations, our guide took us to see some markings made at Thamudic times. Apparently, as much as the desert looks hostile, Wadi Rum has been inhabited by many human cultures since prehistoric times.

Nearby there was a caravan of camels … that is another touristic thing to do. All the people living in and around Wadi Rum today are of Bedouin origin and, until recently, led nomadic lives, relying on their goat herds.

Have a camel ride in the desert … exotic but I think it would be really uncomfortable and potentially dangerous if one does not know how to ride. 

There are sand dunes and they are found mostly piled up agains the rock formations. They are difficult to climb as your feet sinks into the ground and sand pours into your shoes.

We started around 3-4pm, so by the time we saw the camels, it was getting hazy as the sun is setting.

Not only the vista was stunning, it was also very quiet (except when we were on the back of the truck with the engine and wind noise).

Our guide said he will give us a treat by taking us to a spot to see sunset (Al Ghuroub). We sat on this rock ledge and enjoyed the silent sweeping vista. The sun was mostly hidden behind clouds on that day.

Transcendence is the word.

This spot, not only afforded us with a vantage point, it was also used in the movie, the Martian. Many other movies about Mars were made around here. 

What a memorable adventure !

Recap: I (Chris) was on a business trip in Jordan. At the end of the meeting at the Dead Sea Resorts (see post here), many of our colleagues and I joined a tour to see Petra (see posts here and here). While one can spend a whole day in Petra, some of us were tempted by an offer of a desert adventure.

So in the afternoon, we took this side trip to Wadi Rum which was about 2 hours drive from Petra – 5 of us went with our driver in a minivan.

We met our local guide on a desert crossroad, quite literally at a point in the desert where two paved roads traverse, marked by a street sign.

Jordan has no oil (a poor cousin among the middle eastern oil tycoons) but it has rich minerals (potash) which are valuable fertilizers. We saw lone mineral processing plants along the highway and they are connected by these roads and rail lines.

Our local guide was in his early 20’s. He loaded us on the back of his truck which was opened with two low benches.

Then we just went off-road … and entered the desert !

Wadi Rum ( وادي رم‎) also known as The Valley of the Moon (وادي القمر‎) is a valley cut into the sandstone and granite rock in southern Jordan 60 km (37 mi) to the east of Aqaba; it is the largest wadi in Jordan.

We drove on shallow pre-existing tracks at about 30-40 mph (I estimated, as we were sitting in the back whipping about in the wind).

The scale of this little mountain cannot be appreciated until one get closer and start to notice details of its features.

There are many rock-climbing tours on offer, we noticed at the hotel. Given the way the rock face has been eroded, there are many cracks and hollows where a climber can use to ascend.

Wadi Rum is home to the Zalabia Bedouin who have made a success in developing eco-adventure tourism as their main source of income.

Most of these photos were taken while we were clinging onto our seats and handrails on the back of the truck.

The photo below will give you a sense of scale of these rocks.

The desert is not flat and the visible tracks are drivable actually at some speed.

If the truck go off-track here, it could get stuck in the sand. The ride was bumpy at times but it was reasonably safe if you hold onto the guardrail on the truck.

We stopped by a tented village to have some sweet minty tea. While it is an installation for tourists but it was fun. It also commemorates the spot where “Lawrence of Arabia” was filmed. It won 7 awards in 1963. The real T.E. Lawrence who led the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire passed through here in 1917-1918.

While we were criss-crossing the desert, we noticed at a distance some high-tech looking structures. Our guide told us that they are modern tents for tourists and the facility is run by his brothers. I would like to bring Sue and sis here for a few exotic days of camping.

By now, how can you not think of Tatooine in the Star War movies where Luke Skywalker was brought up ? (That episode of Star Wars was not made here, however). This desert has been used in numerous sci-fi movie, the more recent ones are Rogue One (Star Wars franchise) and Prometheus (Aliens franchise).

By the way, I was happy to see where/how this aloe-like plant grows natively. Before this trip, I have only seen it in florists around the world as accompaniment to some cactus in little pots. I also saw a Blaps bettle but it crawled away too quickly for me to snap a picture. The desert has many living creatures despite its harsh condition.

Part 2 will have more pictures of the desert as the sun was setting.

I(Chris) had a business meeting at the Dead Sea Resorts area of Jordan. See previous posts.

Amman is the capital of Jordan and is considered to be among the most liberal and westernized Arab cities. It has one of the tallest flag pole in the world. Jordan is a monarchy, having gained its independence in 1946.

Amman is among the most popular locations in the Arab world for multinational corporations to set up their regional offices, alongside Doha and only behind Dubai. When the location of our business meeting was first announced, many of my colleagues were worried about safety. At this time and for quite a long while, there was nothing to worry about really.

Areas of Amman have gained their names from either the hills (Jabal) or the valleys (Wadi).There are approx. 4 million people and it is located in north-central part of the country. Residential buildings are limited to four stories above street level and if possible another four stories below. The buildings are covered with thick white limestone or sandstone.

We spent most of our time at the Amman citadel – Jabal al-Qal’a, (جبل القلعة) – located in the center.

It is probably one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited places, having been occupied by many great civilizations. Most of the buildings still visible at the site are from the Roman, Byzantine, and Umayyad periods.

From the top, a Roman Theatre built around 100 AD is visible, nested among residential buildings.

Parts of the Temple of Hercules are still standing.

Hand of Hercules. The full status must have been enormous.

While walking about in the citadel, a giant military propeller cargo plane (C-130?) flew above us – reminding us that Jordan is in the middle east.

After the citadel, we had a chance to stroll in the old city, checked out the market and bought some spices.

We walked through a mostly fruits-and-vegetables section of the market.

Fresh almonds, never seen them before until then, they tasted nothing like the dried almonds we eat.

Spice shops. An amazing range of products.

I am so curious as to how they all taste.

And these products are all so inexpensive, except we do not know what they are …  too bad we did not have more time to investigate.

After seeing the famous “Treasury”, we continued with our walk through the gorge which gradually widens and open up to a vast area. I, like many people, thought that the only thing to see in Petra is the Treasury.

It is the highlight of the site but there is an entire city on the other side. Petra (then known as Raqmu) was an important trading post located strategically in the desert at the northern end of the caravan route from Arabia to the Mediterranean. The people had great wealth and power at the time of the first centuries B.C. and A.D. It was reported by the Metropolitan museum of art that the fame of the Nabataean kingdom spread as far as Han-dynasty China, where Petra was known as Li-kan.

Petra is also called the Rose City due to the color of the stone out of which it is carved. Apparently, at certain hour early in the morning, the rock faces are lit by the sun creating a spectacle. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985.

During the reign of King Aretas III (r. 86–62 B.C.), the Nabataean kingdom extended its territory northward and briefly occupied Damascus. The expansion was halted by the arrival of Roman legions under Pompey in 64 B.C. Petra’s importance declined as sea trade routes emerged and many structures were destroyed by an earthquake in the 3rd century.

The Byzantine Era witnessed the construction of several Christian churches, but the city continued to decline, and by the early Islamic era became an abandoned place where only a handful of nomads lived.

It remained unknown to the world until it was “discovered” in 1812 by a Swiss traveller, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt.

The Nabataeans buried their dead in intricate tombs that were cut out of the mountain sides and the city also had temples, a theater, and following the Roman annexation and later the Byzantine influence, a colonnaded street and churches.

We walked into an amphitheater – one can easily imagine a town meeting or a performance being attended by people who live in the caves around the valley. The theatre consists of three rows of seats separated by passageways and was carved into the mountainside during the reign of King Aretas IV (4 B.C. – 27 A.D.). Jesus was born at around the same time when this was being constructed.

Under the emperor Trajan in 106 A.D., Petra fell to the Romans who annexed and renamed Nabataea to Arabia Petraea. Apart from the many incredible structures carved out of the mountain, they also built free-standing buildings.

Great Temple – remnants

Inside the settlement

Animals in Petra – donkey – a less active ride than that offered by a camel.

Notice the pattern of marks chiseled in the rock behind the donkeys  !

Looking back towards all the tombs on one side from the Great Temple … one gets a sense of the human scale of this early settlement.

27 sites in Petra are now available on Google Street View. Even if you are not going to see Petra any time soon, it is worth checking it out using better tech than my photos here.

After the business meetings in the Dead Sea Resorts, a group of my colleagues organized a visit to Petra including an overnight stay.

Petra is a historical city in southern Jordan which lies in a basin among the mountains which form the eastern flank of Arabah valley that run from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. It was about 2 hours drive from the Dead Sea.

A little vortex of sand crossing our highway. For us, it was rather dramatic as we entered the sand cloud with zero visibility for a few seconds. Thankfully the road was straight as an arrow.

The picture below was taken from the hotel the night before our visit of Petra which is hidden among these hills.

A visitor center was established to organize visits to the site. One can ride a horse or use a horse-drawn carriage to reach the site which is several kilometers from the entrance. Every one started walking downhill on the Bab al Siq.

Petra is believed to have been settled as early as 9,000 BC, and it was possibly established in the 4th century BC as the capital city of the Nabataean Kingdom.

The Nabataeans were nomadic Arabs who invested in Petra’s proximity to the trade routes by establishing it as a major regional trading hub.

Obelisk tomb carved by the Nabataeans in the 1st century AD.

Above the tomb are four pyramids (‘nafesh’) as well as a niche with a statue in bas-relief that is a symbolic representation of the five people buried there. Below it is the Triclinium, which was a banqueting hall.

The city is accessed through a 1.2 kilometres (0.75 mi) long gorge called the Siq, which leads directly to the Khazneh (Treasury). Two costumed guards stood at the entrance of the Siq (presumably providing employment to the displaced nomads who used to live in the ruins).

The Siq is essentially a rock canal that is 3 to 12 meters in width and reaches up to 80 meters in height. The main part is created by natural rock formation and the rest is carved by the Nabataeans.

Part of the reason the ancient residents survived in the desert is their ability to collect and channel water.

The Siq is gently sloping down towards the Treasury. One can catch glimpses of the Treasury between the rock faces adding to the suspense.

The Treasury is featured in films such as: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and The Mummy Returns. What a surprising sight to see in the desert.

It is amazing that the facade was created by hand-carving into the rock on this cliff face. The scale, labor and workmanship is unbelievable. We unfortunately cannot enter the building/cave.

Apparently, one can visit the site at night where hundreds of candles are lit. It must be magical.

We paid some local kids a little money and were then “guided”(allowed) to climb up the cliff on one side. It was very steep and slippery as the rock is soft and has been worn smooth over the years.

This view gives one a sense of the terrain and the scale of the gorge where this famous sight is located.

Camels were available to transport tourist back to the entrance or to enter further into the site.

In our next post, we will continue with the rest of Petra.


Chris attended a business meeting at one of the Dead Sea resorts in Jordan. It was the first time I visited that country.

Jordan is sandwiched between Israel and Saudi Arabia while it shares a border with Syria in the north. Security is a major concern in this part of the world.

Queen Alia International Airport is 65 km from the resort while the capital Amman is 45 km away. We saw a few checkpoints on the main road to the resort. Our hotel’s security routine included looking underneath our bus for bombs with a mirror-on-a-stick.

Jordan does not have any oil but it is blessed with the Jordan river which enabled it to grow fruits and vegetables despite the country is surrounded by deserts. The river has a major significance in Judaism and Christianity. This is the site where the Israelites crossed into the Promised Land and where Jesus of Nazareth was baptised by John the Baptist.

The surface and shores of the Dead Sea are 430.5 metres (1,412 ft) below sea level, Earth’s lowest elevation on land. Soon after we left the airport, we were going downhill on the main road.

The road that leads to the resort passes many farms and we saw truck loads of tomato, carrots, cabbage and onion. Many farmers set up roadside stalls to sell vegetables. They looked really good.

The resorts are located on the right bank of the dead sea and comprise a cluster of hotels: Hilton, Marriott, Kempinski and Mövenpick. We stayed at the Hilton which is closest to the conference center.

On the other side of the dead sea is Israel and the Palrestine’s West Bank. We are on the east bank of this lake.

The lights on the other side of the lake is supposed to be from the West Bank and Jericho.

The main reasons for tourists to come here is (1) to sample the dead sea mud which is rich in minerals and has numerous beauty and heath properties, and …

(2) to swim in the super salty water in which one cannot sink. With a salinity of 342 g/kg, or 34.2%, (in 2011), the hypersaline lake is 9.6 times as salty as the ocean. This salinity makes for a harsh environment in which plants and animals cannot live, hence its name.

The density of the lake water is 1.24 kg/litre (pure water is 1.0). One can effortlessly float about on top of this water. The extra buoyancy is strange at first but one get used to it quickly.

While there is no need to worry about sinking, it is important to maintain balance. Otherwise you could flip over or fall to one side and get the super salty water in your eyes or mouth. I felt little stings at a couple of places on my body. It turned out that I had a break in the skin at those places. I did not even know there were tiny cuts there.

Next door to the Hilton is a small shopping mall where one can buy dead sea mud, dead sea salt, and all kinds of products based on these local elements. Minerals are big business here – potash useful as fertilizer is the most important export.

Also visible from the hotel is a water theme park – i assume they must use freshwater in the pool and rides  … but how unexpected and precious it is to find a park in a desert where there is no water and next to a lake where it is so salty.

According to Wikipedia, the Dead Sea area has been known as a health resort for thousands of years.

The mineral content of the water, the low content of pollens and other allergens in the atmosphere, the reduced ultraviolet component of solar radiation, and the higher atmospheric pressure at this great depth each may have specific health effects.

The conference was over in 3 days. I doubt if I gained any health benefits but I enjoyed the uniqueness of the environment.

I (Chris) was in Hong Kong and managed to catch the Art Basel 2018 show on its last day. The show was hosted at the Hong Kong Exhibition Center on the Wanchai harbourfront.

Sis had complimentary tickets and access to the VIP lounge, where we had a nice simple lunch there.

A Swiss sponsor’s hardware were used to show the international scope of the organizer. AP had a booth serving champagne in the VIP lounge.

My favorite of the show is this video-on top of-a painted/printed piece. It depicts a mountainous megacity with high-rise buildings and construction cranes, and the street traffic is animated. Hong Kong is a bit like, that and Rio too. It is both futuristic and realistic.

The other favorite and also a crowd-pleaser is this sheet of sheer woven material that is ever so light, and it floats and undulates gently following the constantly varying air currents supporting it.

Cindy Sherman was there.

Timeless ?

The pieces below are those that caught my eye.

Live participant at this installation. She was cleaning the dishes.

I did not get the names, there were mobs in front of most pieces.



Nice miniatures of Hong Kong street scene.

Papier-mache with chinese ink characters

There were even organized tours. Somehow I doubt that it was organized by Art Basel.

I was curious to hear what the tour guide/commentator was explaining to those kids about a painting full of photorealistic gemstones and pearls framed by a bright gold-hued frame.

We did not stay long because there were so many people. Art Basel 2018 was a spectacle and a marketplace.


We love bookstores and Chris has been posting our visits on the blog. So far we have 25 bookstores from around the world from Moscow to Tokyo. Click the link to see the posts.

Moscow, House of Books

Tokyo, T-site

As much as Amazon is a threat especially to many small bookstores in the US, the bookstores (at least the major ones) have not disappeared outside the US. Thank God.

From the oldest in the world in Lisbon to a super modern store in Sao Paulo – both selling mostly portugese books …

Lisbon, Livraria Bertrand

Sao Paulo, Livraria Cultura at Iguatemi mall

From MIT which publishes academic books on advanced technologies to the Parisian publisher who puts out reprints of early 20th century original (translated) work by Einstein and many other physicists and mathematicians …

Boston, MIT Press

Paris, Edition Jacques Gabay

We will keep this series up.

Hope you find these posts interesting. To find our other posts on bookstores,  just click on books in the Categories on the sidebar of any one of these posts.

When I(Chris) was in Hong Kong during Easter, I came across this bookstore.

Breakthrough (突破) was a magazine that was published between 1973 and 1999. When I was in secondary school in Hong Kong, I was a school librarian and flipped through it. The history of the magazine, the social movement and its activities are described here.

Breakthrough is a non-profit, non-governmental organization dedicated to the education and development of youth culture with a christian viewpoint.

As you enter, you are greeted by this sign which says “re-experiencing the temperature of paper books”.

The organization’s mission is to develop, via media and interpersonal relationship, the city’s youth so that they become leaders of the 21st century.

They are a publisher of chinese language books.

The Book Gallery located near Jordan is one of three bookstores run by the organization.

These are key rings made with resin which resembles the signs used by old Hong Kong taxi and minibus (I think), particularly the font and colors.

Can be custom made with your phrase.

There is a coffee bar with barista service.

They also stocked a small collection of card games and board games, some of them translated from English or German.

The gallery like most shops in Hong Kong is small but it felt open and comfortable. A nice place to rest your feet and browse.

It is rare in Hong Kong to find an establishment like Breakthrough that is doing something meaningful and not entirely commercial.

Before we leave Oslo, we have an addition to our bookstore of the world series …

Eldorado Bokhandel is the largest independent bookstore in Scandinavia offering 4,000 square metres of books, culture and music. It is located at Torggata 9A.

The bookstore opened in 2013. The facade is fairly non-descript, narrow and does not reveal much about the store. We almost walked past it.

Eldorado has Norway’s largest departments for children’s books, audio books and classical music, as well as a coffee shop, a back yard restaurant (we did not see as it was winter) and four levels (we did not count).

It had a large collection of classical music by Naxos.

In fact, the layout is a bit confusing as it has several levels and the rooms are not rectangular.

A ramp with ducks in the background.

The atrium space with armchairs were very welcoming.

They have a fair number of English books and it was a very up-to-date selection.

and it included Norwegian literature

In English, a reason to buy books !

… a small theatre with comfy chairs

Drawings of people from around the world on the walls above bookshelves of travel books


… a throne from fantasy books ?

Evolution of the Penguin books logo  … cannot remember the context of this poster, maybe it is just a poster for sale.

They were closing at 6 … never figured out what the tall man is about.

Quite a bookstore befitting the name Eldorado.

While in Oslo, we spent half a day in the National Museum of Norway. It houses a very famous painting by a norwegian.

Edvard Munch’s The Scream – 1893 (cropped)

A selection of Munch’s work can be viewed on the museum’s site.

Edvard Munch’s The Girls on the Bridge – 1901


There were also a couple of Degas’s bronze ballet dancers.

We know very little about Norway’s art. Below are a few that we liked.

The collection of old masters and modern art at the National Museum is one of the largest collections in Scandinavia. It consists of 4,500 paintings and 900 sculptures from antiquity until approximately 1945.

Can’t ignore these Norwegian flags.

Ethnic country girls – in their costumes.

Cold climate city – we liked these paintings that depict uniquely Scandinavian life.

Catching salmon in the baskets. This painting is massive and it was immersive standing in front of it. ; )

Moody man – perhaps it is the lack of sunlight for 6 months – many of the Scandinavian paintings are sombre.


Nasjonalmuseet’s collection contains around 400 000 art, architecture and design objects. Almost 40 000 objects are available online here.

Happy viewing.

In Oslo, with our ticket purchased for the National Museum in Oslo, we could use them to enter the National Museum of Architecture as well.

This establishment was opened in 2008. The main building was completed in 1830 as a division office for Norges Bank. It was adapted and extended by Sverre Fehn (1924–2009), who was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1997.

A gingerbread architecture competition is held annually by the National Museum (Nasjonal Museet), Norway.

Oil rig

All the entries can be seen here at the museum’s website.


Some of the results and the winners were on display.


The gingerbread exhibits was retrievable by the contestants on January 6 and any Houses not retrieved will be eaten.


After the audience award ceremony on January 7, a gingerbread House smash-and-eat was held to conclude the competition.


This is part 2 of our post on Gustav Vigeland, one of the most famous sculptor of Norway. The following are a selection of his works on display at the Vigeland museum (Vigeland museet) in Oslo. For more info about the museum, click here to see part 1.

In this post, we focus on the works. The photos below are organized according to the order they appear in the museum floorplan and the order probably corresponds to the periods when they were made.

There were only a few of these flat panels but they are so much details in each.

A different style altogether.


From a gallery of busts.

Using tree-like structure as a frame …

Smaller square panels appearing later in the exhibition.

 Nightmarish images

The dragon was used consistently to represent sin.


These massive columns can be seen in his sculpture park (Vigelandsparken), including smaller versions of the famous Monolith (Monolitten), with its 121 figures struggling to reach the top of the sculpture.

The park was too icy so we did not go.


A partially disassembled mould showing the making of a sculpture – the angry child statue is a favorite in the park, and is being reproduced on various souvenirs.

Go see them yourself. All these pieces are life-size or larger than life. They cannot be fully appreciated in photos.

Gustav Vigeland is one of the most famous sculptor of Norway. We visited a museum – Vigeland museum (Vigeland museet) in Oslo which houses an almost complete collection of his work.

In 1921 the City of Oslo decided to demolish the house where Vigeland lived and build a library. After a long dispute, Vigeland was granted a new building from the city where he could work and live: in exchange, he promised to donate to the city all his subsequent works, including sculptures, drawings, engravings and models. It was also agreed that the building will be used a museum of his work.

Left row. Use of tree-trunks like structure to create a frame.

Right row. One figure almost fell outside of the frame.

The neo-classical museum was first opened in 1947 which exhibits his works and documents how the sculptures were made.

This one has funny whiskers.

His last name was Thorsen but chose to use the name Vigeland where he lived with his grandparents after his father died.

His work reflects his interest in death and relationships between men and women.

The museum has sketching boards and folding chairs for loan.

Most characteristic to Vigeland’s works in the first half of the 1890’s is an emphasis on the inner life of his figures, combined with a dissolved and almost sketch like form. He was also the designer of the Nobel Peace Prize medal.

Some art critics considered Vigeland’s sculptures to be expressions of nazi or fascist aesthetics.

We did not go upstairs to see where the sculptor lived from 1924 until his death in 1943 (appointment needed to see the apartment).

Initially we also wanted to visit his sculpture park (Vigelandsparken) which is extremely popular. But due to snow which had frozen into sheets of ice, it was impossible for us to go and enjoy the park.

Here is a photo borrowed from Wikipedia of the famous Vigeland installation which features 212 bronze and granite sculptures. The sculptures culminate in the famous Monolith (Monolitten), with its 121 figures struggling to reach the top of the sculpture.

Three shorter versions of the column made of plaster were shown in the museum.

Most of these sculptures were created as a model for the bronze pieces installed in the park.

Fascinating work. See part 2 for more photos of his works.

Loved to have seen the park. Next time.

The Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art (Astrup Fearnley Museet) is a privately owned contemporary art gallery in Oslo in Norway. It was founded and opened to the public in 1993. In 2012 the museum moved to two new buildings designed by Renzo Piano on Tjuvholmen (see previous post about the area).

The museum is funded by two philanthropic foundations established by descendants of the Fearnley shipping family, the Thomas Fearnley Foundation and the Heddy and Nils Astrup Foundation.


Viewer’s discretion advice.


The collection’s main focus is the American appropriation artists from the 1980s, but it is currently developing towards the international contemporary art scene, with artists like Damien Hirst (National History series), Anselm Kiefer, Jeff Koons, Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman, Matthew Barney, Tom Sachs, Doug Aitken, Olafur Eliasson and Cai Guo-Qiang.

Mother and Child (Divided) 1993 – Damien HirstFormaldehyde tanks preserving the mounted corpse of a cow and a calf.

The corpses were cut longitudinally and neatly into two halves with the internal organs exposed.

It was not as shocking as described because the internal organs looked the same as those sold in supermarket.

It was just a bit perturbing to see them in its natural position in functional relationship with the other parts.

God alone knows 2005 – Damien Hirst – another set produced more recently.

A poem is engraved onto the marble pedestal. The text reads:

Here is the night
It is a reflection of the hopeful terror of the day
Be not afraid

Can’t help but associate this piece with biblical crucifixes – the sacrificial lamb.

There is a catalog of its collection online – click here and  here.

Gilbert & George

About their collection, on their web site, they stated that “This exceptional collection does not aspire to present an encyclopaedic overview of international contemporary art.

Instead, it is an agglomeration of works by artists who occupy key positions in the field, either because they have created visual languages, objects and images of great originality and quality, or because they have reinvented significant aspects of cultural production.”

Giant books made of lead – Anselm Kiefer

Francis Bacon

The museum is not big as it only had a few galleries.


They put on temporary exhibitons – so it is well worth coming back.

Continuing with our visit of Oslo …, the Nobel Peace Center (see previous post here) is at the start of Aker Brygge.

Aker Brygge is a part of the Sentrum area, just west of Oslo down town.  It is known for its piers, where eateries with outdoor tables serve international cuisine, or casual fare like burgers and steak. It is one of the most visited area of Norway.

It was the former ship yard of Akers Mekaniske Verksted, which ceased operations in 1982.


A few old industrial buildings were demolished, while several of the major workshop halls were rebuilt as shopping areas. The first step of the construction was finished in 1986.

The area was reorganized between 2010 and 2014.

A popular summer boat bar is moored nearby, and ferries depart year-round for the scenic Oslo Fjord. There were locals and tourists around even in mid-winter – it must be really fun in the summer.

The new development included an inside street, going through the main buildings. Aker Brygge area today consists of 13 separate units.

Local cultural draws include the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art (designed by Renzo Piano, see next post).

Tyuvholmen is the area located on a peninsula sticking out from Aker Brygge into the Oslofjord.

The first element of the name is tjuv = ‘thief’, the last element is the finite form of holme = ‘islet’. Thieves were executed here in the 18th century. An older (Danish) spelling of the name was “Tyveholmen”.

The name for a modern hotel on the islet –  The Thief – also originates from this history.

It was a good 20 minutes walk from the Nobel Peace Center to here.

At the tip of the peninsula is the Tjuvholmen Sculpture Park. The park’s concept was designed by Renzo Piano and developed in conjunction with the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark.

We did not have time to walk out to the beach but the sunset was spectacular.

Take a look inside the Astrup Fearnley museum in our next post.

After our visit to Tromsø, we spent a few days in the capital of Norway.

In Oslo, the Nobel Peace Center which was 5 minutes walk from our hotel. It is located in the former Oslo Vestbanestasjon (Oslo West railway station) train station building from 1872, close to the Oslo City Hall and overlooking the harbor.

The Nobel Peace Center opened in the heart of Oslo, Norway on 11 June 2005. It is a center where you can experience and learn about the various Nobel Peace Prize Laureates and their activities as well as the remarkable history of Alfred Nobel.

They used the wall outside too. The building behind the wall is not part of the Center.

The Nobel Peace Prize (Nobels fredspris) is one of the five Nobel Prizes created by the Swedish industrialist, inventor, and armaments manufacturer Alfred Nobel, along with the prizes in Chemistry, Physics, Physiology or Medicine, and Literature.

Since March 1901, it has been awarded annually to those who have “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”.

The biographies and careers of Nobel Peace Prize laureates can be summoned and replayed on a video system.

The center also serve as voice and meeting place where exhibits, discussions and reflections related to war, peace and conflict resolution is in focus. Obama is here.

The Center combines exhibits and films with digital communication and interactive installations.

The Center has a small book and souvenir shop. Good selection.

In our opinion, the individual exhibits were done well but the overall experience of the visit was underwhelming.