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Nanjing IKEA

February 23, 2012

IKEA store

We have the good fortune to be well-located in our Nanjing apartment, just across the street and a stone’s throw from Xiuyuan, the original Nanjing Normal University campus, with its classic architecture from the 1920s and generally historic vibe.  My office is on the second floor of one of these venerable old buildings, just down the hall from the barely-used campus computer lab and upstairs from the barely used old campus library, whose books are stored at about 40 degrees (Farenheit) during the winter months.  Like all buildings in South China (below the Yangtze River), thanks to government decree, this one has no central heating whatsoever.  Parkas, scarves, and long johns are de rigeur indoors  even while teaching my shivering graduate students —  and I seem to be the only guy around Nanjing who’s not wearing a puffy goose down jacket.  The old, centrally located NNU campus is mainly used for a few administrators, adult education classes, and ceremonial purposes, while most of the real action for classes is out in Xialin, an hour by bus away from the city center, in suburban east Nanjing, where NNU and all the other Nanjing Universities have created expansive new and (more or less) modern campuses for their burgeoning student populations.

Before teaching began a few days ago, our apartment needed some urgent TLC in the form of a mattress (we slept on a very hard box spring for the first week), lamps, and small sofa, along with some kitchen items, which we acquired during a visit to a spanking new IKEA store.  We did so in a several-hours-long adventure at the Swedish retailer, which has clearly found its ideal market in China, from which many of its products are sourced in the first place.  Fans of IKEA in the United States are familiar with the IKEA ritual: spend the day looking through cleverly appointed and stylish domestic spaces in the IKEA of your choice, then trundle your purchases toward the efficient checkout lines before shuttling the goods home for assembly.  Everything works this way in China, except for the difference in scale.

Where one might expect to see hundreds of fellow bargain hunters in the Atlanta IKEA on Saturday afternoon, here in Nanjing the numbers are in the many thousands.  The experience is more akin to the close quarters of a snug commuter rail train than it is to the comfortable browsing of American retail.  In the full afternoon we spent there, I was never more than a foot or two away from the nearest fellow shopper.  Stepped-on toes, elbows to the ribs, and shopping carts denting shins were the order of the day.  And everyone seemed to exude simultaneously a sense of energy and exhaustion: droves tirelessly marching through the lanes of impeccable Swedish design, but an equally fatigued Chinese crew taking its rest on every available sofa and bed.  More than one Chinese gentleman in the bedding section was fast asleep and snoring on the demonstration futons.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Terence permalink
    February 23, 2012 5:18 pm

    A real mattress, you say? I’m still toughing it out on my luxurious box spring. I’ve gotten used to it. In fact, I find doing crunches and reverse crunches, while great for my midsection, noticeably reduces the lower back pain associated with sleeping on a Chinese mattress.

    At first I thought the Chinese had no sense of comfort. Now I know they just have a different sense of comfort. Happy settling in!

  2. Jim Ryan permalink*
    February 23, 2012 5:27 pm

    Terry — Congrats on your new workout plan, but as a short-timer I’ll be sticking with the soft mattress!

  3. Tom Argiro permalink
    February 25, 2012 9:50 am

    We also have IKEA stores here in Taiwan, but I’ve never had the occassion to visit one. Nice that you’re located so conveniently and finding your locale so modern, but evidently with modernity one also finds the perils of mass shopping! It’s funny to think about people taking naps in a public commercial space like that, perhaps a testimony to being overworked. Enjoy your adventure!

  4. February 25, 2012 2:21 pm

    Whoo-hoo! You have an IKEA store? Here have the guy who sells mattresses from the back of his wife’s tea store… I do here tell there’s a WalMart or two in Chongqing, 40 km away.

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