For a long time, where to go on weekends has been a dilemma for every respectable white-collar worker in Beijing. The hierarchy of weekend vacations for Beijing’s middle class has always been that leaving Beijing is superior to going to Yanjiao town, going south is superior to going north, and Aranya in Hebei province is superior to any other destination.
Nowadays, it only takes two and a half hours from Chaoyang Station to Shenyang North Station by taking a high-speed train. landing in the “Paris of the East” is becoming a weekend getaway for the middle class in Beijing.
Shenyang is a substitute for going abroad that is close at hand. You can take Instagram-worthy photos on Xita Street that are no different from the streets of South Korea.
You can also pretend to be in Paris at a catholic church square. It is just around the corner.
Catholic Church Square
The money spent in Shenyang doesn’t feel like Chinese currency. What would be leftover from a meal in Beijing can cover a satisfying feast in Shenyang. Chicken skewers that cost eight yuan each are guaranteed to give you two skewers for fifteen yuan. This is an unspoken agreement among the aunties (the local merchants are so friendly like your aunt) in Shenyang.
Compared to the food desert in Beijing, going to Shenyang feels like going back home. “After soaking in the hot springs and lying on the bed, the chicken skewers, noodles, and all the gourmet foods in your stomach are quietly digesting. That feeling of happiness can only be experienced when you return home.”
Pretending to be in Seoul and Paris
Before the Beijing-Harbin high-speed railway was opened, the Dongbei (Northeast China) tourism industry was like a mysterious legend. Now, the weekends in Shenyang have been occupied by the middle class in Beijing. “Even in the bathhouse, you can hear the young couple next to you talking about housing prices in Chaoyang District.”
Standing in front of European-style buildings, with the Catholic Church that resembles Hogwarts Castle behind you, driving a vintage car gives you the aura of being abroad. Now, who can distinguish between New York and Shenyang?
“In one day of roaming in Shenyang, you can pretend that you have been to several countries and not spend much money. In the morning, you can take European-style photos at the Catholic Church. In the afternoon, you can capture the Korean atmosphere on Xita Street. A hearty meal at Xita Street costs just over one hundred yuan, but in Beijing, two people would have to spend over three hundred yuan.”
It’s not that you can’t afford to go abroad, it’s that Shenyang offers better value for money. The joke about the prices in Northeast China can be traced back to a popular post by Xiaohongshu. “Is ten thousand yuan enough for a half-month trip to Shenyang for two people?” Some people comment: ‘Are you going to buy Shenyang City?’. ‘Are you spending in Japanese yen?’ The conclusion is that prices in Dongbei are surprisingly low: you can have a satisfying meal in Shenyang for just over twenty yuan, while in a certain chain coffee shop in Beijing, a bagel alone can cost 28 yuan.
Someone said that coming to Shenyang makes you feel its previous grandeur. “I thought the chicken cutlets I bought for 9.9 yuan were small, but it turned out to be a whole plate. Young people who are used to the living cost in Beijing feel at ease when they come to Shenyang.”
It’s not just about the cheap prices. Many people come to Shenyang to learn about fashion. “Shenyang’s Zhongjie Street hides many trendy shops selling Korean goods. Most of the clothes here are Korean-style, and a small leather jacket costs only two digits, buying clothes here is like wholesale.”
Most people’s online impression of Northeast China is that it is a desolate industrial base. However, few people know that luxury consumption in Shenyang has always been among the top five in the country. “The K11 (a high-end shopping mall brand) that you can’t find in Beijing is actually here in Shenyang. There are long queues for Chanel and LV. The salesgirls here can show you the goods that you can’t get in Sanlitun (a famous shopping place in Beijing).”
In addition to fashion, even the aesthetic here is more inclusive. “Shenyang is like the Florida of China, the locals are tall and sturdy, and they have a kind of innocence that hasn’t been tainted by the world. In other places, you might have body image anxieties, but here in Dongbei, the uncles and aunties will only say that you look a really blessed, little chubby.”
Shenyang’s public bathhouses are a pilgrimage site for white-collar workers in Chaoyang District
In Shenyang, you can encounter the lifestyles of many different cities. The coffee shops and firmiana simplex on Wujing Road have a touch of Shanghai. Xita Street has become a substitute for Seoul. However, it is only when you visit the bathhouse that you truly experience the essence of a vacation in Shenyang.
The large bathhouse, resembling a palace with a height of four to five floors, is collectively known as “zao tang zi” by the people of Shenyang. They say, “When you drive around Shenyang, you should look for the most magnificent one. If it’s not the Shenyang Imperial Palace, then it must be a bathhouse.”
A bathhouse in Shenyang
Amy, a post-90s white-collar worker from Chaoyang, is a loyal fan of hot springs. She didn’t know until she came to Shenyang that a bathhouse could be as big as a shopping mall, and the ticket price, including a buffet, is only 128 yuan.
Here is not the Maldives but Shenyang
What shocked Amy even more was that in Beijing, most hot spring facilities offer 6-hour and 12-hour options, but in Shenyang, staying for 24 hours is the standard. “Compared to the limited fruit and beverage self-service options, Shenyang hot springs generally include meals. They don’t bother with those trivial things and directly arrange a seafood feast.”
Instead of visiting tourist attractions in Shenyang, Amy spent two days alternating between two bathhouses. “One of them claims to be a Japanese-style bathhouse in Northeast China. A two-meter-long ivory sculpture has been added to the Japanese dry garden of the entrance. It’s the first time I’ve seen a Japanese-style simplicity adorned with mink and gold.”
“It’s only in Shenyang’s bathhouses that I discovered they provide waterproof phone cases. For the people of Shenyang, taking a bath feels like entering a vacuum universe, detached from everyday life. In the outdoor pools, many middle-aged men come here just to soak and play with their phones.”
Experience the family love in Shenyang
Some say that Shenyang is like your aunt who cooks delicious food. As soon as you get home, she quickly arranges a big table of dishes for you. It’s not the same kind of love as that from biological parents, but the desire to spoil you is genuine.
Pao Pao, who just returned from a vacation in Shenyang this week, went there to experience the warmth of the people in Northeast China. “As soon as I met the aunt at the bathhouse, she started calling me ‘darling’ right away. In big cities, people try to get close to you for the sake of consumption, but Dongbei people are naturally familiar and affectionate.”
Sometimes, Shenyang’s aunt can comfort you more than your own family. Pao Pao, who gained 20 kilograms due to work pressure this year, always faces the disappointed eyes of their parents when they return home. “They don’t directly say they find me fat, but every time there’s meat on the table, they always put it farther away from me without saying anything.”
To lose weight, Pao Pao usually eats only until 70% full, but in Shenyang, she experienced what it’s like to be stuffed. “When the Dongbei aunt sees that you order fewer dishes, she will happily increase the portion for you. Dongbei cuisine, which already has large portions, is sometimes served in such excess that it overflows, and the aunt will remind you if it’s not enough.”
“The stir-fry restaurant for takeout, where 1 yuan of rice can fill a container nearly one finger deep, even two people couldn’t finish one bowl of rice.”
Pao Pao, who usually eats at bistros or light food places in Beijing, felt a sincere dedication to cooking in Shenyang. “Once you’ve tasted Shenyang cuisine, you’ll have a contrast when eating a salad in Beijing that costs 70 yuan for three shrimp. Because you know what it means to have genuine food, you can no longer tolerate the programmed taste of light food and pre-packaged meals.”
A nice dinner cost less than 30 yuan PP
In Northeast China, locals have an unspoken understanding of “Is this delicious?” Asking this question directly is equivalent to grabbing something. But if you are an outsider, it’s different. When you unintentionally ask such a question, Dongbei people automatically understand that you must be starving and will insist on giving you whatever they have in their hands.
A single sentence from an outsider can make locals in Northeast China randomly bestow gifts upon them. One afternoon, when Pao Pao went to the market in Shenyang and asked a vendor for just one scallion, an old man next to them directly took out two from the bundle he had just bought. He handed them to Pao Pao, saying, “Here, take it and eat. It is free.”
Pao Pao said that Beijing’s Chaoyang High-speed Railway Station does not have a direct train. There are always traffic jams, if you drive to Shenyang. Thus, the pilgrimage to Shenyang is currently limited to people living in Chaoyang District.
Some people who live in Haidian District and are fascinated by Shenyang complained, “I wanted to go for a walk in Shenyang, but after checking the Chaoyang Station from my home, the distance is equal to going to Tianjin and back”
But for people in Chaoyang District, the inconvenience of residents from other districts just becomes a reason why they have to go.
“The traffic barrier blocks other districts from travelling to the Northeast, but it also attracts people in Chaoyang. See! My home is only half an hour away from Chaoyang Station by taxi, the Northeast is calling me.”