06 June, 2013

Back from Beijing

Good day to you, Gentle Reader; I hope that my absence in Beijing has been entirely unnoticed.  The nice thing about the old Half-Dipper is that it has gained a certain variety of belligerent sentience, and continues to publish articles even when I am away.  I try not to get in its way, and merely feed it a continual diet of dodgy photography and even dodgier poetry. 

So far, the beast remains friendly.

This was the third trip to Beijing in which I have been sans uxor, which is to say that I was plunged in at the deep-end, with only my rudimentary pre-school level Chinese to guide me, without wifely assistance (we tend to come every year).  My destination this time was a certain university that operates on such a scale that my entire university back at home could probably be fitted into it some three or four times.

The scale of China does not fit into my tiny mind...

The tallest building in Oxford is around 1/8th of this thing's height.

Despite being in Beijing (one of my favourite cities in the whole world) for over a week, I had approximately thirty minutes to myself, excluding time for sleeping.  Meetings tended to begin over breakfast, proceed throughout the day (inc. lunch), then over dinner, before I would get deposited back in my hotel for around 11 p.m.  Repeat until the day of my departure.

However!  The headquarters of one of the collaborators whom I was visiting, a certain Chinese state-owned telephone network (heh), happened to be right around the corner from Maliandaolu.

I thought that this might be a nice opportunity to show you the state of the place in 2013, and to give you a visual guide on how to reach my favourite tea mall.

Step 1. Start at the Carrefour supermarket (pictured above).  Most taxi drivers know this place; if they don't, you can simply get them to drive down Maliandaolu until you see it on the left.  It is pronounced, approximately,  "jia-ler-fuer".  It is the hub of the street, with crowds milling around inside and out.

This supermarket is a great base of operations, believe it or not.  You can buy snacks, extract cash from the various ATMs, easily catch a taxi, and even grab a Kentucky Fried Chicken (heh).  I am not too proud to admit that I did precisely that in 2007 when I was at Tsinghua University for a summer school, but am relieved to write that I have not done so since.

Step 2: head south.  On the east side of the road (i.e., to your left as you walk south), you will see the large archway shown above.  Beijing chaye etc. etc.  The new Qiyuan building next to it (which can be seen on the right in the above photograph) is quite easy to spot, given its distinctive architecture.

Step 3: pass under the archway and you will see the mall pictured above.  This glass frontage is rather flash for a Chinese mall: they mostly have flaps of plastic between the interior and exterior, although these are beginning to be phased out across the city.

Step 4: entering the mall, the first shop that you will see is Lin's Ceramics, from Taiwan.  The prices are horrendous, and the range is quite small, and so I don't tend to dawdle.  Instead, walk on through the mall (pictured above) and walk out the far end.

Chinese tea-malls (and malls in general) tend to look like the above.  They are not very romantic environments, and are great for headaches if you don't like artificial lighting.  Most shops will be empty or occupied by a bored occupant using their laptop.  The majority sell tieguanyin (or, at least, wulong); every now and again you'll see a dodgy outlet selling Haiwan or the like.  There are treats to be found, but you would do better with your time to proceed straight on...

Step 5: leaving the back door of the mall will show you Real China.  Most of the country looks like the photo shown above, and it is a charming mix of bustle, the smells of good food, and deadly traffic.  Looking right as you exit the mall, you will see the view shown above.  That mall with the big red sign (Beijing Tianfu etc. etc.) is our destination.

Step 6: the destination mall has a few entrances marked with letters, as shown above.  This is common to many malls on Maliandao (and indeed throughout China), where they are constructed on a grid-based system.  The shops inside are on "letter" streets running in one direction, and then "number" streets running orthogonal to them, so that you might specify the location of your shop as being "on the corner of B3", for example. 

In we go...

Step 7: yes, it's another mall!  Yes, they do all look alike.  However, this one has a number of really very good shops in it, where I typically spend almost all of my Maliandao time, these days.

You know you're in the right place if you find the above escalator in the centre of the mall.  There are two storeys, and the essential location (the loo) is on the top floor, in the far-right corner.  The back-up loo, in case this one isn't working, is back at the exit to the previous mall (see step 5).

Always (always) travel with a packet of tissues in China.  Unless you're in a good restaurant, there are very few places that will actually have loo roll, and even fewer in which you'd trust it if they did.

This mall has two brilliant places to drink pu'ercha within it, which I will cover in future articles.  One is Taochaju, run by Xiao Yunqing and much beloved by me and PM/twodog2 of white2tea, while the other is Fangmingyuan, run by "Xiaomei" and "Didi", much beloved by me and MarshalN.  Both shops had treats in store!

I turned up at a meeting with the Chief Scientific Officer of the telecoms company mentioned above carrying several tong of pu'ercha...


Hector Konomi said...

Need to bookmark this for when around there...

Hobbes said...

Just remember "you wifi ma?" and you can fire up your tablet to compare notes :)

It's nice to see that, in the last two years, wifi is fitted in every shop. It makes tea-buying easier, and it helps to show photographs of the tea...



Hobbes said...

P.s. "you" is pronounced "yoh", not "yoo".

MarshalN said...


I don't think "beloved" is quite the right word anymore. I recommended Fangmingyuan to you mostly because they are friendly people who can lead you around if need be, not necessarily because their tea was superb. In its current state, I don't think I would recommend anyone buying any tea from them.

Hobbes said...

Hold that thought, my grumpy old chum - I have an article on Fangmingyuan coming. :)