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:

Yesterday I was in Korea for the first time! I’m always excited to experience a ‘new’ city: to people-watch, navigate a different subway layout, admire unfamiliar typographical forms, explore local convenience store offerings, enjoy losing my way…

Unfortunately it was a super-short stay. Though I did still manage to have yummy ‘purple’ rice bibimbap, meet up with two friends from Swarthmore (hi Han and Sung!), take in Seoul’s dynamic vibe and its countless cafés, disorient locals with my nonexistent knowledge of Korean, drink a carton of delicious cocoa milk, and get cognitively weirded out by T-shirts with price tags reading ‘59,000’.

I didn’t have time to soak things in and take pictures that do the city justice. Just a few quick snapshots.

Bizeun at Insadong had all sorts of beautiful rice cakes and desserts. They term themselves a ‘riceteria’, a word which I will wholeheartedly help them spread. : ) Unfortunately the shop window reflection spoils the second picture; I need to learn the technical tricks to get around that…

They’re really too pretty to eat aren’t they?

Quite a few Starbucks branches in Seoul have their own unique look. This one sheds its US corporate identity almost completely (at least facade-wise), and blends in with its street:

A few minutes of overcast sky…

…and then it cleared for the rest of what turned out to be a lovely afternoon