Saturday, July 30, 2005

Beijing is Wangfujing

I just returned to Taiwan from Beijing, where, so people tell me, this blog is not available to the average Internet surfer, probably because of the name of the island in its title. That's politics, and even though my blog stays clear of the subject, it has still fallen victim to political suspicions. In Beijing, I didn't have much time for fashion, but I did visit a couple of the new malls, mainly to find refuge from the 38 degree heat. Too many small bars and restaurants, sympathetic though they are, still have to do without airconditioning.
So off to the malls it was, and by far my favorite was the Oriental Plaza near Wangfujing, Beijing's main shopping street just blocks away from Tiananmen Square and a 20-minute walk from my hotel. During my one-month stay, the Oriental Plaza - developed by Hong Kong's richest man, Li Ka-shing, became synonymous to me with Wangfujing, and maybe even with Beijing. The mall covers two floors, with the cheaper-end clothing stores and food stores on the underground level, and the more expensive shops on the first-floor level.
The Oriental Plaza has many famous brand names: Kenzo, Burberry, Pal Zileri, Max Mara, but also Chinese brands, such as Ne Tiger with its flamboyant evening dresses and the dark Shanghai Xu with its classical Chinese designs. My wife's favorite was Paul Smith because of his colorful flowers and stripes, even though I'm too conservative a man to be a fan of his. My preference went to the light suits at Pal Zileri and a stunning shirt with a green floral design at Valentino's. The price tag: 3,980 renminbi, or some 16,000 New Taiwan dollars, say 500-something US dollars.
The Plaza also counts four car dealerships: Rolls Royce, which hides its cars out of view on the second floor, Lamborghini, Volkswagen, and my favorite, Audi, where locals admire the Audi TT roadster, a red A4 convertible, the new A6, and a classic car from the 1930s.
The new Beijing has more shopping malls, but none of them seem to be as lively or high-class as the Oriental Plaza. On weekends by the way, the Plaza is the scene for promotional actions for everything from Bailey's Irish Cream to Taiwanese Weichuan yoghurt.
Beijing also has a Sogo but it's not at the center of a shopping district, as Taipei's Sogo is. West of Tiananmen you have the Xidan area, which is quite "renao" or lively, especially for younger shoppers. Back east, there is the World Trade Center or Guomao, a luxury mall with an indoor ice skating rink and a whole range of shops, including a Chloe boutique still being prepared. What I missed though were the lively crowds from the Oriental Plaza. Even on a late Saturday afternoon, the Guomao seemed deserted. My last mall destination was the Lufthansa Shopping Center in the direction of the airport, but that was a bit of a letdown. The center is really a traditional department store.
One destination I can well recommend, even though it is not a shopping area per se, is the 798 Art Zone near Dashanzi, also in the northeast of town, in the direction of the airport. Apart from art galleries, the zone also counts small stores, some of them selling clothes by local designers.


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