It’s a very humid, grey day in Beijing, China. Temperatures too are at a record-breaking high. Hot, humid conditions, however, do not stop the many hundreds of locals and tourists as they gently stroll the big open promenade in central Beijing. Called Wangfujing Street it’s a beautiful mall with a retail heritage dating back to the Ming Dynasty. Huge department stores hug both sides of the promenade as do specialty shops offering everything from matcha tea ice cream to global fashion brands.
Surprising there is no sense of rush here as we join in the long procession with the locals. Space is enjoyed by all. Equally filled with families, young couples, and friends out enjoying time together they wander talking and enjoying skewered meat delicacies from the night market snack street that runs off the main walkway. We’d imagined it to be far busier. With our Dello Mano Brisbane store located at Tattersalls Arcade we’re often in the Queen Street Mall in Brisbane and feel no more crowded and in fact quite at home here in Beijing.
The hectic Bejing road traffic would also suggest that the crowds through the promenade would be equally chaotic and yet stroll is exactly the pace of this late afternoon pleasure. The calm and gentle pulse of this crowd disrupted intermittently by the timed rhythmic march of sets of four uniformed soldiers who set a straight course through the crowd marching two abreast in a tight display of discipline. A typical sight for most and causes no stress as the strollers just seem to slip out of the way of this uniformed trajectory. Strolling and shopping along this strip is very peaceful and feels very safe.
Despite a plethora of global brands like Herme and Victoria Secrets, there are still many reminders that one is in Beijing. The splendid workmanship in Chinese traditional architecture global brands and shops that spark curiosity abound.
Always on the lookout for brownies, cakes, and confectionery of any type, we’re drawn into a store midway along the promenade. The store is called Beijing Wang Fu Jing Food Store beckons with an olde world feel. Huge red Chinese Characters high above the store entrance are the first attraction though as we peer in through the front door curiosity builds with clearly visible high piles of colourful twisted confectionery wraps everywhere.
Stepping in is like passing back in time – at least 20 separate stores most of which sell variations of the same confectionery and each with at least 3 people behind every counter. So unfamiliar to us now, each salesperson is dressed in a stiff starched white uniform complete with white peaked hat – a very conservative style reminiscent of images of the food hall at David Jones or Myers in days gone by. A wonderful display of customer service at every turn.
The store is alive and fully loaded with customers. Very noticeable is a loud backdrop of Chinese language as customer orders are called followed by vigorous scooping of the little confectionery morsels into bags to meet orders. At every counter is a person either actively recruiting customers by way of loud spruking or alternatively offering samples of what are variations of fruit jellies and high boil candy.
Fascinating to watch is this sweet heaven of mayhem juxtaposed with the quiet wanderings outside on the promenade. I find myself trying to reconcile how all these stores are able to differentiate in the same hall. At first glance, it seemed like it may be one store however it became more apparent that the stores may well be individual shops.
Toward the back of the hall, a cabinet full of traditional Chinese pastries is intriguing and interesting. No brownies in sight of course, but this refrigerated cabinet offers a comprehensive range of pastry. Quite different from our style of pastry and so very interesting.
Over to the left of the bakery at the rear of the store, a long thin glassed in area appears as another section offering Peking duck for sale. A thin petite woman in a uniform seemingly standing on a box behind the glass calls through the window to customers collecting their orders and then frantically scurrying to pack ducks into colourful bags.
This store and its many confectionery stores within a store is a mystery to us – I wonder how these stores compete or differentiate – no one appears to speak English so we’re left wondering how customers make their choices between the stores. So many of the offers seemed the same with only a few items that differentiated each store.
The stores are open till 9pm each night. Even when darkness falls, the streets remain busy however very enjoyable and quite relaxed.
If you’ve been to Beijing and have an idea of how this type of store works, we’d love to hear from you.