New York to Beijing – Going to the Movies Should be a Movie – Journal Entry #12


New York to Beijing 

Going to the Movies Should be a Movie

Journal Entry 12

At the end of week two in Beijing it was time to go out and see a movie. Sounds easy right? What have I told you so far though? Expect everything to be harder and more complicated in China. This journal entry speaks to this rule for living here.

Munyiva and I wanted to take our children to see a movie. Hollywood movies are very popular here so we knew we would be able to see something current and in English. We had heard that a mall, with a movie theater, was very near and that we could grab a cab there and back fairly easily. We were game and the kids were excited about the prospect too. Soren and Richard had to stay back to do professional development at the school.

We used our taxi guidebook to show the driver that we were going to “Shine City,” the name of the mall complex. Since I had never been there, I was curious what they meant by “mall.” Would it look like malls in the Midwest or New York? Would it be mostly Chinese shops or would there be a variety of international stores? I knew it was relatively new, so I expected it to be nice. I was not disappointed.


Shine City Shopping Centre

Links to a Time Out Beijing Funny Article Written by Another “Mum” in Shunyi

We arrived by cab to the front area of the mall. I knew this was the entrance because of the giant Kung Fu Panda installation that stood over 30 feet tall in the center of a large, open, archway. The second thing I noticed was the Gap. Then Burger King. Then Uniqlo!! They were nestled among a mix of other shops with Chinese names. All the store’s doorways opened to the uncovered courtyard and it appeared to be a few stories tall with balcony walkways woven around that connected several buildings.

To make this story more exciting, I need to tell you that it was raining. This is only important because the one thing that both Munyiva and I forgot to pack was……… yes, an umbrella. We were unclear exactly where the movie theater was and needed to walk around quite a bit to get our bearings and figure out its location. We were getting soaked as we searched.

We found the movie theater on the second floor after going up an escalator. At least the upper balconies were covered and we were safe from the rain for now.

After walking through the doors into a small lobby, we went directly to the counter and began looking at the marquee of movies posted on the wall behind the cashiers. (pictured above) Neither Munyiva nor I were able to locate any information about movie times or titles online before we left, so we were going to wing it. We assumed that we would be able to pick our movie by seeing a photo of the movie and pointing it out, as we do in most stores or restaurants. We were not worried about the movie time. We thought we could do a little shopping if we had wait-time before it started.

Well, the joke was on us. First, the marquee did not have pictures of the movies. And, don’t forget, we don’t read Chinese – this includes numbers. It was impossible to decipher the titles.

What to do? I saw some posters of movies outside the lobby that were popular and ones we knew the kids would like. I thought, “My phone!” It is a camera too. How about I go out and take a photo of the posters, find what looks like a title, and then show the cashier or search for the characters in the marquee.  We could also use my phone’s clock to negotiate what time the movie begins. (Haven’t even gotten to how much RMB it would cost.)


I thought this was a great idea and it finally gave me something to do with my phone. (We still didn’t have Chinese phone numbers by this point.) I trotted out of the lobby and snapped photos of the Tom Cruise movie poster with him hanging off the side of a plane. I couldn’t remember the name of the movie and the title was in Chinese. I also took photos of the giant Pacman movie, Pixels. These were the only English posters in the hallway. The rest were Chinese movies. So, we were hopeful that one of these movies would be playing soon and we thought the kids would like either one.


What a fiasco this was.

I took my phone to the woman behind the counter and showed her the picture on my phone. She shook her head no and said something in Chinese. I tried the second movie picture. Same response. Shoot! What was wrong? Why couldn’t we see these movies? Was it the time they were playing? Both Munyiva and I were trying to look for any other way to communicate with her. We had hoped that there would be a placemat-sized, laminated card with photos and times in English. We looked around on the counter but no luck. At this point, there were people lining up on  the queue behind us. So, we stepped off the line and stood to the side to try to come up with a plan B. The kids were being good and patient with the situation and were waiting on some benches in the lobby for us to figure this out.

IMG_3262After the few people purchased their tickets and no one else was on-line, we tried again. The cashier saw us coming and called out to another young woman working behind the counter at another register. This woman approached and said, “English?” We said, “Yes.” I thought she would then speak in English. No such luck. However, she did hand us a laminated showtime card, but it was completely in Chinese without any pictures of movies.

She pointed to one of the movies listed and said, “English.” Ahhhhh, Munyiva and I understood. This was the only movie in English playing. “Okay. Okay. Yes.” We nodded yes and gave two thumbs up. We were ready to make a transaction.

Now you might have some questions at this point. For instance, when is the movie going to play? What is the movie? Is it Pixels or the Tom Cruise movie? I showed her the images on my phone. For each picture, she shook her head no. Hmmmmm… She pointed to another card at some numbers, actual numerals. Munyiva and I had our heads together trying to figure out what the numbers meant. (15 9 15) Another “ah ha” moment. The date! These movies were not out yet. The release date wasn’t for another week or two.

She continued to point to the same movie on the sheet and say, “English.” Okay then. We will see whatever this movie happens to be. Now, what time?

This was also tricky. I pointed to my wrist, as if I had a watch on. She rambled off the time in Chinese. This was getting very frustrating by this point but we were determined to see this through to the end. She was able to write down numerals for us on a piece of paper. It said, 14:45. That’s right. They use the 24-hour clock. The movie would be at 3:45pm. It was 2:30pm so we had time to do some shopping before the show.

Now all we needed to do was buy the tickets. We called the kids over and pointed at them. There was a moment of confusion as we tried to figure out if kids were cheaper. At this point, I just held up a couple 100RMB and give a curious look on my face to her. “Is this enough?” was my expression. She nodded an affirmative, took my money, and gave me some change and the tickets. Munyiva did the same. We also had to point out what seats we wanted on a computer screen to reserve specific spots for the movie. This was also awkward to negotiate.

Then something bizarre happened. As soon as we got the tickets, a few of the women behind the counter came over, speaking and smiling toward us. They handed us five rectangular boxes. We had no idea if they were trying to get us to buy something of if we won something. It was the latter. Each box had a selfie stick inside. They were giggling and cheering us on as we said thank you and the kids showed their enthusiasm for this gift. Strange.

We then went shopping around the upper section of the mall to waste time. I still needed to buy some more king-size sheets. This was also difficult to do. We found a cute shop with home goods inside. However, finding sheets that were big enough was almost impossible and I was already over my communication-issue-limit for the day. I was able to find one set though along with a bedside lamp, and an umbrella!


You Can See the Back of the Giant Panda through this Walkway

We made it back to the movie theater and the kids wanted popcorn and soda. Here we go again, back up at another counter. This was easy though. There were laminated cards with pictures of food with roman numerals for prices. I pointed to the two popcorn and one soda photo which was 32 kuai. I paid and the kids were given a choice of a cute plastic Minion money-bank. A toy and a Selfie stick all in one day.

We passed through the turnstile and gave our tickets. As we did, the man handed us 3-D glasses and directed us to our left and down the hall.  Remember, we still do not know what movie we are going to see. As we approached the movie doors, I leaned over to Munyiva and say, “I hope we aren’t taking the children to see porn.” We laughed hysterically about this. We really had no idea what we were walking into.

We found our seats, put on our glasses, and munched our popcorn while we waited for the trailers and the movie to begin. It turned out to be the Terminator Genisys. Might be a little violent for the kids, but whatever, it was in English. Munyiva screamed a few times and grabbed my arm. She is not a fan of scary movies I found out. Probably not one we would have chosen if we could have actually read the title.

Well, it was an adventure. We were troopers and stuck with our plan come hell or high water or even an inappropriate movie. And, I now have an umbrella.

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