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As China has been thrust headlong into capital C capitalism, and for some, shopping is a way of life. But others just need basic necessities, a perfect balance between form, function and price. Beijing's widely varied population has shopping spots to meet any shopper's needs, but many are off the radar for first time visitors. CRI looks at where Beijingers go to lighten their wallets.
A focus of the Xidan area, Joy City is one of the largest shopping centers in the capital. Thirteen floors of consumer bliss, it's full of contemporary clothing and accessory brand names. The likes of Uniqlo and The Gap offer budget garments for those who can't afford the likes of Calvin Klein or Hugo Boss. Also, a number of Shanghai and Hong Kong brands such as Eno and Trendiano have set up base in Joy City.
For better or worse, each floor is given a name such as Sexy, Dating or Crash. Other mall highlights include the world's longest escalator, Beijing's second Apple Store and Muji (Japan's version of Ikea).
Three of the top floors are dominated by a variety of eateries. "We usually buy clothes here and have lunch," said Xia Die, a young woman. "[This mall] is a good place to hang out with friends."
Other visitors, such as Zhang, only visit occasionally. "It's a bit expensive, but there's a lot of stuff here… Sometimes it's nice to just have a look around."
At Dongzhimen, Raffles City is one of Beijing's more recent malls that quickly established itself as a major player in the city. A visual landmark at the Dongzhimen intersection, two curved glass towers are covered in a pixelated pattern of black and white glass modules. The main shopping area is centered between them.
Upon entering the mall, its structure is quickly apparent: rings of stores circulate around a central atrium, which is partly occupied by an angular curving pillar of glass triangles. Within that pillar are the likes of an Apple Computers retailer or a bustling Pacific Coffee Company. At its top, a conveyer belt of sushi rolls twists through a posh eatery.
The mall easily maintains its customer base with the usual staples of Zara and H&M. International and high-end Chinese brands fill out a collection of clothing, accessory and lifestyle stores. Younger shoppers are catered to with edgier and cuter goods at stores like Colorforme, Fengguo and Hi Panda.
Businessman Li Zhe visits Raffles City once in a while, preferably when it's not too busy. "For people like us, our income is ok, but here things are still a bit expensive."
A young woman surnamed Li agreed. "Some of the brands are quite expensive, but about half of the stores are okay." She paused before adding, "It's more suitable for young people. There are a lot of trendy brands here."
Every holiday season, in addition to sporting the usual thematic decorations, Raffles City invites celebrities for Christmas performances, generating a surprising level of hype. "You can feel it in the atmosphere," said an employee at Sundan Electronics.
The third shopping mall to make the list has clothing outlets that overlaps considerably with the malls above, though the likes of FCUK and Guess Jeans stand out. For families, The Place offers much, much more than most malls. A whole section of stores and services go under the label Kids' World.
But the real reason The Place stands out is for its value-added experiences. The most obvious draw is its 6,000 square meter LED television screen, which hovers canopy-like over the courtyard area between the two halves of The Place. This television is larger than a World Cup soccer field, and in the evenings it bathes the entire area in its glow. Nine o'clock is when the show begins, when the screen switches from static advertising to a full-on computer animation show, based on a theme such as outer space, the sea or ancient China. The shows draw bigger crowds in summer, but it's worth noting that the courtyard under the screen has become Beijing's best spot to count down to the New Year.
The Place also offers a high-end night club filled with Beijing's more glamorous crowd. Spark offers all the flashy design and laser lights that one can hope for in a house club, and they support gender equality by hiring female DJs. CJW is the swanky cigar and jazz bar, brought over from Taiwan. Live performances and well mixed drinks are the staple of this joint.
For the daytime crowd, there's Trends Lounge, an avant-garde cafe with one of Beijing's best collections of art and design books.
Joy City (大悦城 Dayuecheng))
From Xidan subway station, walk 5 minutes north.
Raffles City (来福士广场 (Laifushi))
From Dongzhimen subway station, take exit D directly into the mall.
The Place (世贸天阶 (Shimaotianjie))
From Yonganli subway station, walk ten minutes north.