You can find bookstores and scorpions on the same street

Beijing’s Wangfujing Dajie is your typical high-end capitalist pedestrian shopping street filled with glittering international brand name stores; so it was with some surprise that I encountered

the government-run Beijing Foreign Languages Bookstore along side Gucci, Chanel and Under Armor. The store itself is pretty spartan: glaring fluorescent lights, warehouse-style shelving – dust all over the place. As for stock, the most prominently displayed title, in line with who owns the shop, was of course General Secretary Xi Jinping’s auto/biography

Half the main floor was taken up by English language books, and at least half of these were Penguins – red

white and black spined.

A little further along the street you’ll find a McDonald’s (it sells bubble tea!), and next to it this shopwhere, once again, Xi greets customers at the door

Upstairs, in a limited ‘imported titles’ section, you’ll find books on Steve Jobs and this titan

Across the street, if scorpion on a stick appeals to you(now imagine how appetizing these look when they’re moving) check out Snack Street. It’s crammed with

‘food’vendors,

and hoards of hungry Chinese.

Wangfujing Dajie is downtown, close to The Forbidden City. A bit further afield you’ll find The Bookworm

We took the subway out and walked for a couple of blocks to where we were told it was located. Five sessions, seeking direction from non-English speaking locals, later, and circling the place several times without finding it, we finally arrived.

I’d the impression it was a huge, sleek mega-shop given  its billing as the ‘largest English bookstore in Beijing’. Instead, up the stairs,  we found a simple bar/restaurant of sorts with a slight granola vibe to it, kids doing crafts, a one-room library, and a smaller room containing books for sale.

I inquired about Orwell’s Animal Farm. “Sold out”, I was informed. Was it banned by the government? “No, not really. Anyone can get it easily online”. Thing is, most people here have no idea of who Orwell is, let alone knowledge of his famous short satire.

Happy to have found The Bookworm, I can now say I’ve been there, done that. And yes, got the tee-shirt.

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