Stuart Beaton is back guest blogging about something near and dear to my heart, but I won’t spoil his surprise quite yet. His amazing podcasts (mostly author interviews) can be found at http://rastous.podomatic.com/. Here’s Stuart:
It’s the Tomb Sweeping Holiday week here in Tianjin, and so the Uni decided that it would be an excellent time to shut the power off for seven hours.
So, what’s a chap to do, when all the lights go dim?
He drags a colleague out for a spot of shopping.
Well, anything’s better than sitting alone in a cold, dark room… and so we set off onto the bustling streets of sunny downtown Tianjin. After a few hours of pounding the pavement between department stores and their supermarket sections, lunch was beginning to beckon. And my dogs were barking – any excuse to get off my feet was going to be welcome.
Having cross the road, we found the footpath blocked, and so took an unexpected turn down a little side street between Walmart and Gome.
Then a window display caught my eye.
A cross between a media installation and a toy collection, a fuzzy black and white TV repeating images from ancient Tom & Jerry cartoons, surrounded by Rubiks Cubes, Doraemons and Marios.
I was hooked – I needed to find out more about this place.
My colleague pointed to the number 80 on a sign, and said that she’d been to a Café 80 the day before, perhaps this was part of the chain? I thought it was a student art gallery, an exhibition space.
But we were both wrong.
Through the door, and behind the curtain, was a hotpot restaurant.
One modeled on Chinese classrooms of the 1980’s.
The furniture consisted of modified school desks, with a hole cut in the centre to accommodate the induction heater and pot, complete with matching chairs. A giant blackboard dominated the front of the room, while a video projector screened Doraemon cartoons against it.
One wall was decorated with posters that were in classrooms thirty years ago, and its opposite with pictures of film stars, cartoon characters and toys from the time.
We took our seats, and were presented with what, to all intents and purposes, looked like an exam paper, but was the menu – with multiple choice options!
Behind us a party of twenty somethings were singing an old school scarf, Young Pioneer scarves around their necks, laughing and snapping photos of each other with their cell phones.
Attention to nostalgic detail extended down to the enamelware cups and bowls, and the retro flasks in which the hotpot broth was poured from. They even sell retro 80’s toys to play with!
The food itself was fresh, preparation done carefully in the small kitchen (marked “School Canteen”), and very tasty.
As we went to leave, the owner and staff came and took some pictures with us for their Weibo site (http://weibo.com/no80syears), explaining that they didn’t get an awful lot of foreigners in… ever.
I’ve been left feeling a nostalgia for something I hadn’t experienced, a place I was never in, and a time that isn’t coming back in a hurry.
At least, though, I can go back there again.