Farewell, Friendship Store!

A blogger who first shopped at the Beijing institution a quarter of a century ago reminisces about the store, which will soon be meeting the wrecking ball. A charming and bittersweet first-person recollection of the way things used to be.

The Discussion: 3 Comments

Nothing lasts forever.

August 24, 2006 @ 5:58 am | Comment

Nicely written piece. I wonder what the average Chinese thought about having a place like that where only the elite and laowai could shop. I was just in the store for the time last month and it reminded of a dying American department store, like the massive Hudson’s store in downtown Detroit just before it closed. It’s interesting that the replacement will be yet another mega-mall filled with luxury brand names and few buyers. If the Friendship store really only netted $9,000 last year, I can’t imagine how many decades it will take to turn a profit in another luxurty mall.

The average person can’t afford to buy a single outfit in most of these stores. The small, but very affluent upper class needs to learn to do something with their money along the lines of philanthropy rather than the mad consumerism of their only role model, the US. I find it interesting that every time I’ve visited a place like IKEA, I see people buying massive quantities of everything. I think store like that make much more sense then Louis Vitton and Christian Dior. Let’s not forget that the knock-offs can also be outstanding and a fraction of the price.

August 24, 2006 @ 7:34 am | Comment

The WaPo article gets into what the Friendship Store signified for a lot of “average” Chinese, back in the day when they weren’t allowed to shop there. Like I mentioned, in my naivety back then, I found the whole thing really bizarre. But this sort of segregation wasn’t uncommon. One time we traveled to Inner Mongolia, which had just begun to allow foreign tourists, with a group of Hong Kong students. When we got there, the China Travel people tried to separate us from the group for dinner – they actually wanted us to eat behind a screen away from everybody else! We were just students at the time and were incensed at being cut off from the Hong Kong kids, who were our age and a lot of fun. We ran into that kind of stuff regularly, and it was always a battle to be treated equally, to not automatically get put in first class everywhere (we were on a budget).

Nowadays, of course, I’m all about the soft sleepers… ๐Ÿ™‚

Oh, hah, the one thing that was funny about Inner Mongolia was that at one point, they put us on top of ponies to pose for photos. But since we were Americans and of course all Americans are cowbodys, I actually got to ride the pony around the grassland for a while.

Luckily I actually did kinda know how to ride a horse, or it might not have ended well…

August 24, 2006 @ 10:28 am | Comment

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