Lily Zhao is one of our current summer interns. She has lived in cities including Xi’an, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Vancouver, and now resides in Providence for most of the year. Collectively, she has lived the longest in Beijing out of all of these cities. She graduated from the Western Academy of Beijing in 2014, one of a number of schools she attended. During school semesters she studies at Brown University and during holiday returns to Beijing where her family lives. Below she recounts fond memories of childhood in Beijing.
For as long as I can remember, at the end of the row, accompanied by Tots 2 Teens and Tammy’s, Kids+ has complacently sat. I wonder if it knew how long it would be there. This toyshop’s relationship to my life is tangential and intermittent, and yet it stretches back far enough to surprise me each time my memory picks up this thread. I cannot guarantee that I can remember all correctly, so I will have to beg the reader’s forgiveness if fiction should slip in to fill the gaps. Don’t they always say memory is reconstructive anyways?
Upon returning to Beijing once again after those early years overseas, we were enrolled in the first of what was to be multiple international schools. As many families were and are, we were familiar with Pinnacle Plaza as we live not too far from Shunyi. My father dearly loved to sit in the Starbucks and sip an Americano, while my mother often visited the area for groceries and flowers. They would often give us a few kuai and let us run off to the toy shop, and eagerly we would go.
We never really bought much, a card or two, some funny-looking pencil with a colorful pompom on top perhaps. The shopkeeper knew us well, and greeted us by our names whenever we entered. On birthdays we’d go to purchase gifts, or go to Tots 2 Teens next door. Between the two stores there were lots to choose from, board games, hairbands, silly putty…and many things I cannot really put a name to. There were these little plastic black containers and on the inside would be a fluorescent oozing green blob that would slide slimily, to our delight, into our palm, looking gross and feeling cool against our little fingers.
A floor length mirror leaned against a corner at one end of the store. I would look briefly into it at my own reflection the way few people can resist doing when walking past a reflective surface. Halloween costumes would crowd the racks in October with the standard selection of pointy witches’ hats and puffy princess gowns and perhaps a Spiderman or Batman jumpsuit or two.
The store always looked crowded, and there was always an abundance of things. Not treasures, not precious items to be revered or admired, but just things. It was subtly overwhelming with all of its cheap colors and gauzy fabrics and the little gizmos that announce themselves in defiance of the fact that you never knew such a thing existed or that such a thing was needed by the world. A child could not articulate this, perhaps, but a child can feel it. The eyes wondered, and the mind delighted—the exploration seemed greater than it was. The lens of childhood always had a way of amplifying, when it wished to, anything in magnificence and greatness to make up for the deficiencies of reality.
Then we moved away, but we came back in the summers. The shopkeeper still knew us. Then we moved back, but at some point someone new came. Then I left again, and now it seems a place that is at once the same and different. It’s lost its magic for me, but it remains a cornerstone of international childhoods in Beijing.
9am-7pm, Monday-Sunday. Pinnacle Plaza, 99 Yu Xiang Road, Shunyi District, Beijing 北京市顺义区裕翔路99号荣祥广场 (8046 4572)
Photos: BJ SHY, Wikipedia