Last winter I took a beginner’s French course at the Alliance française Xihai (西海) campus. Xihai is a lovely, rather secluded little lakeside area in Beijing, with lots of weeping willows and people (mostly elderly) fishing, playing chess, strolling about, bicycling and humming Peking opera strains, hanging laundry, and what-have-you. It’s not terribly well known, even among locals.

I’d never seen such extended fishing-poles before, but these seem to be the norm for Xihai-ers… then again I’m also completely fishing-illiterate.

A Xihai-er sunbathing while keeping some vegetables company

I’ve become even more intrigued by Beijing’s IKEA after learning from Yimei that the one she visits in Shanghai is quite different (i.e. much more orderly and conventional). I guess these scenes are perhaps truly unique to this city.

Hopefully the following snapshots give some idea of how Swedish marketing genius and Beijinger attitude have mixed to turn a multi-storey shopping complex into something that feels far more like a community centre/social hotspot/family lounge. It really is a fascinating, if somewhat overwhelming, place.

Allow me to take you on a short guided tour…

Here’s the common room for recreation:

Well, this works as a common room too:

Here’s a transit lounge/waiting area:

An awkward dinner party:

A romantic getaway for two: