Sunday, November 9, 2008

Shopping for a Facade

Over a year ago, residents and businesses in the Qianmen area, just south of Tiananmen Square, were evicted from their homes and shops to make way for a new development for the Olympics.

The project? To recreate old Qianmen from centuries ago, complete with street cars like before.

It took over a year to complete and was supposed to be ready by the May Day holiday, but that didn't happen -- it wasn't even ready for the Olympics either.

Apparently only select foreign visitors could go visit the long pedestrian-friendly area.

One of my friends said the first Apple store in Asia not including Japan would be here, along with brand name stores like Gucci and Prada would be there, standing next to such Chinese "time-honoured" brands as roast duck restaurant Quanjude.

But that didn't happen.

Yesterday afternoon I finally made my first visit to the area and while it was a nice-looking street with old stores recreated with Chinese facades, the vast majority of the store fronts were empty.

And the street cars developers had promised would work and passengers could try the "ding ding" for a small fee sat immobile.

Also, what's with the lamps that look like covered bird cages? As the late afternoon quickly turned to dusk, the street lamps weren't even lit either.

Only about three restaurants were open, including one that had a line-up in front of the door.

It was really disappointing to see after all the effort, time, money and then hype, there really wasn't much to see at Qianmen after all.

Why couldn't the government just have let the people and businesses stay where they were? Or was this some officials' brilliant plan to revive the area and instead create a white elephant?

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