This year, while attempting to buy Christmas lights for my Christmas tree, in IKEA. I was reminded of a very different situation I got myself into last Christmas at the very same store. This time, while being told that the Christmas lights were all sold out and they wouldn’t be getting a new shipment until next Christmas, I simply accepted that and left without any thoughts of disappointing my children. Because unlike last year I now know that Christmas is readily available all over Beijing and if it’s Christmas tree’s or lights that you need, both Lady Street and The Flower Market are ready to bring Christmas to you.
Last year was a different situation for me. It was my first Christmas in Beijing. I was for some reason convinced that China didn’t do Christmas, that it would be impossible to find anything that would make my home in Beijing feel a bit more festive over the holiday period. I had done my research but for some reason I’d completely looked over the good people of Lady Street and their endless supplies of Christmas decorations. I’d instead found out that you could get a Turkey for 800rmb at one of the finer hotels in the city, yes they would even deliver it to your door on Christmas eve. I had also discovered that at the same establishment you could enjoy a Christmas buffet for the fair sum of 2888rmb, kids only 1888rmb, if they were below 110cm in height. They promised Santa Clause would arrive and sing a few songs. Last Christmas, like this Christmas, the economy crisis had already hit most people like me, I.e. Western people. Therefore a nice family get together in a 5 star hotel was and still is out of the question.
So, I turned to IKEA, the friendly Scandinavian superstore that gives you that Swedish feeling when you’re feeling homesick in Beijing. I thought IKEA would be my oasis for Christmas and that I’d find all my holiday needs met there. I was right, but so were a lot of other people. IKEA wasn’t only catering Christmas needs to the few ex-pat’s in town, they had convinced most of China that the IKEA way of doing Christmas was the only way of doing it, so the store was packed with locals buying anything and everything related to the holidays. They had the Christmas lights last year and plenty of them, but last year they’d sold out the tree’s and weren’t expecting any of them until the following Christmas a year later. My guess is that people were too busy buying the tree’s without having evolved to decorating them, which would explain why the lights are sold out this year, but there’s plenty of tree’s available.
It was the night before Christmas, I had decided that we needed a Christmas tree. Even though I’d managed to get all the necessary foods, bought and wrapped all the gifts, found the church, baked the Christmas cake, a tree was still needed. I arrived in IKEA to be told that all the tree’s were sold out, I’d left it so late that I was faced with a choice of a Christmas without a tree or I’d take things into my own hands and do something about it, right there and then in IKEA, I knew that there was no place else to go. Having just arrived in China and been given a crash course at bargaining in establishments such as Yashow and The Silk Market, I thought I might as well give it a shot here. So I pointed to the tree in the window display and asked “how much?”. The employee told me it’s only for display and not for sale. I told him that for me it’s for sale and just name the price and I’ll take it. He thought about this and then asked me to wait, a little later he returned with his shift manager who I’ll call Mr.Wang. Mr.Wang told his employee to leave us alone then he looked at the window display and asked if that’s what I wanted to buy, I said yes and he quickly named his price, we haggled a bit about whether the decorations would be included or not and in the end I managed to get the price down to 300rmb with decorations, Mr.Wang then took the plastic tree down and stuffed it into a big black bag, took my money, ushered me out the back door and wished me a merry Christmas. I arrived home to the delight of my children with a big stolen plastic tree in hand. Christmas had arrived in Beijing. Mr.Wang the entrepreneur had made sure my family got the Christmas they deserved that year. In fact he’d introduced me to the concept that China is what you want it to be. Anything you need, anytime and for both parties it’s a win win situation.
This year I bought my Christmas lights legally at The Flower Market next door to Lufthansa Center. But I’m sure Mr. Wang is willing to sell the window display in IKEA if you’re desperate enough.