A village unlike any you've ever seen before. [Photo: Radio86]
There are some places you read about in the media and then you inadvertently feel like going there. One such place is Sanlitun Village in Beijing, where you can witness things you don't normally see... in China, anyway.
This is one of China's most well-developed villages. The villagers are more fashionable than in most towns and cities, and the village has an excellent infrastructure and no traffic. Only happy people walking from one building to the other. Of course, this is no village.
It is just a name for a shopping district where you can buy expensive products. Famous foreign brands, such as Adidas and Apple, all have stores there. It is the latter of these two brands that gets media attention every time it releases a new product and this is how yours truly was lured into this commercial hell.
See the rich – they want to be seen
The fanciest store of them all... on a quiet day. [Image: Radio86]
This is a place where the rich and beautiful need to be seen, and tourists flock to see these people being seen. This is no exaggeration. When people exit the stores, shopping bags in hand, they stop to pose and have their photos taken.
The above certainly justifies a trip there. It's a true cultural heritage site... at least a pop-cultural one. Obviously, there is nothing here that you haven't already seen in any other shopping area in any other metropolis, yet you get to see a bit of this culture you normally only see on Chinasmack.com.
In this village, you have certainly left the usual Beijing behind and entered a world of the West. Even the food is Western, with its sandwich bars and cafés with modern settings, art and even wi-fi.
Oddly enough, this village is not over-priced any more than needed. Everything costs about the same as it would in London or Berlin, or even a little bit less. It is just enough to keep the poor away, but, of course, there is also the ever-present security guards in settings like these.
An ordinary crowd
On an ordinary Saturday night the crowd is dense in the village, but not impossible to wade through. Still, it is a relief to find escalators that can take you below. Underground, the shops have less fancy names and even the people are less fancy. As an additional blessing, there are not too many of them.
Peace and quiet is what you will find below the village, or as close to such as you will ever get, considering you are in Beijing. There are supermarkets and flower shops, as well as some electronics stores.
You can also treat yourself to a visit to the local hardware store. If you are a traveller from the West, you will most likely want to skip the wine glasses and the ceramics, and instead go for something truly Asian, like the knives and chopsticks.
The store is expensive and fancy, so you will be able to find chopsticks that cost up towards 200 RMB for four. However, they are made of gold, or are at least golden in appearance. They are heavy and will prove to be impossible to wield for the novice Westerner, but at least they look pretty.
As for the knives, you can get quite a variety. All the ordinary ones are there, but why not go for an elegant ceramic blade or a huge Chinese chopper? One thing to remember here is that blades of any kind are prohibited on the Beijing subway so, even though you saved some money on knife-ware, you will still have to take a taxi back to your hotel.
There is not much more to say about Sanlitun Village. Just that you will not see too much that you haven't seen before, but at least you can see the people seeing this.