Candlelight dances on the walls and ceiling. The dance of light unveils Lucas’ face as he struts toward the kitchen. A vanilla aroma from the candles wafts through his apartment. He anticipates the scent will make him increasingly delicious once the night unfurls. His wife Ariel nudges the front door open, plops her bags down on the cold ceramic floor, and wobbles around untying her shoes. Lucas seats himself hastily. Ariel occupies her mind with yet another frustrating day at work, so it takes her a few seconds to realize her environment. Ariel gawks, wondering aloud what the special occasion is. “You,” replies Lucas — in a way reminiscent of T.J. Thyne, the main character in the short film “Validation”. Good riddance to Friday night takeout (外卖 wàimài, a term usually used for “takeout” over the phone), Ariel thinks.
In the above scenario, Lucas set the mood (also called 烘托气氛 hōngtuō qìfēn or 营造氛围 yíngzào fēnwéi). 烘托气氛 hōngtuō qìfēn literally translated means set off the atmosphere, and 营造氛围 yíngzào fēnwéi literally translated means build/create the atmosphere. Native Chinese speakers use both phrases.
A Place of Play
We can reshape our outer reality so that its soft influence permeates our inner reality. This reshaping or molding has the potential to occur through our everyday behavior, such as how we greet a colleague, how we physically comfort our loved ones, how we sit, and so on. The candlelight dinner above reflects a new moment (a candlelight dinner at home) dethroning an old habitual action (Friday night takeout). To begin changing our approach to daily routines in relationships, sometimes we need to construct an alternate reality—which can be a temporary game, like hide-and-seek, that encourages players to interact with one another in new roles .
Let’s consider what I call the adult playground in Beijing’s Joy City (大悦城 dàyuè chéng), a mammoth mall (购物中心 gòuwùzhōngxīn) next to Qingnianlu 青年路 on line 6. Before visiting the 5th floor of Joy City, I previously thought a mall was solely a place for shopping, going to the cinema, playing arcade games, and perhaps the occasional skating rink; however, there are a few things I have yet to encounter in other malls. It is the ideal place for taking on the new role of a painter or a cook with your date.
Art Jam & Cafe
Would-be artists should visit 同戓绘馆 tónghuòhuìguǎn. Numerous easels, supporting canvases of various shapes and sizes, are arranged inside. “Copy the masters” must be the unspoken motto, because a large selection of pictures await imitation—everything from Van Gogh’s The Starry Night to Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. For those that don’t know how to draw or paint, somebody who works there will provide art lessons. When I visited the place, a couple’s arms intertwined while they were painting a bright full moon.
Celadon Story Modern Tea House
Celadon resembles the color of jade stones, traditionally a highly valued commodity in Chinese culture. Jade has positive meanings in Chinese idioms, ranging from truth, virtue, peace, beauty, and more. 怜香惜玉 lián xiāng xī yù, which literally says to care for fragrance and cherish jade, is an idiom that can be translated as “to take care of a beautiful woman”. Celadon can also refer to a type of pottery glazed in a jade color. In Celadon Story Modern Tea House (青瓷故事现代茶馆 qīngcí gùshì xiàndài cháguǎn), visitors can produce their own artwork on teacups and plates. See a cup with a painting of One Piece in this image collection here.
So far I have emphasized painting. Would-be cooks should visit Mansi Kitchen (曼思欢乐厨房 mànsī huānlè chúfáng). Learn from professional Chinese chefs, and cook food from the East and the West in an American-style kitchen. Just try to avoid a food fight if your significant other intentionally enjoys smearing cake icing on your shirt.
Key Vocabulary and Phrases
外卖 wàimài (takeout)
烘托气氛 hōngtuō qìfēn (set the mood)
营造氛围 yíngzào fēnwéi (set the mood)
大悦城 dàyuè chéng (Joy City)
购物中心 gòuwùzhōngxīn (mall)
怜香惜玉 lián xiāng xī yù (take care of a beautiful woman)
 For an in-depth look at as-if moments in Chinese philosophy, see Michael Puett and Christine Gross-loh, The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About Life, New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2016
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