Silent Night: Sanlitun Passes a Peaceful Yet Slow Christmas Eve

Despite air quality in the “beyond index” range and a general security advisory to avoid Sanlitun the spiritual center of Beijing’s nightlife scene was still moderately busy on Christmas Eve -- and saw a slow but steady flow of visitors all day on Christmas Day today and into the evening.

“I wasn’t afraid to come out today,” said Dennis Zhang, a 10th grader from Beijing who is back in town for the holidays from Vancouver, where he attends high school. Although surprised to see so many police and irked by the pollution, neither deterred him from getting his Starbucks fix. “It’s not that big of a deal as far as I’m concerned," he said. "I’m not too worried -- I just wanted to get some Starbucks.”

Those out and about on Friday shared the same sentiment.There wasn't a single empty seat Friday afternoon at the Starbucks in Taikoo Li, and even a couple of customers were sitting outside despite an AQI Index in the upper 500s.

“I have no concerns about being out today,” said an American customer who was sipping coffee while sitting outside at Starbucks Friday. “[The pollution] was a lot worse a couple of weeks ago, and there’s a lot of police around, so it’s probably safer than usual.”

“I guess I’m getting used to the pollution here,” echoed American Arion Franklin, who was out shopping Friday afternoon at Taikoo Li. “I have a mask, so hopefully that protects me a little bit [from the pollution],” he said.

As for the security warning, he said it didn't change his plans.

“Honestly I didn’t think much about the security issue,” he added. “It’s definitely got me on high alert – I’m trying to be more aware of things around me -- but it’s not the kind of thing that's going to keep me at home.”

Barricades remained around the area and a large police presence could be felt, with multiple groups of baton-wielding police and security guards roaming the area in groups of three or four, occasionally conducting public drills.

However, both the weather and the security alert made for a relatively slow Christmas Eve. Several area businesses reported that the combination put a damper on what is usually a very busy time of year.

"We had a charity event last night and half the people cancelled,” said Home Plate Manager Mario Lee. “Tonight’s a bit better so far, but still bad for a Friday night.”

“Pollution always hurts a little,” said American Kenn Bermel, who runs the Local Bar and Grill. “We had a lot of cancellations [for our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners], but we re-booked a lot of the turkey feasts for delivery rather than eat-in.”

Bermel also mentioned they didn’t see the drinking crowd they normally see on a holiday evening last night.

“Yesterday was really quiet because of the warning, said Zhou “Joe” Yan, co-owner of Lily’s American Diner, whose largest location is in Sanlitun. “Tonight’s a bit better, but still down for a Friday.”  

Those that did come out to Sanlitun seemed determined to have a good time.

 “I feel perfectly safe being out tonight – in fact, this might be the safest place in China right now because of the extra security,” said one patron dining at Home Plate Friday evening, who identified himself as William. “As far as the pollution goes, what are you gonna do? It’s everywhere, unless you want to sit at home and crank up your air purifier.”

Other area businesses expected a lot worse given the serious nature of Thursday’s warning.

Biteapitta owner Avi Shabtai reported that the number of walk-in customers was less than usual but that his pre-booked parties all came without incident.

Meanwhile David Schaumann, marketing manager for Cheers Wine, said business was down a bit but far less than expected given the nature of the warnings.



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