…at least until I move again, I suppose.
Imagethief is pleased to report that he has found a suitable apartment all of 100 meters away from his current apartment in China Central Place. Among this apartment’s distinguishing characteristics are its simple and unadorned light fixtures, the willingness of the landlady to remove whatever furniture we didn’t need (a lot), and the relative tastefulness of the furniture that remains. And the price was decent, for what that’s worth.
As part of the move I am abandoning my old desk, a 200RMB piece of Ikea crap that has been with me for a few years and that is so flimsy that my monitor bounces when I type. This is not one of those colorful exaggerations for which I am justly renowned. It is literally true. The desk now has a pronounced sag in the middle, and I figured it was worth replacing with something more solid before it either delaminates into toxic splinters or dumps my 24″ monitor onto the floor in a shower of sparks and shattered LCD panel. Or both, I suppose.
On Sunday Mrs. Imagethief, Zachary and I went down to the Macalline Red Star Furniture Mall on the southeast fourth ring road, not too far from where we live. You may know this mall, which is coincidentally next door to the Macalline Red Star Building Materials Mall and a Decathlon, thus covering all your home furnishing, renovation and fitness needs in one fell, commercial swoop. We had never been there before, and simply thought it was worth seeing something new, rather than either retreating to Ikea or my old standby, the Classic Furniture City mall near Panjiayuan.
I have tried to foreswear Ikea for several years, but like a junkie who pawns his sister’s DVD player to buy a dime rock I keep on sliding back for a cheap furniture fix despite my earnest vows to stay clean. This leaves me feeling filthy and awash with regrets as I invariably end up hating whatever I buy, whether it’s the balsa-wood table that picks up dings when you look at it wrong, the shelves that wobble when the cat sneezes on the far side of the apartment, or the sofa that loses another support strap with a huge TWANG!every other time I sit down on it (really). So I swear off again, but a year passes and there I am checking out yet another “Knasti” bookshelf, the primary value of which is that it comes from a company that apparently provides meaningful employment as product name developers for Sweden’s dwindling population of consonant-happy illiterates. So I feel socially virtuous but poorly furnished and extremely generic.
In the last couple of years my standard dodge has been to go to the Classical Furniture City on the east third ring, near the Panjiayuan flea market and repro propaganda extravaganza. This is one of dozens of malls and neighborhoods (including the entire village of Gaobeidian) that offer reproduction Chinese antique furniture at knock-down prices, and it’s magic for bookshelves, TV cabinets and such, especially if you need small customizations like holes for hard-drive cables. On the other hand, it’s really nothing more than Ikea for Sinofied expats, and if you prowl my friends’ houses you can pretty much see that we all use the same approach and all buy the same rosewood tables and camphor chests. We’ve simply traded Scandinavia for Shenzhen in one episode of culturally semi-appropriate mass unoriginality. But at least it ain’t Ikea and by god, we feel Chinese. Just don’t let your kids lick the furniture, because who knows what’s in that lacquer.
Anyway, the point is that in an attempt to break out of this two-fold rut we went to the Macalline Red Star Furniture mall, mostly because it looked big, and anyplace that big must have something worth looking at. This is a classic example of false logic, like my old college rationalization: Beer is good, therefore more beer must be better. That bit of logic worked right up until it failed spectacularly, with a juvenile Imagethief closely scrutinizing the accumulated plaques on the inside of his dormitory bathroom’s toilet bowls. Surprisingly colorful, if you must know, but harder to see after the third round of violent retching leaves your eyes permanently crossed.
Speaking of violent retching, that’s what I felt like doing Sunday when, upon entering the mall, I realized that this is where all the landlords of all the ghastly apartments I have seen go to buy their preposterous, eye-boiling furniture. This is the place. The Mecca of repulsive, radioactive, filigreed furniture. The Source. The mother lode. As my father observed one day upon watching me sweep the cat litter off my floor for the third time in an hour, when I die and go to hell my job will be to sweep up the cat litter. What he didn’t point out, but which is almost certainly also true, is that my hell will be furnished from this mall.
Imagethief firmly believes that the best way to reduce one’s pain is to share it. Therefore I want to share with you, my faithful (and dwindling) readers, some of the most luminous examples of apalling furniture ever conceived by the mind of man. Should you decide to buy an apartment and furnish it in accordance with the Chinese nouveau-riche-低素质 school of interior design, you’ll know right where to go (you’ll also need to buy a Porsche Cayenne — more on that later). I’m sorry the pictures are a bit blurry. They were taken with a phone somewhat surreptitiously as I didn’t want to be beaten by the furniture ladies. Day after day standing around that stuff must lead to some kind of violent psychosis. And trust me: More detail would not necessarily improve the experience.
Allow Imagethief to escort you on a tour:
Louisiana Bordello Moderne
What could be a better way to put that spare square-footage to work than renting out girls by the hour? In a country with no property tax that’s like printing money. All that’s missing is some furniture appropriate for displaying your collection of emaciated meth-heads in lingerie. That’s where this collection fits in. Because nothing preserves the illusion of virginal innocence like white lacquer, gold trim and purple lace. Just remember to keep the customers off of the couch. The dry cleaning bills are murder.
Charles Taylor’s Mango Lounge
Had a hard day sawing off people’s hands? You’re going to want to put your feet up for some well deserved rest and recreation. This understated set, with its gold-tasseled crimson and zebra pillows, says, “I may decide life and death in this town, but I still know how to relax in style.” Leather arm rests and muted upholstery resist bloodstains and match the seats in your open-top Hummer limo. When you’re done reviewing the latest catalog of small arms from Vyatsky Polyany’s 2010 line (it makes a great coffee table book for that coffee table), you can have the drugged, underage concubines of your choice dumped onto the tasteful king-size bed in the background. The mangoes are wax, so they’re not good for eating, but they’re superb for hurling at the heads of cowering underlings.
You’re Not Important Enough to Suck My Toes
Want something a little more intimate than the Mango Lounge? For the psychotic despot who might fly into a vicious rage at any moment we offer this set. It includes both a throne fit enough to stroke even the most volatile and insecure delusions of godhood and lethal candlesticks for when you suddenly feel the need to beat one or more of your supplicants to death in order to cow the others into submission. This seat is recommended for the fey and serpentine living god who oozes honey but turns dangerous on a whim rather than angry, broad-shouldered Norse warrior types better suited by rough-hewn wood and leather. Also good for lonely people who think they live in Anne Rice novels.
The Chandelier of Damocles
Hosting a dinner party of the damned? You’ll set a properly infernal mood with this elegant dining set in blood-red leather, complemented by a one-of-a-kind chandelier that audaciously combines equally blood-red globes with white leopard-spot lamp shades. Is it hell or Kisangani? We’re not sure, but turn on the lights and watch pure-hearted guests and small animals recoil in terror. Then serve the roast.
So you finally showed those uppity punks Morris Day and the Time who’s funkiest in Minneapolis and you’re looking for someplace to throw down with the girls from Vanity 6. This tasteful set is fit for even the purplest, if not necessarily for anyone else. Sure, it’s not technically paisley, but with lacy, black filigree and bathed in the tasteful light of a mauve chandelier, who’s going to notice? Accessorize with a marble coffee table and assorted cocaine goblets and get ready to party like it’s 1999. Rear wall mirrors not included.
And Here Is Where You’ll Live
Once you’ve picked out the furniture of your dreams you’re going to need to a crib to put it in. Imagethief recommends Beijing’s Park Royale apartments in the up and coming Shuangjing neighborhood. I have no idea what they look like inside, but with a forecourt statue of a winged goddess in a chariot being pulled by eight raging stallions, all rendered in gold, it seems like one of the few places likely to be able to withstand your taste in furniture.