"Doing Burger King for lunch, join us?" read the text message from a US pal Jeff last Saturday. A frisson of excitement - almost erotic - ran through me as I read it.
Unlike ubiquitous McDonald's and KFC, BK has yet to really crack the Chinese market. There are only two in Beijing - one in the airport and another in the Xidan area of Beijing, an hellishly packed shopping mall zone the size of Lichtenstein that in my mind is sort of like those 14th century maps that showed unmapped regions containing sea monsters, dragons and cyclops reading: "Here be dragons."
My mental Beijing map that includes Xidan says the same and shows demon eyed Chinese shopping 'bot zombies crushing anyone and anything underfoot for space and bargains at a Levis outlet as multiple PA systems compete at 170 decibels in the aural equivalent of water boarding.
So I have avoided Xidan and others like it since coming to Beijing, unlike Shenzhen where C - for whom these mall plague zones are like oxygen - would often lure me under false pretenses that I'd rather not admit to buying into at this point. But the thought of a real Whopper and BK onion rings seemed irresistible. Hell, I'm told some expats here used to make pilgrimages - a fast food Haj - to Beijing International Airport spending more on taxi fares than the meals to indulge themselves in fatty greasy Flame Broiled Goodness.
Done, sealed, delivered see you there,I told Jeff. I was one my way to the Promised Land after, what? maybe three years since I'd last snarfed a Whopper Jr for the equivalent of about $112 at the Hong Kong Airport. Outside Xidan craning up at the multiple malls, I looked in vain for what Jeff had told me was the "Joy Center" complex while disco versions of Christmas carols cranked like hell's own anthems and I tried to squeeze into as small a space as possible for an overweight guy in three layers of winter clothing in order to avoid the shopper tsunami.
Jeff finally located me on a pedestrian bridge where he said later, "it looked like you wanted to jump." Close, yes. But the King called.
Inside on the third floor Jeff yelped, almost trembling: "No line!" His Chinese girlfriend rolled her eyes and patiently explained to me, "Last time we were here the line was out to here..." pointing toward a vista that went from BK to electronic equipment, luggage, sportswear, weird stuff no one really buys and eventually where dragons be.
Order made, settled in and inhaling the Whopper (or huangbao "Emperor Burger" as it's translated here) and rings suddenly I felt at peace with it all. The grease felt oh so right at the moment. It was almost with regret that I wiped it off my mouth and cadged another onion ring from Jeff.