Shanghai Stories and Tips

Shopping in China

Yuyuan Bazaar Photo, Shanghai, China

I’ve spent many years trying to keep my backpack at minimal weight, so most of my souvenirs are the memories of my trips – very lightweight, cheap, and can’t be lost or broken. Jim, however, is the shopper in the family, and the prospect of bargaining for gifts and souvenirs was enough to put a permanent smile on his face. He decided to do most of his shopping at the end of the trip, which meant Shanghai for the mainland China portion.

"Hello, do you want to buy a watch?" was the most often heard greeting along Nanjing Lu and The Bund. It seemed like everyone had watches or purses to sell and were not shy about advertising it. Most didn’t actually have the merchandise with them, but wanted to take you to where their bounty was offered. Jim was looking for a fake Rolex, so he decided to see what one young fellow had to offer. He wanted us to follow him from the bright lights of Nanjing, down a side alley to another much smaller and darker alley and then into a slummy-looking building. Belatedly, caution kicked in, and we decided we didn’t really want the watch badly enough to head up the numerous flights of stairs to wherever his supplier was waiting.

That didn’t mean we were out of luck, since there were still hundreds of people with items for sale. Eventually, Jim found a fellow in front of the Peace Hotel who had the watches with him (reminiscent of the cartoon where the man rolls up his sleeve to display copious watches). The initial asking price was 100y per watch, but the name of the game in China is bargain, so they offered and counter offered as a small crowd gathered to watch the action. The promise of a big sale (10 watches) brought the cost down to 20y each, a figure both parties were happy with, so the deal was struck and we had souvenirs for most of the family.

Normally, paying full price is unheard of when dealing with street vendors, at markets, and even smaller shops. On the other hand, a vendor at Yuyuan Garden Bazaar had a large selection of ties, and Jim was quite interested in one with tiny panda bears on it. At a cost of 10y, the price was unbelievable, and so was the fact that it was "silk." Ready to bargain, if only to save face, Jim was surprised to find that the vendor wasn’t interested and wanted 10y firm per tie. Even the trick of walking away elicited no response. The lure of the cheap tie proved impossible to resist, so he went back and paid full price, knowing he was still getting a good bargain.

A word of caution on pearls and jade: you’ll find them on sale everywhere, but their quality runs the gamut from fake plastic to authentically exquisite. Unless you are an expert at determining authenticity, treat it as a souvenir and don’t spend a lot of money.

No matter where you go, China is full of bargains. Make sure you bring along extra money for all the impulse "must-have" purchases that you’ll be tempted to make.

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