shu and joe

moving day

Published on February 1, 2006

It’s February 1: moving day. We didn’t have much time to find and outfit an apartment (just about a week, when you account for New Year holidays), so we were determined to act quickly. We signed our lease just four days after arriving in Beijing. The next day we were out hunting for furniture. We took a cab out to Furniture City near the south 4th Ring Road, but were disappointed to find that the entire complex was shut down until the 6th for Dog-Year celebrations. Under pressure and with limited knowledge of our options, we headed to IKEA.

IKEA in Beijing is much like IKEA in Elizabeth, New Jersey: a massive 2 storey structure filled with reasonably priced products, and an adjoining cafeteria that dishes out reasonably tasty meatballs. And yet, something about the place felt immediately unknown, somehow other than the IKEA-brand shopping experience I’ve come to know and endure.

After following the bold yellow arrows affixed to the floor for a few hundred feet, I began to realize that the difference I had sensed was not a difference in IKEA itself, but rather a difference in the IKEA shoppers I was confronted with. Shoppers who make the trek to the IKEA in Elizabeth almost invariably do so with a purchase plan in mind. They need a bed. Or a bookshelf. Or a Maysa Sasong. The trip to IKEA for the American shopper is not about the experience qua experience. It is, rather, a means to an end: the acquisition of goods. What is striking about many of the shoppers at Beijing’s IKEA is their apparent lack of a purchase plan. They wander the store examining products and checking prices, and then double back to the seating section to retire to one of the floor-model sofas or chairs. During our visit, almost every available seat in the house was occupied by someone who was eating, chatting or sleeping. Often, the latter. Once rested, these visitors would complete their journey through the self-pickup aisles, past the checkout counter and out into the biting winter night, empty handed.

Filed under: Beijing, China

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