Wu'ai literally means "Five Loves," referring to the fives loves which supposedly animated socialist man: Love of Country, Love of People, Love of Work (or School), Love of Science, and Love of Common Property. By the way, in China, watching your child take a dump on the sidewalk is a perfectly acceptable way to display your Love of Common Property.
In Shenyang, Wu'ai refers to a very special place to go shopping: Wu'ai Wholesale Goods Market. You could write novels where the characters never leave the confines of this place. I'm still not sure how many buildings it takes up. People are flooding out of the doors carrying trash bags loaded with wholesale junk, sometimes two people walk together, each carrying a handle. Your heart starts to race as you ascend the stairs to the front entrance of the shoe building. Behind you, a man with a hand trolley is shouting for you to get the fuck out of the way so that he can continue to replace the junk that is endlessly leaving the store as people buy, buy and buy.
Inside, the concrete walls are lit by florescent lights and it all looks like a giant cave filled with bats, only the bats are people. Dirt mixes with saliva and mucus beneath your feet. What can a shop be, in a place like this? Three walls enclosing a space the size of a closet, and one vendor with a folding chair. Stacks of cellophane-wrapped clothing wait in neat piles for someone to purchase them. There's no need for you to try these clothes on because there's someone just around the corner who will buy them without that time-wasting step. What logic there can be in a vendor's choice of products, you can't know. One middle-aged man has only two types of item in his shop: dress shirts for men and pink skater pants for teenage girls. Only a fool pays the first price offered to him.
But don't for a second think that clothes are the only thing served up at Wu'ai. No. Take a short walk out the door, past the street food vendors, and you can go to the Small Goods building, the caverns of which are filled with sanguine, glorious red. Red cards to send to your family, red good-luck charms to decorate the dashboard of your taxi, red bunny-rabbit plushies to welcome the new year. Red underwear to don on your wedding night. I once saw the most fantastic poster, red, of course, with a photo of two rabbits decked out in gold chains like Masta P, and between them a smaller photo of a Mercedes-Benz. The edges of the poster were lined with the heads of Mao Ze Dong. I didn't buy it, and I never found it again. Wu'ai is a mystical place, a maze where you will never, ever find the same store a second time.
Do you need to buy socks? There is an entire floor of one building dedicated to socks, completely separate from the building dedicated to shoes. If you need blankets, those can be found on the third floor of the sock building, but be warned: they are mostly red. If you need custom-made curtains for your windows, there are seamstresses on the forth floor who can fill your order within the hour. On the very top floor of the shoe building, like a quiet mountain retreat, is my favorite place: the stationary market. Here you can find pens, pencils, paper, binders and face-masks all decorated with cute animals speaking nonsense English. Though there may be 30 or 40 shops on this floor, I have been there so many times that I know the way to the shops which sell the particularly cute items.
I like to say that capitalist man also has 5 Loves: Love of Shoes, Love of Socks and Underwear, Love of Clothing, Love of Bedding, and Love of Small Goods.
In the area surrounding this massive complex of buildings I found something that solidified my impression of Wu'ai more than being inside of the market itself. I call them "Shop shops." Rows upon rows of shops selling manikins, hangers, steel fixtures and tables. Welders with torches blazing and carpenters with hammers pounding shop fixtures in the street. Around Wu'ai, a whole industry flourishes just selling things to shop-keepers. So I heard you like capitalism.