Real World Beijing

Beijing is a land of dualities. It’s the juxtaposition of the old and new, the avant garde and ordinary, the good and bad, that makes this city an exciting place to live in. On the surface, it’s a rapidly developing metropolis with modern skyscrapers and groundbreaking architectural projects. But at the core of it, the Forbidden City and the old Beijing laneways remain a testament of this city’s ancient past.

There are always 2 faces to this city. Depending on how you choose to live in this town, you will see what you would like to see. Whether it is dining at a Michelin 3-star French restaurant at Tiananmen Square, or buying a piece of contemporary Chinese art at the funky 798 Art District, or passing by the LV and Lamborghini display windows near Wangfujing, there is no shortage of playground for those with cash. However, it is also because of this upper end of the market that gives rise to another side of Beijing. And on this side of the world, you can get noodles for 4RMB, LV bags for 100RMB, latest DVDs at 5RMB and Picasso’s masterpiece reproduced for you at a reasonably cheap price.

Recently, I have stepped into new territory and discovered a place for pirated books. In the middle of the expat bar area in Sanlitun, there is a roadside stall that sells English books at a fraction of the recommended retail price. Very few places sell English books in Beijing, and just like everything else that is foreign imported, prices are steep. But as you can see, Beijing has a place for everyone. There’s the real world with real (fixed) prices and there’s the, I wouldn’t say fake, but alternative market for the ordinary folks who can’t afford 60RMB for a movie ticket or a few hundred bucks for a book. These are places where people go for that feel-good feeling. Expect the following:

Customer: “Is this bag real?”

Seller: “Yes, it’s a REAL BAG.”

Customer: “No, I mean is it a real Gucci bag?”

Seller: “Yes, yes, REAL BAG. No worry!”

And that’s not all. You can even get things custom made.

Customer: “Do you have this kind of roller bag but I want the Swiss Army brand.”

Seller: “Sure. No problem! Which bag you want, I’ll put in any logo for you.”

So, the next time you can’t find that Coach bag that you saw online, let me know. I’ll get it for you at the Silk Market. For real.

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