Shopping: We went to the Silk Street Market twice. The first time, it was just way too crowded for me. No thank you! The second time, honestly I tried to find something I wanted to buy but I just couldn’t. I hate fake bags and I’m just not into pearls. I did buy a cashmere sweater (well, who knows if it is real cashmere but it did feel very nice) for 200 RMB (starting price was 600RMB).
Shopping here was an interesting experience with various styles of sales pitches. They went from guilt ("please miss, I haven't made a sale today. You are my first customer. Please buy"), to shameless flattery ("You are so beautiful. Please come inside and look at my shoes. Real leather"), to threats ("You said you would buy if I give you good price. Now you must buy" combined with physically blocking the entry way with their bodies to stop customers from exiting).
Silk Street Market is extremely crowded so come prepared to fight the crowds and ruthlessly bargain. We quickly got tired of girls grabbing our arms and endless arguments with sales people. There are a couple of coffee shops outside the market and a Macdonalds across the street just to regroup and take a break. The B1 floor has shoes, bags and other accessories. We saw knock-off Samsonite, SWISS and Tumi suitcases on this level which might be a good thing to remember if you ened up buying a lot on your trip. Level 1 has outdoor mens and womens wear. Level 2 has womens wear. Level 3 I think was a combination of men's and women's clothes, including knock-off designer jeans such as Seven for Mankind and Diesel. Level 4 was where you could find silk filled duvets, linens, rugs and a fabric section where you could make suits and Mandarin-style dresses made.
Actually, yes I did see something I loved (since I don't like fake bags or pearls)… on the 4F there was a store in the corner selling beautiful Tibetan and Hunan carpets. Made of silk not wool, they were thin, soft and oh-so-gorgeous. They also had combination of silk/wool which were also nice because they had less of a 'sheen' to them. But even the small ones started at about 4000RMB. Apparently they are hand-made and a rug can take up to two years to make.
Art: Had read a NY Times article, I believe, on the art scene in Beijing. There is a new area called Factory 798. Essentially, old factories converted into art studios and galleries. Galleries are intermingled with coffee shops. There were some great exhibits going on with up-and-coming Chinese artists. We spent a nice Saturday afternoon there. I especially enjoyed seeing some amazing photographs of rural China now and black-and-whites of China in the 70's. The photos were fascinating. I recently heard it being described as "Soho and Greenwich Village with Chinese characteristics", whether that is a stretch or not, we still thought it was a nice way to spend half a day.
It's not intimidating at all to just walk into one of their galleries. We didn't encounter any high-pressure sales pitch anywhere. Just as an example of how down-to-earth it is here, while wandering, we were invited to an opening of a new gallery showcasing a Dutch artist who has been living in Beijing for four years. Of course we were curious, so we went and enjoyed having local beer and potato chips while introducing ourselves to the artist and her friends.