Ever since I first saw the shopping center in Beijing with the English name The Place, I have been fascinated with the sheer scale of the over-the-top design. Little did I suspect I would eventually be commuting there every day. It’s one of those locations here that if you call it by its English name to a local, they’ll have no idea what you’re talking about, in spite of the prominent signs everywhere. That’s because the Chinese name is 世贸天阶 (Shimaotianjie), which translates to something like World Trade Sky Stairs – in other words, nothing even remotely like the English name. As an aside, it reminds me of a certain classic rock song about a stairway to heaven and the futility of seeking material wealth, but that’s neither here nor there in spite of the ironic appropriateness, since The Place is, if nothing else, a monument to celebrate wealth.
It’s really filled up since I first wrote about it a year and a half ago – most of the empty spaces have been filled, and there are a whole bunch of restaurants on level B1. Of course, the main novelty here is still the Skyscreen. Luckily they’ve got a lot more content available for it. Every evening at 6:00 we hear it start up and the glow from it creeps into our office. We’re on the sixth floor, which puts us exactly even with it, so we can’t see the images from our windows, but when we leave the building, there it is.
Sometimes they just show boring animations of their logo flying around, but they have several interesting CGI pieces, like that outer space one I posted on Youtube. The most frequent one involves an undersea scene.
Tonight I saw one that I didn’t get any pictures of. There were ghostly human figures floating above a landscape of barren mountains, and then it zoomed down to green hills with trees, and we fly along until buildings appear, and then we’re flying among skyscrapers. There were some pretty cool images of flying cars in between the towers (a little like Coruscant in the Star Wars movies). Eventually the view pulls back and you can see it’s an entire planet covered with buildings – in fact it looks a lot like a Dyson Sphere, and as the camera pulls back, there’s also a Ringworld. Somebody is keeping up on their sci-fi imagery.
Anyway, The Place is a very strange place. Like shopping centers all over the world, it is gearing up for the Christmas season. Now, Chinese people don’t really celebrate Christmas, and gift-buying is mostly relegated to the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year), so it’s not like the stores are really pushing anything more than the normal consumerist excess. But Western marketing is a very powerful force, and it seems they can’t resist the temptation to join in even if it makes no difference in sales.
A couple weeks ago they started erecting a giant tree-shaped scaffolding in the middle of the courtyard.
Then they covered it with green.
They have since added giant decorations to it, but I haven’t seen it lit up yet.
And they built an ice skating rink.
Not only that, but they’ve got a camera set up somewhere and they show pictures of the skaters and the mall on a portion of the Skyscreen. The weather here is now cold enough that most days, the ice is not in much danger of melting, and before long, they’ll probably be safe all day without even running the massive refrigeration unit.
And yes, ice skating is well-known in China. I have a friend who grew up in the northern province of Liaoning, and she tells me that when she was in grade school and the pond next to her school froze over, the kids would spend their lunch breaks skating.
The decorations are not limited to the outside. I mentioned the restaurants. Here is one of them.
I don’t even know where to begin deciphering this image I took with my phone… though I suppose the real deeper meaning is that there is no deeper meaning. It’s just the result of people unfamiliar with foreign imagery putting together what they think is a Christmas display. But…a saxophone?