Later, yesterday, I headed across town to attend an InterNations Beijing gathering of newly arrived ex-pats from across the world. InterNations groups are all over the globe and they’re made up of, well, ex-pats from different countries, who get together for various gatherings. Everyone speaks English and I’m probably the only one who only speaks English. They host all sorts of outings as well as get-togethers with others who have the same interests, hobbies, etc. This meeting was held at the Regent Hotel in the very tony district of Dongcheng. How tony is this hotel? The Maserati showroom can be found, just off the lobby entrance. A 12 oz bottle of Tsingtao costs 40 RMB. If you do the math, that’s the equivalent of 20 (count em) 20, 24 oz bottles of the Harbin beer I’ve been assiduously purchasing. So that’s 40 times the amount of beer for the same price. So, my three beers at this hotel would have bought me, oh, a couple of months supply of Harbin. Just saying…
To avoid the evening rush-hour, subway nightmare, I arrived a few hours early and simply walked, in no particular direction, to see what I could see. About a couple of kilometers away I struck pay dirt, so to speak. All of a sudden, I found myself in a part of town that was decidedly Russian (see photos.) At first I thought that it must be an enclave of Kazakhs which, despite the village scene from Borat, can look very Asian- considering that scene was filmed in Romania, you wouldn’t expect to see Asian looking people; as an aside, the village, like many people depicted in the film, sued Sasha Baron Cohen, for making them look like idiots. No lawsuit prevailed, but again, it is the Sue Me States of America.™
When I got back to the hotel, I went online to see exactly where I had been (isn’t the internet amazing, even when there are no cats involved?) I was wrong about my Kazakh theory. The answer is more prosaic. It’s the Russian fur district known as Yaobaolu. I was wondering why I saw so many fur shops. Click on the above link for a very funny travelogue by a lady who dined in one of the restaurants there. Notice the photo adorning her site, is one of the pictures I took. I always have wanted to go to Russia. Interestingly, English First does have teaching centers there, but given Russian/American relations these days, there was simply no way I wanted to risk a Russian GULAG (I am, after all, an American Jew; a double-whammy, to be sure.) if things continue (as they surely will) to deteriorate and yes, I put most of the blame on the U.S. Anyway, the area was well-known to some of the ex-pats I met and it has a rather checkered, if not, lurid history.
So, do I get to check, going to Russia off my bucket list?