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Killing time in Beijing

Yesterday I stumbled across a shopping mall oddly named 'Joy', on my way back to Chaoyang. I wanted to buy a shirt so I thought I'd give it a go. On the whole, it seems that wealthy middle class men in China go for the classic out-for-a-stroll-on-the-promenade look. They wear chino shorts and striped t-shirts and a pair of sandals and look well turned-out but bland. I also look like this because I buy from thrift stores in the UK which have superb value clothes if you don't mind looking like a 55 year old Telegraph reader. It seems that Blue Harbour, the M&S line, is the charity shop mainstay, what lettuce is to salad. Blue Harbour equals timeless cotton striped shirts that could have been made in 1989 or 1994 or 2007. You can wear them and maybe feel confident enough to do a bit of sailing or gaze at the horizon whilst standing next to a sand dune.

Anyway, I've got the chinos and the smart casual shirts but I need to tilt my wardrobe just a little bit back towards my inner rock star, my inner bad boy wrestling with his demons. I don't want to look like a man who sits in a deck chair doing the quick crossword.

As I wandered past Jack Jones, the Danish chain that's popular in China, I heard the unmistakable voice of David Gahan, lead singer of DM. For those who don't know, Depeche Mode have made a career out of crafting songs full of guilt and sexual themes and are probably the best 'alternative' band out there. David Gahan almost killed himself with a heroin overdose. I don't know what their songwriter Martin Gore gets up to in his spare time but I should imagine he hires sex workers by the room load, and asks them to urinate on him. Anyhow, this music is far more me than the more mainstream and mainly Chinese music playing in the other shops. The Jack Jones stuff is therefore correspondingly more edgy, colours are darker, to hide urine stains.

I walked in and a girl approached me. I know the game. I was very laid back and polite, said I was just looking. Ok, she said. What I did not say was, please call two of your mates over and then all three of you can say 'hello' to me. Hello, hello, hello.

You know how it goes with me and hellos. I beat a retreat to a piece of understaffed shop floor.

But I saw in the reflection of the back wall that one of them was pursuing me with a shirt. Not one I was looking at, just a shirt that happened to be at hand. Surely she couldn't be suggesting I...She was. I walked out, telling her in my primitive Chinese that I was leaving because she was giving me trouble. Not in her book.

I walked into an American chain whose name really escapes me. Buffalo, or Bridge Fork or Bridle Camp or something beginning with B, plus Man and Woman. They were playing one of China's greatest pop songs- 有没有人告诉你- which seems to have the lyric-'is there anybody who can say they love me?' as its main hook line. The acceptable face of Chinese music is soft rock and the clothes definitely reflect a certain type of safe shallowness. They have t-shirts that give the vague idea that you are some sort of frat boy educated in some sort of upscale American university or other but not really. The weirdness of the semi-real ideas that get printed on certain t-shirts. People make themselves into impressionistic extras on a stage.

Clothes are just clothes I suppose. But what it boils down to is peacocks. I'm telling you, I'm just going to cut to the chase and buy a big hat. I could spend thousands on trying to attract attention from girls, otherwise.

The only thing that caught my eye was a t-shirt that was actually stylized in their way but also somehow at the same time a Sponge Bob t-shirt. It was 200 RMB (twenty pounds) and I wasn't going to buy it but I really got into Sponge Bob when I watched it with my niece and nephew recently.

Next was Uni Qlo. They were playing cool, somewhat monotonous modern disco sans lyrics. Probably something cooked up by a Belgian DJ. But there's just one problem. They have a shout welcome at every customer that walks past policy. You read that right. Every time a customer walks past a member of staff the staff are obliged to shout welcome (in Chinese). I don't mean at the entrance, I mean at any location in the shop. But supposing there are lots of customers walking around, you might think. You suppose right. There is the constant sound of someone shouting welcome. I got so annoyed by this, I left. Finally, I went to Costa Coffee and ordered a sandwich and a drink. My sandwich was still in the toaster when I was asked to leave because they were closing.

Back home, I read Howard Storm's 'My descent into death'. I'm going to write a review and post it on Amazon shortly.

Posted by safemouse 03:41 Archived in China

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Ah yes the welcome chant. I used to get irritated by its blatant robotic insincerity but now I have decided to gaily (in more ways than one) yell back 'Hi!!!! Thanks!!!!' and give them a nice 'Man Zou' before they can get in there when I leave, that really messes with their head.

by baby_james

Oh and to add to the '3 colleagues to come stare at the laowai' don't forget the FOLLOWING YOU AROUND THE STORE. That I still can't quite stomach, even if I give them a badly toned 'Wo xiang kan yi xia'.

by baby_james

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