[Offbeat]: Mo Mi Time Travel Cafes

By Zita Fuxjaeger, Mar 5th, 2013 | In Community

"Offbeat" is a SmartShanghai column about stuff to look at or do in Shanghai that's interesting or weird (relatively, of course), that doesn't fit anywhere else. It appears weekly, monthly, or maybe even annually, when we're not busy working on other superfluous column ideas.

Shanghai now has four Mo Mi Cafes. They're those Instagram-colored arts and crafts cafes that have sprung up recently, catering to melancholic Chinese youths. The difference here is that you can buy postcards and post them into the future. Like five years into the future. That’s cool… Who doesn’t like to receive post from the past?

The Chinese name is 猫的天空之城概念, which means something like “The Cat’s Sky in Between the City”. No idea what that has to do with anything, but hey, cats are cute and they print sweet little paw prints on everything.

The biggest Mo Mi is in Fudan’s student street, University Avenue. There’s also one in the basement of Xintiandi Style, one in the far west of the city on Qibao Old Street, and another in the Captain Hostel on Fuzhou Lu . All have the same concept: you can buy postcards for 2rmb and mail them directly at the café for another few kuai — doesn’t matter if it’s within China or abroad. You can have them delivered straightaway, just like in a regular post office, but the real interesting part is you can also send your cards into the future. They have 365 different boxes, one for each day of the coming year. You pick which day you’d like your card to be delivered — say, your friend’s birthday next year — and put it in that box.

The other option is to send your card into the real, far away future-future, say anywhere from 2015 to 2020. To do that, you put your card into a mailbox for that corresponding year and the café will fish it out in years to come and mail it out for you. Pretty exciting stuff, right? China Post never brought me any letters from yesteryear. My only quibble is that, obviously, we can’t be completely sure if these cards will ever arrive. I mean, it's Shanghai and there’s always a chance that in a few years’ time the place won’t exist any more and they’ll just dump all the cards into the Huangpu. But still, it’s kind of exciting to pen angry remonstrations to your future self, taunting it for getting old and for failing to live up to your dreams. Or maybe your future self needs reminding what an average day was like back in 2013, how awesome you were and how fast and loose you played with its youth. Definitely many options for talking to your future self. Just like that Korean movie with the time-hole postbox.

The Fudan branch is definitely the nicest. The staircase up to the second floor seating area is lined with massive shelves packed with an endless variety of postcards. Most of them are art-ish cutesie drawings but they also have some photography and a few touristy ones, if you happen to feel like sending your grandma (or the grandma you will one day become) a picture of Nanpu Bridge. The upstairs room is bright and spacious; about 20 big wooden tables and a separate Japanese-style seating area in the corner.

Since the place has a reading and writing theme, tables are equipped with lamps and all sorts of pens. The jazzy Chinese music in the background isn’t too intrusive, either. Some of the tables have comfy couches to slouch and read, others have higher chairs to attend to serious writing. All the pictures for this story are from the Fudan branch.

See? Nice right?

Tasty, smooth...

The Xintiandi Mo Mi is a damn site nearer downtown, and it’s not bad, with the same concept, music and furniture. The only problem is it’s in the basement of a mall, which means no natural light and, however hard they try, it still has that mall-ish feeling of restlessness to it. You know some places just make you want to spend hours there, sipping on a coffee, reading and chewing a pencil, philosophizing about the world? Well, this isn’t one of those places. Also, the crowd is slightly different. It’s still mainly Chinese kids reading the books provided on a massive bookshelf (all in Chinese, the English ones were used to build the counter for some reason) but there are also more of the annoying shopping-girl types. You know, the one who keeps posing for photos with her coffee mug.

Then there’s the one at Captain Hostel, which is really just some tables scattered around the entrance area. It might be better in summer when coziness is less important, but for now, it’s not the sort of place to put you in the mood to write dreamy screeds to your future self. One plus, though, is it’s right there on the Bund, so it would serve if, on stumbling out of Zeal one morning, you wanted to remind your future self never to do that again.

Finally, there’s the Mo Mi on Qibao Old Street. Not been there, but it’s kind of out of the way, too, which means it probably has some space and charm, but it’s doubtless a fag to get to. In fact, we just found two more branches in Zhujiajiao watertown and Songjiang.

All of them sell arts and crafts, hand-drawn maps and notebooks so they’re good places to buy a birthday card or a present. The menu is the same across the board: coffee, their signature silk-stocking milk tea, hot chocolate and some tea sets. They also have a masala tea, which is tasty, plus you get one of their cute ceramic cups with it for free. Prices are moderate. Comparing it to other retro café chains like Sculpting in Time , a latte here is just 28rmb instead of 35rmb. Of course, there’s also a whole range of sweets and desserts for couples to share… Just all the stuff cutesy kids dig these days.

Full listings of Mo Mi Cafes with maps and such can be found here.

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