When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping

This post covers 5-8 October, 2010.

One of the things on my to-do list for the trip was some shopping. Books, CDs, some musical accessories (like strings for my Chinese instruments), and clothing were on the list. The Xidan area west of Tiananmen Square features one of the city's biggest bookstores as well as several buildings filled with clothing shops. Plus it was two stops away on the subway.

It being a national holiday, lots of people were off work and had the same idea I did.

The big sign there says 民族大世界 (Great Ethnic World, I suppose), so you might expect to find a bunch of craft shops and ethnic food stalls inside. You would be wrong. It's a huge area filled with vendors hawking clothes, shoes, bags, and so on, all for prices low enough that you have to suspect counterfeits. I wandered around in there, but didn't buy anything. Across the street is a newer, more reputable shopping center.

That's a giant video screen across the front of the building. It shows nothing but advertisements. I took this picture standing on the pedestrian bridge over the street, so we're at the second floor level. That's the place where I bought all my Astro Boy gear. There are about six levels of shopping in the building, then a level that has a gaming arcade, and then a few floors of offices above that. I have a friend who works upstairs there. Note the interesting design of the next building on the left.

Also notice that the air doesn't look nearly as clear as it did in the previous pictures. Those were taken on Tuesday, and by Thursday the air was getting a little thick.

Standing in the spot where I took that last picture, I turned to face south and snapped this one.

Yeah, it was a pretty hazy day. At the right side of the frame you can see the edge of the Bank of China headquarters, where I attended a few meetings when I was working in Beijing. Further south are more banks and office buildings - the shopping district is all to the north.

One of my favorite restaurants is near here, a short walk into the old residential area north of the bookstore. One evening I met a couple of friends for dinner there, and I swear the head waiter remembered me from the many times I've been there before, even though it had been over a year since my last visit.

We had 香锅 (Fragrant Pot), which is kind of like hotpot except that they do the cooking for you and serve it dry. You choose your ingredients from a big list. We had chicken (the other choice is fish) along with a couple different kinds of mushroom, noodles, tofu, carrot, and 山药 (shanyao, literally mountain medicine, a kind of root vegetable). Plus a pile of hot peppers and a few other things that make up the "fragrant" part. It's pretty spicy, and my stomach always punishes me the next day for eating it, but it's soooo tasty.

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