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Dashilan: Qianmen's Foil
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  • http://english.dbw.cn銆€銆€ 2010-10-18 17:29:35

    This splendid archway marks the start of Qianmen Dajie. []

    The hutongs south of Tiananmen Square have been popular shopping areas since the 1800s. Many of the shops were frequented by the royal family as well as legions of palace officials. Two major arteries of this zone, Qianmen and Dashilan streets, remain open to shoppers today. The two streets remain physically connected - Dashilan shoots off to the west from the north-south running Qianmen, but both tourists and natives alike see a clear separation in how the two streets have been maintained.

    As part of Beijing's massive makeover before the Olympic Games, Qianmen was torn down and rebuilt as a modern version of its former image. A splendid traditional archway marks the head of the wide pedestrian walkway, and everything from the sidewalk to the buildings has been constructed from the same smooth gray stone. The overall effect is that Chinese architecture meets the stainless steel school of contemporary interior design.

    Depending on your Chinese level, you may puzzle over the familiar characters on the first shop to the right, until your eyes come across the smaller English sign that reads...Starbucks. Fellow newcomers, like H&M and Zara are plenty, but one fixture from Qianmen's past, the Quanjude roast duck restaurant, still strides ahead in popularity. Although it is now a citywide chain, the original establishment still runs a brisk business with its bustling restaurant and busy take-away window.

    Tobias Weirich, a German tourist, explained that he had no expectations and does not mind the presence of international chains in Qianmen. "In Qianmen, you get the mix of the traditional with the modern," he said. However, Zhangjuan, a Chinese visitor from Xian, said, "I don't think that the commercial shops match the old-fashioned buildings." She added that although foreign tourists may find the street interesting, Chinese tourists have seen it all before.

    The Chinese shops on Qianmen mostly sell souvenirs - anything from jade bracelets to artisanal chopsticks. Others are simply the Qianmen branch of the original store located on Dashilan. Moving onto Dashilan from Qianmen, you can see that Dashilan has also been fixed up. But the work on Dashilan is to Botox what construction on Qianmen is to major organ transplant.

    If you venture into Zhangyiyuan, a tea shop that is well over 100 years old, the heady floral perfume of China's best teas stays with you even after you step back onto the chaotic street. Here, servers still bundle up tea orders on the spot into a classic white paper wrapping, securing each package tightly with red string.

    A far different scent awaits you at Tongrentang, a bastion of Chinese medicine established in 1669. The pungent roots and herbs used in medicines here fill the air with a bitter, musty odor. This former royal pharmacy still has quite a strong following in China, but despite the assurances of the sales staff, always check with your health professional before deciding to go on a regimen of traditional Chinese medicine.

    Neiliansheng shoe store adheres to the hand-sewn technique that made it famous for sturdy, long -lasting shoes in the 1800s. While they now display modern heels and Ugg-like boots in the window, inside you will most likely find only older Chinese customers investing in comfort and reliability.

    Taking in these old Beijing establishments are tourists from all over the world. Janne Henriksen is a tourist from Norway staying at a hotel on Dashilan West. After a day of exploring Beijing and coming back to Dashilan, she said, "It's really nice, very authentic. We've been to the more modern areas of Beijing today and it's nice to get back to this area."

    Quite a few tourists share her opinion. A German visitor shopping in Dashilan's Ruifuxiang silk store said Dashilan is "better than Qianmen鈥攖here it's artificial but here it's more original." Midolo, another German tourist exploring Dashilan with her family, noted, "It's wonderful here with the old shops. It's like real life China."

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    Author锛? Lisa Yi 銆€銆€銆€Source锛? xinhua 銆€銆€銆€ Editor锛? Wu Qiong
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