Saturday, November 12, 2011

Lonely Hearts @ Shangai Ikea

NPR has an interesting story on how older "lonely  hearts" take over the Ikea caffeteria in Shanghai two times a week to meet and make friends. Among the interesting aspects is that many of the senior citizens seem not to understand that this is not really what Ikea want. It is almost as they they are saying, "Well, you have a nice place for shopping, you offer free coffee, so why are you surprised that we like to hang out here?"  Among the more amusing observations:
In fact, some Chinese have always treated IKEA like an extension of their own homes. When the first store opened in Beijing in 1998, people napped on the beds. Families camped out on sofa sets, reading newspapers, drinking tea from glass jars and eating biscuits.
One aspect of the story that was not mentioned is the role that all the moving, the urban renewal, and dislocation has played in causing older people to seek friends in a common space like this.  I wonder if older, established neighborhoods would not have been more able to satisfy the elderly's needs for sociability in the past. But if you've been moved to a remote neighborhood, in a tower where you know few people, you need new ways to make friends. And yet, this is still unusual, because Chinese rarely make friends with strangers. It would be interesting to know how this "custom" developed.

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