Just got back from solo dinner in the Sanlitun district of Beijing. Sanlitun is known primarily for two things to all tourists and expats in Beijing. 1) it is one of the two main embassy districts in the city. Today, while walking to the subway on my way home after dinner, I passed 三里屯外交公寓, or Sanlitun Diplomatic Apartments, which contain the embassies or consulate-generals of Croatia, Macedonia, Ecuador, Niger, and others. And 2) it is a huge shopping, dining and nightlife district. The subject of this post translates literally from 三里屯酒吧街 to Sanlitun Bar Street. But rest assured, I just went there for a late dinner tonight at Element Fresh, in the Sanlitun VILLAGE, one of the half-dozen or so giant shopping centers in the area. Element Fresh is, I believe, a chain from Shanghai that imitates California spa food (more or less) extremely well. Tons of fresh fish, chicken, salads, and smoothies on their menu. For dinner tonight, I had a huge ‘laffa bread’ salad, which contained fresh lettuce (OMG), tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and olives, topped with grilled chicken and goat cheese (OMG x2). The laffa bread is the pita-like flatbread that the entire salad is served upon, i.e. plate, laffa bread, salad. With that I had an avocado smoothie, made Vietnamese-style with avocado, a little bit of condensed milk, mango, and lots of fresh mint. It. Was. Delicious. I don’t even know or care whether or not the smoothie recipe is authentically Vietnamese, it was just really good.
After dinner, I walked around Sanlitun a bit, which meant mostly checking out a fancy cocktail bar (Apothecary) in Nali Patio, another swanky shopping mall, and American Apparel. Because duh. They are hiring, actually. I can’t say I’m not at least thinking about applying. If Daily Intel and Gawker are to be trusted, my time left to work there is limited — they don’t hire those over the age of 24! The overwhelming impression I got of Sanlitun was Westerners, Westerners, Westerners. They were everywhere. More than in Lush on a Friday night. On the one hand, it was nice — I think — to see so many familiar-looking faces. But on the other, Sanlitun still felt completely foreign, just in a different way. No matter how many blue-eyed blondes or tall men with thick-framed glasses I saw (and I saw my fair share tonight), the feeling of foreignness that I have in China never really leaves me, no matter what ethnicity the people in my surrounding environment happen to be. I guess China is going to be an ongoing experiment for me. The Sanlitun and Lidu (Lido) districts are the ones that have the most expats, and I find myself wondering sometimes whether I would move there if I were to stay in China for a long time. Again, they have all the comforts of home, yet at the same time, that subtle reminder that no matter how many jars of peanut butter and Starbucks coffee cups surround you, you are not in America.