What kinds of entertainment venues do you expect at your nearest mall? A movie theater? An indoor playland for kids? An ice-skating rink?

How about a beach and a horse riding arena?

That’s what’s now on offer at the mall nearest us. The beach is just a temporary addition like the mini-farm they had last year, but the riding arena is supposedly a permanent feature.

The mall converted their outdoor plaza into a big, fake “beach” for all of July and August. It is the 1th Best Beach!


My friend and I took our kids to play here last week. Along with loads of sand, there are shade umbrellas, palapas, and a few inflatable pools.

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The sand area is free to enter, though you have to either remove your shoes or pay two kuai for plastic baggies to put over your shoes. You can bring your own sand toys or buy some at nearby kiosks, which also sell drinks and snacks.


Apparently, this has been constructed solely as a fun way to draw in shoppers whose kids are on summer vacation. At night and on weekends, they have various activities on the stages surrounding the beach to attract even more folks over to the mall. For good or awful, we can clearly hear the live bands and kid karaoke competition (perhaps they are doing a search for the most tone-deaf child in the province??) until late into the night from our apartment half a mile away.

During our visit, though, it’s fairly quiet and uncrowded. We can sit and let our kids dig happily in the sand, which is nice and wet from the previous night’s rainstorm.


I’m struck by how crazy it is to be sitting on a “beach” in the entry plaza of a mall in a landlocked province in China, and not just because of the geography. Retailers and consumers in this country have changed dramatically over the past decade or two. There’s simply no way a mall would have done something like this in the 90s, mostly because there were basically no malls back then. (Anybody remember Friendship Stores?)

Come to think of it, what mall of any country or any era would do something like this? I can’t imagine a mall in the U.S. trucking in sand to build a beach in their parking lot for two months, but maybe I am just out of touch with U.S. shopping mall advertising tactics.

Anyway, just when I was considering how over-the-top this beach seemed, things got even over-the-topper. We discovered…

live horses!


The one above was named Bubbles. Pretty sure these other guys are way too small to be considered horses.


Why are there live horses (and ponies) at the mall? Well, because as I alluded to above, there is a riding school currently constructing a riding arena and stables on the roof of the mall.

Let’s just review that, shall we? HORSES ON THE ROOF OF A MALL.

They are going to offer lessons, which honestly got me excited enough to ignore the PETA-themed questions forming at the back of my mind. My daughter took a few riding lessons in the States and loved it. (Nine-year-old girl .)

So, my friend and I got some information about these riding classes. My friend asked if they could provide English-speaking instructors since they’re new to China and her kids may take a while to jump from ni hao to however you say stirrup and canter in Chinese. The answer was yes! If we get a group of enough kids, they’ll bring in an English-speaking teacher.

Then we asked about prices for these rooftop English style horseback riding lessons. Hold onto your riding crop: Over 7000 kuai for 10 lessons. That’s more thant US$1000. And not even for private lessons. That’s per child for group lessons. ON A ROOF.

Whoa. (Horses, right?) That is a big chunk o’ renminbi. Would I ever pay that much for horseback riding lessons? Yes, if one or both of these conditions applied:

  1. The price includes installment payments for actually owning a horse at the end of a round of lessons. I’m sure we can keep one in our apartment, especially if it’s already used to living in a mall. The kids can ride it to school. Safer than letting my teenage son ride an electric scooter, plus it’s more environmentally friendly.
  2. The English-speaking teacher they mentioned is actually this guy:

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Alex Hua Tian, China’s “one in a billion” equestrian athlete who is currently kind of busy being the only person representing China in equestrian sports at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Because for a thousand bucks per kid, you had better be getting Olympic-athlete-level instruction. Especially one that can teach English riding with a proper English accent, y’all.

Honestly, Alex Hua Tian might be a big part of why there are horses here at all. His appearance at the 2008 Olympics was right at the start of a big wave of interest in China for horseback riding. In interviews, Mr. Hua has said he is excited about promoting equestrian sports, which, according to his website are “the fastest growing activities among China’s increasingly affluent classes and will continue to expand.”

Don’t you think there’s at least a small chance his next stop after Rio will be a riding school in Kunming?


Yeah, okay, probably not. Oh, well.

Since we are decidedly not part of China’s affluent classes, we settled for taking a brochure from the riding school, petting Bubbles, and smelling wonderful horse smell. Those things were all free.

I plan on taking a peek at the roof of the mall next month to see how the arena is coming along and how the horses are doing. By then, the beach will have been cleared away. I wonder what advertising stunt they’ll have next?


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