Lost and Found

Even after nine months of living here, I’m still amazed at how big China is. The land, the people, the history, the stories, the opening ceremonies for the 2008 Olympics – all of it is China big. It’s on a whole other scale from what we’re used to. And it’s even more amazing then, when in this land of huge, you can find something so small.

I’d heard about the Cui Shadow Puppet Museum the way most of us did. In December 2010, the New York Times published an article featuring the small shadow puppet museum in the outskirts of Beijing. A few of my friends and colleagues sent it to me and I read with eager delight. (Click here to read the original article)

Upon arrival in Beijing, I asked a few of my teachers about the museum. One teacher told me they were moving, another told me it was too far away and yet another had never heard of it. I tried to seek a working phone number from the internet or other contacts, but to no avail.

Summer came around and I returned to Beijing but I still didn’t go. I had no more information than I did in the spring and I was busy. I left for the fall without thinking twice about it.

During my latest trip in Hubei, my master asked where I was headed after my visit with him. “Beijing”, I said. “Beijing? Have you been to the Cui Museum?” He asked. I explained my hesitancy. His son piped up and told me they had returned in July and would be around until next spring

Armed with the knowledge that they were actually there, I decided to give it a go when I returned to Beijing. On my first free day, I headed out on the subway with just an address in hand (I still hadn’t found a working phone number) and headed to the closest ‘Golden Bridge Park’ – which wasn’t close at all. As addresses often go in China, it wasn’t the right one. Two more hours of subway riding and I had at least arrived in the right vicinity. The address says Beijing, but it’s not the Beijing you and I know. It’s so far southeast of the city that you actually have to get off the city line and transfer to an extension line. It’s a full 80 minutes from the city center. As I finally ended my eternal subway ride, I stepped out into the great unknown of a Beijing suburb.

I wandered to the first bus stop heading south. Already waiting on the dusty meridian was a curly haired foreigner. For a few seconds, I wondered if she was lost. Then it occurred to me we might just be headed to the same place. I caught her eye and asked her where she was headed. “To the shadow puppet museum”. “Me too!” I said, “what brings you there?” “I’m writing a paper”. Call it instinct, hope or just dumb luck, but I had to ask “what’s your name?” She looked at me with a little apprehension and answered “Beatriz”. Of course, she was. Beatriz had emailed me a while back; she was working on a research paper about shadow puppetry on her year abroad from Spain and had been following my blog, but as it was now blocked by China’s firewall she had contacted me directly. We had never met face to face.

It was one of those strange moments that you can’t decipher whether it’s fantastically extraordinary or just plain obvious. Two people after the same small thing, no matter how far they’ve come, are bound to bump into each other at some point. The fact that it was this random afternoon, at the very outskirts of China’s capitol, at a no name dusty bus stop, made it feel extraordinary.

We rode together and found our way to the very tucked away Cui Shadow Puppet Museum. It resides on the first floor of a plain looking apartment building in a plain looking apartment complex. If you don’t speak Chinese, I wouldn’t recommend trying to find this place on your own.

When we arrived, I explained who I was and how Beatriz and I ended up here. After a short chat, Mr. Cui took us around the museum himself. He and his wife have purchased all three apartments on the first floor of their building and converted two into a small, cramped and chaotic place to display their collection. After walking through the rooms by the numbered order, I had still failed to see any sort of organization. The cases and rooms are not divided by region or time period or by shows. Sporadic bulletin boards are bursting with newspaper clippings, posters and pamphlets from items they’ve collected over the years and the skeleton of the apartments are still visible under all the puppetry.

It’s a bit of information overload, but that’s part of its charm. While other collections may have better pieces and display them in a more cohesive way, this museum almost feels like shadow puppetry itself: resourceful, cluttered and passionate.

But the clutter may not last. The couple plans to spend much of next year back in America, both with their son in New York and at the Indiana Children’s Museum, who has hired them in a long-term arrangement. When they’re gone, their museum remains closed.

Part of me is glad to see Chinese shadow puppetry making its way west towards America, but much of me is sad that the Cui’s had to look for opportunities away from home. Hopefully, this is just a new chapter in Chinese shadow puppetrys evolution for survival. Hopefully, they’ll find their new home and hosts welcoming.

Thanks for reading~

{My photos from this trip are few, as photography inside the museum is prohibited}

Directions on how to get to the Cui Shadow Puppet Museum(open this year until end of December 2011)

Name: 北京皮影艺术博物馆

Beijing Piying Yishu Bowuguan

Beijing Shadow Puppet Arts Museum

Curators: Mr. Cui (Cui Yongping) and Mrs. Cui (Wang Shuqing)

Address: 北京通州马驹桥, 金桥花园, 16

Beijing, Tongzhou Majuqiao, Jinqiao Huayuan, Number 16

Beijing City, Tongzhou District, Maju Bridge, Jinqiao Garden Complex, Building 16

Museum Phone # {86}010-60502692

Mobile Phone # 13161334683

Email: cuiyongping2005@163.com (not sure how often they check this)


Take Beijing Subway Line 5 heading south towards Songjiazhuang

Transfer at Songjiazhuang 宋家庄(last stop) to the Yizhuang亦庄 Line

Get off the Yizhuang 亦庄 line at the Tongji Nanlu 同济南路 stop

From there, hail a taxi (about 15 yuan) to the address above

Or take bus 542 or 821 to the Majuqiao #1 stop 马驹桥一号桥

The museum is in a building complex on the EAST side ofXihou Jie 西后街

You’ll have to ask (either with words or with a print out of the information above) around until someone knows how to direct you. There are no signs on the outside of the building complex.

Happy hunting~


2 responses to “Lost and Found

  1. I think your new middle name is either “Serendipity, or Serendipitous”.
    The magic you have created on this journey is stunning.

  2. What an amazing story!

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