Saturday, December 1, 2007
New Haunt: Nanlouguxiang
Near Hou Hai, one of my favourite places in Beijing, is a hutong or alleyway that's transformed itself into a funky strip.
Called Nanluoguxiang, this narrow street used to be a run-down residential area. But in just over two years, the old hutongs have been spruced up with new "old" walls, brick walls that have had an artistic paint job to make it look antique. There are also some restaurants, cafes, bars and really cool shops.
One is called Grifted at 32 Nanluoguxiang. Inside are parasols made with bright flowery fabric from the 1950s, cheeky T-shirts and dolls.
There's a T-shirt with an old man wearing a singlet rolled up to his armpits revealing his bulbous tummy, and has striped pants covering his chicken legs. He holds a cigarette in one hand, a bottle of beer in the other, and below it says in Chinese, "Ni Hao" or "Hello".
There's also panda bear-shaped dolls, but these bears looks like they've been roughed up and worse for wear than the cuddly ones you usually see.
Grifted had a number of Christmas merchandise for sale, including Christmas cards with Santa on his sleigh passing over Tiananmen, or Chairman Mao wearing Santa's hat complete with a yellow star and holding a sprig of holly. It says "Merry Christmas" in Chinese.
Just a bit further down the street is Plastered T-Shirts at 61 Nanluoguxiang. Englishman Dominic Johnson-Hill started making these funky T-shirts two years ago. He takes retro images from the 1950s and 60s and makes them kitsch.
There's ones that have the Beijing subway ticket on them, table tennis paddles, or a picture of a hot thermos. Another has "Gong Bao Ji Ding" in Chinese characters, which means "Kung Pao Chicken", or pictures of rosy-cheeked children in an idyllic setting. One even says "expat prick".
Foreigners are lapping these up, and now the Chinese are discovering them and beginning to find them amusing.
It's really neat to see some people taking creative risks. I hope to find more of them in Beijing.