This article is not about any new mall in Shanghai. Let us celebrate one of the shabbiest, run-down, off-brand, and colorful malls in the city. A place where, for 35rmb, you and a friend can play any PS4 game you want on a widescreen TV, or play board games and eat MSG-laced snacks in a café until 2am. A mall where cats live in the hair salons, washing machines sit in the hallways near the blind massage parlor, and grown men gather to play Magic: The Gathering and Warhammer in the middle of a workday.
A mall where you can still smoke a goddamn cigarette out in the open, like it's the halcyon days of 2007 all over again.
Let us celebrate while we can, friends, because Shanghai is a'changin. Remember the electronics market on Fuxing Lu and Xiangyang Lu? It's long gone. Remember Dongtai Lu? It's gone (finally). Candles in the wind. In a decade or two, will we be able to find any classic Shanghai mall madness in the city center?
Let's journey to the most random mall in Shanghai -- The Super 2007 Hobby Mall, a.k.a. the Baimi Hobby Mall.
1. An Overview & How To Get There
This place has been around for a long time. Our Shanghainese colleague Rhiannon remembers going here as a teenager, and says it was even more hood back then. Technically, the address is 248 Guangxi Bei Lu, near Fuzhou Lu, but there's two entrances. One is on Zhejiang Lu, the other is on Guangxi Bei Lu.
Either way, you're looking at a five minute walk from Exit 14 of People's Square. The mall opens at 11am, but it's open entrance, and some of the shops stay open until 2am. They're just leading their best lives at this mall, opening and closing up as they please.
2. The Virtual Reality Arcade
We're right on the cusp of virtual reality completely changing how we game, communicate, and make love. Still a few years to go, though, but that's the direction we're heading in, I guess. For a glimpse at the future, this VR "arcade" (using that term loosely) on the first floor has three booths: a racing simulator, a zombie shooting game, and a spacepod where you can ride rollercoasters and journey through a hellscape while Satan plays death metal on a huge electric guitar. All of this costs 30rmb a pop. So worth it.
Worth trying? Emphatically yes. The roller coaster feels pretty damn real. Everyone felt a bit woozy after. The gun game and racing game are whatever. Our man Mau Mau said the graphics are more like video games from 10 years ago, but check this out now, then consider where NES games were 30 years ago and where PS4 / Xbox is now.
3. Video Game Shops
This mall has at least 3-4 shops selling video games, consoles, and peripherals. At this shop on the second floor, you and a friend can just hang out and play PS4 on one of these big screen TVs. The price is 35rmb per hour, per TV. Not really the most unique spot in town, but hey, they're there if you need them.
4. Board Game Cafés
For analog fun, there's several board game cafés on the second and third floor. These charge 30-50rmb per person, with no time limit, and you can just post up and play any board game for as long as you want. Good look for a rainy day. They have snacks for sale and they don't mind if you order delivery. Some games are really random, like "Dilbert: The Game." Most games are in Chinese though. They do not have Risk. These places are completely packed on the weekend.
5. Pool Hall & Pool Cues
Two pool halls in this place, both looking pretty serious, and busy even on a Thursday afternoon. Next door to one of them is a little shop making custom pool cues and selling some straight-up village-gangster pool cue bags with huge dragons. So intimidating. Pretty much reserved for people who are pool masters, right.
6. Magic The Gathering
A few months ago, when grime / bass producers Deadboy and Murlo came through to play The Shelter, the manager Gaz hit me up to find out where to find Magic: The Gathering cards because apparently those dudes are way into it. Like they couldn't even go a couple days on tour without playing Magic: The Gathering. Imagine. Anyway, I told 'em to hit up this mall. They've got fresh packs of cards, rare cards, all kinds of cards.
Warhammer 40k -- that's also still a thing. Little known fact, DJ Mau Mau used to have a hot hand in the Warhammer game. Expensive hobby, he says. You can find models, paint, and people to play with in several shops here.
8. Random Anime Toys & Cards
Just like at Wenmiao Lu, a bunch of shops in Baimi sell the kinds of toys that single men in their 30s like to collect. Just never giving up the dream.
9. Hair Salons
Just adding to the overall entropy of this place, this mall has a hair salon for everyone. Why? One theory is that this gives the girlfriends and wives of the dudes who hang out here something to do. Might just be the cheap rent, though. Shout out to the Capricorns.
10. Nail Salons
Polish changes, tips, acrylics, manicures, pedicures, nail products, OPI of dubious nature -- it's here. Animals live in several of the salons. This cat was particularly friendly.
11. The DJ Shop
Mixed feelings about this place. They have a fair amount of equipment that you can play around with, but they can be pretty impatient. If you need a new needle, headphones, or controller in a pinch and you don't have time to wait for Taobao or journey up to the Baoshan market, this place will do -- just call ahead. They have weird hours and don't stock everything.
12. Gifted Blindman Massage
Didn't have a massage, but everyone we talked to in here was not in fact blind. On one recent visit, they were just doing a full load of laundry in the hall.
13. The Boxing Gym
A few people who hang out in this mall do in fact exercise.
14. Ancient Bling
You know how if you go to a mall back in America or something, and you see those little kiosks selling bling necklaces and Superman pendants for crazy prices and you're like, "Damn, I know how much it cost to make that… These people are getting ripped off so hard."
Well, I don't really know where I was going with that, but this is some ancient bling.
How much longer can places like this exist in downtown Shanghai? Probably not that long. If you've got an ounce of nerd, geek, otaku, gamer, fanboy, or Trekkie in you, check it out.
The Baimi Hobby Mall is at 248 Guangxi Bei Lu, near Fuzhou Lu.