city slicker:peking

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The Independent Culture
The Peking authorities have banned the firecrackers that would traditionally welcome in Lunar New Year's Day at midnight tonight, but the city has plenty more to offer ... Most ubiquitous item of clothing: If you've got it, flaunt it. This winter, baggy skirts are out, in favour of the leather mini and the long, woollen "figure-hugger". As the temperature drifts below zero, the traditional shapeless, padded cotton jackets are being replaced by stylish cashmere coats. For fashion-conscious teenagers, heavy, black leather army boots are all the rage, usually teamed with baseball hats. China's new rich stick to famous brand names, from Nike and Adidas, to Hermes and Armani. And for accessories, nothing can beat a tiny lap-dog, preferably a Pekinese, though the Peking municipal government has introduced a hefty dog registration fee of £400.

Hottest ticket in town: China has discovered relationship angst, which, for Peking's residents, often goes hand in hand with an accommodation crisis. "Love in Eden" is a highly experimental drama in which the characters explore both the problems of love and housing. The young couple cannot get married because there's no housing, the three middle-aged characters are involved in a love triangle, and the old couple reminisce about their youthful affair. The actors sit among the audience and improvise theirlines, an avant-garde approach to theatre that has won more notoriety than praise in Peking. Top billing, however, goes to The Fugitive, withdrawn by the Chinese authorities last year after only three days because it was too successful compared with mainland films. Now Harrison Ford is back as part of the US-Chinese trade negotiations - and so are the queues.

Most politically incorrect ticket: More than 20,000 weapons of all shapes and sizes, from the bronze age to the space age, are on show in the weapons hall at the Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution.

The meeting place: Young lovers gaze shyly into each others' eyes - in McDonald's. The more urbane youth prefer to hang out in some of the new bars in town where Chinese and foreigners are all welcome. The Car Wash bar is built next to ... a drive-in car

wash. During daylight hours one can sip a Black Russian cocktail and inspect a procession of gleaming clean Mercedes. The Poachers Pub offers a late-night disco and local bands; among the favourites, the Uighur lads from China's far north-west. The most popular national pastime remains karaoke.

Bestselling book: Best-selling novels must contain their quota of raunchy writing. Jia Pingwa's works have been popular since one of his books was banned for explicitness.

The eating place: Supervised by the Great Helmsman's former chef, 84-year-old Han Afu, the Zeyuan Restaurant offers all Chairman Mao's culinary favourites. Be prepared for a lot of fatty pork.

Drink of the moment: Hosts with the mostest must offer XO brandy, preferably Hennessy or Remy, the unbeatable symbols of status for China's new rich.

Latest fad: Speaking with a southern accent is the vogue among Peking girls. The big money is in Canton and southern coastal areas, not to mention Hong Kong, and a southern Chinese drawl is easily copied from films and pop stars.

Romance: Underneath the arches on the east side of the Third Ring Road doesn't sound promising. But most evenings, accompanied by a ghetto blaster, a group of Pekingers gather for alfresco ballroom dancing.

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