Around Christmas of 2013, some loose hussy sat next to me on a bar stool and she broke my heart. She told me Zoo Market was closing. She told me I’d have to go somewhere else to find H&M factory overstock and cheap tights that sag hopelessly in the crotch because they’re sized for 7-year-old girls. The rumors flew for months, and still they fly. It’s gone, it’s there, it’s a wasteland of abandoned vendor stalls and everyone’s moved to Tianjin, it remains a teeming bazaar of knockoff Zara.
I’ve since come to find that “Zoo Market” is an ephemeral concept, a structure of the mind cobbled together from information bequeathed to each of us by whichever kind soul lead our first shopping expedition in Xicheng. It’s like trying to put a price point on Social Privilege: everyone knows what it is, but no one’s got the same definition, because no one grew up in the same house.
“What's Zoo Market? It’s a whole city district.”
“It’s an 8-story building full of shoes.”
“It’s six plazas connected by sky bridges, and there’s makeup on the second floor.”
Really? There’s a second floor?
The expat magazines all list Zoo Market in slightly different locations, or fail to give a more detailed address than, “around the zoo”. Some cite the place as already closed. Some say the majority of vendors left this January.
While I can’t vouch for everyone’s experience, and I understand that some of the area malls have shuttered shop, I am telling you that on this summer day, year of our lord 2015, the Julong wholesale clothing market -- my “Zoo Market”, the Zoo Market passed down by my Beijing antecedents -- is alive and well under Yushuguan Bridge. I have been there. I have seen it with eyes mine own.
Julong is Yashow’s younger, hotter, and way less pushy sister, an underground football field of jeans and basic knits, of cheap junk jewelry, board shorts and leather goods that smell like plastic outgassing, a snarl of off-kilter t-shirts and age-inappropriate dresses where nothing -- really, nothing -- is over 100rmb. And with Yashow soon to join the ranks of compulsorily wenminged shopping experiences, Julong is more precious than ever.
So, is that shit closing or not? I asked a few vendors while browsing and the consensus was that while a chai had been in the offing, no agreement was reached between officials and stakeholders, and while a closure still might happen sometime in the undefined future, there is currently no date set for locking any doors. That one market, at least, will be sticking around for the nonce.
Julong Market Pro-Tips
-You will get lost. The aisles of Julong run together and fork apart like the runnels of the Mekong Delta, and the place is so huge, you can’t see one end of the store while standing at the other. Just go with it, you’ll hit an exit eventually.
-Have lunch first. As with all labyrinths, the only thing to eat down there is reheated minotaur sausage. And fangbianmian.
-Haggling is dead. Refreshing and yet also somehow a letdown: all the vendors in Julong are super over haggling. I keep overhearing conversations like, “How much is this?” “50RMB” “Cheaper?” “Not a chance.” “Okay then.”
-No cards. As with almost everywhere in China, bring cash. There’s only like, three stalls that take Unionpay.
-Closes early. Julong is open every day, but it closes up at 4:30.
聚龙外贸商城 -西直门外大街135号展览馆广场B1-B2楼 - Get off Line 4 at Beijing Zoo and leave by Exit C, head out to the street, and look for stairs leading underground -- there are several entrances into Julong around the area, and if you can't find it, show the Chinese name around. Someone will be able to point you there.