For expatriates in Beijing, life becomes easier by the month, if not the week. Change comes quickly here at a speed difficult to describe. New grocery stores with foods geared toward western taste – and other amenities targeted at foreigners – appear out of nowhere. I have to admit that I have more or less embraced these changes because though I love Chinese food, for example, and eat it nearly every day – it’s also nice to be able to get the occasional chocolate crescent at Comptoirs De France, which appeared sometime last year in our local shopping center.
There have always been plenty of choices for children’s clothing in Beijing, though they are not always so simple for the foreigner – and can hurt one’s budget. A couple options include going to market to sift through t-shirts appliqued with cartoon characters and knock off Lauren dresses to find that one little gem and then bargaining hard to get a good price or visiting a western store and paying three times what the same item would cost in the same store in the US. Some foreigners purchase their children’s clothes at home, which can offer the benefit of finding things more closely aligned with their taste and no bargaining.
The situation with clothing changed last month, however, with the opening of The Gap in China. According to the company’s press release, Gap opened two stores in Beijing on November 13. It said, “The first is a two-storied flagship store spanning 1,165 square meters in the APM Building on Wanfujing Street, and a second 1,800 square meter store in Chaobei Joy City, located in the eastern part of Beijing.”
A friend and I visited The Gap in Joy City and were impressed by the reasonable prices and variety of clothing for people of all ages. While I thoroughly enjoyed our shopping expedition, I couldn’t help but think about the homogenization of cities around the world. I felt conflicted having this shop – so ubiquitous in America – in the middle of Beijing. As a growing number of cities around the world offer the exact same shops and restaurants on their versions of “Main Street”, we sacrifice local culture – and for foreigners – adventure – for convenience. And yet, will return to this American icon? Undoubtedly so, sipping a Starbucks coffee from around the corner.