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In a Barbie World

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The Pink Palace in Shanghai

“Could I have a Barbie passport please?” I asked the pink-jacketed sales assistant.  Smiling, but without a hint of sarcasm, she asked for my name and date of birth.

  “No, it’s not for me; it’s for my five year old daughter.” That straightened out, I was asked to take her over to the Barbie photo studio for her “glam shot”. 
 
  “I’m afraid she’s in Beijing,” I replied. 

 

  “No problem, she can have her photo taken when she comes to Shanghai.”

  The lady said it as if it were an incontrovertible certainty that my daughter will make the pilgrimage to Barbie’s pink palace on Huaihai Zhong Lu.  And the extreme likelihood is that she will be proved right sooner rather than later.  The exact timing will depend on how quickly I show her the photos I took today – not to mention her shiny pink Barbie passport of course.  When she realises what’s here for her in Shanghai, I’m sure that Hong Kong Disney will be relegated from top-spot on her wish list of places to visit; and that she will start taking a keen interest when she next hears I’m off to Shanghai on business.

 

  The Barbie store in Shanghai is the world’s first Barbie “experience centre”.  The grand opening was last Friday, timed to coincide with Barbie’s 50th birthday.

 

  This emporium of pink pleasure provides young (and young-at-heart) girls with six floors of eye-popping displays and activities.  Why not take a day to test out the Barbie anthem’s claim that “In a Barbie world, life is plastic, it’s fantastic”:  You could start by having a Barbie makeover in the beauty centre.  Then why not try on a few new outfits and show them off to an admiring audience as you strut your stuff on the runway.  Or what about spending some time chatting online to your American friends in the computer room (pink of course); before stopping by at the professional-standard photo-studio to pose while seated on a large pink throne (plastic may be fantastic, but purists will be relieved to know that this material doesn’t feature in the camera they use here – the Nikon D200 has a die-cast magnesium alloy body).

 

  If you fancy a work-out, or even a yoga class, there’s a large dance studio with wall to ceiling mirrors.  And, when it all gets a little too much, you could always retreat to the reading room.  By which time, you will undoubtedly be ravenous, so you’ll need to make your way to the top of the shop – the 6th floor – to dine at the Barbie restaurant that was, according to the Barbie press office, “created at the direction of renowned chef and chocolatier David Laris”, who put together a menu, “designed for divas of all ages”.   Not feeling spoilt enough?   Then, you’ll be needing a facial, or perhaps a body wrap or massage at the Barbie spa (“designed to rejuvenate and transform Shanghai women into urban princesses”).

 

  By now, you will probably be thinking that you would like to buy a few things.  Shanghai’s House of Barbie has something for everyone, no matter what your budget may be.  You could spend just a few yuan on a Barbie book; or for those of you who could afford to build your own pink palace there’s the 280,000 yuan diamond necklace.  Then again, you could use the same mountain of cash to buy something a little less showy.  Let’s see now… 280,000RMB… How about his and hers Honda Civics (price not including Barbie and Ken sun visors).

  As for me, I settled on a Barbie early-reading book; and the three princesses and their sparkly horses from Barbie’s latest blockbuster film. 

  This is where the Barbie passport came in handy.  The 20 yuan cost of the passport was redeemed and I also received a 5 per cent discount off the total price.  As well as my first stamp in the passport (a full page of stamps qualifies for a special free gift no less).  I handed over the required number of appropriately-coloured 100 yuan notes (the flagship note here – in China that is – is indeed Barbie-pink.  How’s that for a marketing coup). 

  I descended the spiral staircase – the walls of which showcase no fewer than 875 signature hand-made and individually styled Barbies – feeling that I had just had one of the greatest retail experiences in the history of shopping.

 

  Imagine what a five-year old would think.

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Waiting for a princess