Back to the cover pageBack to home
Beijing Scene, Volume 5, Issue 23, August 27 - September 2

Restaurant Guide
Coffee and Books at Sculpting in Time
Getting lost is half the fun
by Hu Yue

The importance of being totally lost is grossly undervalued by the more mainstream, directionally-oriented segments of society. In fact, a recent survey of Beijing's foreign residents discovered that 28.7 percent not only had zero idea what they were doing here, but didn't anticipate figuring it out any time soon. The same 28.7 percent also reported an unrealistically high sense of self-esteem, hormonal anomalies, and an impressive rate of situational alcoholism. The remaining 76.4 percent tended to be overly concerned with basic mathematics, fearful of undomesticated sheep, and addicted to knowing what would happen next in their lives.

So, for the sake of trying to get you really lost in a part of the city you've never been to before, I'd like to recommend visiting a cozy little cafe called Sculpting in Time-with the single caveat that I'm not entirely convinced I remember how to get there.

By the way, if you get lost on the way to Sculpting in Time and you're an attractive woman looking to meet a handsome, currently-engaged-but-ready-to-break-up-for-something-better writer with a lot of personality and no money, then page me at 6833-0088 x 91327, and I'll tell you how to get there. All others please call the number at the bottom of the page or just scream "Where the hell am I!?" until a burning bush starts pitching you simple rules that seem mostly obvious but might just save your civilization from the abyss of idol-worshipping paganism.

Now pay attention: Get in a cab and tell the driver "beida dongmen" (Beijing University East Gate). He will take you to what is properly known as Beijing University's Southeast Gate (aka the 'small' East Gate), which despite what I just told you, is almost exactly where you want to go. Dismount your cab at the intersection of Chengfu and Haidian Roads, stand on the big north-south avenue (Haidian Road) and, just for fun, ask the locals which road it is. You will be told, with great certainty, that you are standing on Chengfu Road, Haidian Road, Bai Yi Road, and Zhongguancun Road-in that order. Never mind. Beijing's city planners long ago thought it would be interesting to assign identical names to completely different streets and change the name of any given street at random intervals. If you're not lost yet, wait a few minutes.

On the west corner of Chengfu and (possibly) Haidian Road, you'll see a big, ugly, top-heavy modern building, apparently designed by a person with no soul. On most nights, at the intersection below the unsightly behemoth, a horde of old ladies practice yangko dancing, a traditional form of aerobics that is rumored to be outlawed until October 1, while a crowd of bored onlookers stand around and block traffic. Proceed west through the crowd of bored onlookers, along the small street which leads you to the Southeast Gate of Beijing University. DO NOT enter Beijing University-perfectly healthy Canadians have done it only to be found later wearing oddly permanent smiles and building careers around babbling cliches in Chinese with strange older men in bad suits. Instead, turn right and walk 300 meters north.

You'll notice a telephone pole growing in the middle of the alleyway. Don't ask why. Just keep going until a 40-something man appears in striped pajamas and black slippers, encouraging his scruffy white mongrel to do in the bushes what a surprisingly large number of Beijing restaurants won't allow humans to do in their restrooms.

You'll next pass a small store with two dozen local residents staring at an old black-and-white TV playing the 48th episode of the hit period drama Huangzhu Gege. Keep going and look off to your left, over the Beijing University wall, where a Chinese pagoda is tastefully illuminated by moonlight. As you look back to your right, you'll visually invade the privacy of a family of three generations sitting outside on couches getting moon tans.

300 meters later, you're still not even close to Sculpting in Time. But you have reached the Sanfo Camping Goods Store. Go in. Check out their camping gear. Browse through their photo-brochure of outdoor activities. Admire their tents, sleeping bags, hammocks, backpacks, air mattresses, and Chinese translation of the SAS Survival Manual. Consider planning a trip. If you've lived in Beijing for more than two months and are still harboring the delusion that you don't need to go camping or climb a mountain, then you may require psychoanalysis and should consider donating your brain to science.

After you leave Sanfo's, turn right at the very next alleyway, and walk briskly for 27 meters, as you absorb the flavor of a real Beijing neighborhood untainted by Western materialism, free of fast-food restaurants, and not a single lawyer in sight. No, wait. Oh, crap. Turn around. This is the wrong alley. Sorry.

Return to the main alley, and continue north again for 100 meters, until you see a blue sign with white lettering on it. Turn right into this unassuming, dilapidated hutong and prepare to be surprised. You will pass two restaurants, an internet caf醆†(, and a beauty parlor, after which you'll discover a modest little window with a filmmaker's clapper board and the most inviting doorstep in Beijing.
From here, you're on your own.

I've told you how to get to Sculpting in Time with straightforward, Beijing directions, but I'm not going to spoil the adventure by describing in crass detail what you'll find there. Just trust me. You need to leave the space-time continuum of downtown Beijing for an afternoon or evening. You need to feel slightly lost for a few minutes, in an unfamiliar place, uncertain of the immediate future, then land on an island of civility and books and music and coffee and banana shakes. You need to see another part of this city. You need to ask owner Zhuang Songlie why he named his cat Chun Ming, what 'sculpting in time"'refers to, and what happened to him on a train ride to Xinjiang.


Sculpting in Time offers snacks, coffee, magazines, Chinese books and film screenings (Thursday & Saturday, 7:30 pm-Call to reserve seats).

Previous Picks

Rotary Sushi

Jintaiyuan Restaurant

The Mother of All Theme Restaurants

Waterside Cafe


Tian Gen Yuan Authentic
Beijing Restaurant

La Place

Havana Cafe

Alamuhan Authentic Xinjiang Cuisine

Scandanavian Food

Real Spring Rolls
Real Beijing Food



China's Cultural Underground Travel Scene Shopping Scene Classifieds Daily Events Guide Book Reviews Wine and Dine Guide FYI Ask Ayi Doctor Doctor Comrade Language cartoon News from the Chinese Press Book Reviews