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Where do the Chinese go for fun? Ikea

Air conditioning, free refills, comfy beds are draws

By Teresa Mears Sep 24, 2009 1:30PM

We're the first to admit that shopping as a form of entertainment isn't exactly unheard of in the United States.


Still, Ikea browsers in China may have taken the idea of shopping center as entertainment to a whole new level. The Ikea store in Beijing has become an entertainment destination for Chinese who have no intention of buying anything more than lunch.


The Los Angeles Times, reporting on this phenomenon, interviewed Zhang Xin, who took his wife, son and mother to Ikea for lunch and a break from the smog.


 "We just came here for fun," the 34-year-old office manager told The Times. "I suppose we could have gone somewhere else, but it wouldn't have been a complete experience."


For the Chinese, the complete experience means having lunch, enjoying free soft drink refills (people in other countries are fascinated by this American phenomenon), posing for photos with the furniture and even taking naps on the display couches and beds. The air conditioning is a big draw, too.


"It's the only big store in Beijing where a security guard doesn't stop you from taking a picture," said Jing Bo, 30, who was looking for the right setting to take a photo of his girlfriend.


Bai Yalin, her 7-year-old son and two teenage nieces drove 90 minutes from home for a five-hour outing at Ikea, known in China as Yi Jia. They started with hot dogs and ice cream cones. Then they lounged on the beds for a few hours.  Family pictures came next. They ended the day with a dinner of braised mushrooms with rice. Bai, 36, and her husband have bought dinnerware from Ikea and they'd certainly like to buy furniture, she said, but haven't yet.


While the Los Angeles Times photos of the Chinese sleeping on beds and couches throughout the store are amusing to Westerners, the idea of a public nap isn't quite as foreign to the Chinese. Workplaces usually provide facilities for after-lunch napping, a right that is enshrined into law in China.

Elaine Chow, in the Shanghaiist, reports similar behavior, and worse, at the Ikea in Shanghai. She notes the issue is a common topic on the Shanghai Expat forum.


Andrew Rink, in a comment on the blog Musings From an Overworked Translator, says the Times story is a bit exaggerated. "I've been to the Beijing Yi Jia store on a number of occasions and never noticed anybody sleeping in the beds or on the couches. I wouldn't rule it out but it's not the norm,'' he wrote. "And there are queues at the tills -- not large ones by Chinese standards, but it's not like there's nobody buying anything."


The Ikea store in Beijing opened in 1999 and its owners hope it will someday become as popular as Wal-mart has for Chinese who have money to spend. The modern furniture certainly has its appeal to Chinese young people.


"Our values are changing," said Lizzy Hou, 25, a teacher, told The Times.  "We want to be modern. I think IKEA stands for a kind of lifestyle. People don't necessarily want to buy it, but they want to at least experience it."


The whole "hanging out to enjoy the atmosphere and the air conditioning" reminds us of the teenage habit of hanging out in malls. We did some of that when we were young and lived in a hot, humid climate without air conditioning.


We're not sure you want to bring a book and a blanket and spend the day at a U.S. Ikea, but shopping as entertainment isn't dangerous if you don't ever buy anything. And where else can you get cheap Swedish meatballs?


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