Chinese Buffet – Part 14: Shanghai Shopping

Chinese Buffet is a month-long series that chronicles the travels of an American woman who visited China for the first time in July 2007.

Shopping can be an ego-boosting activity in China.

“Hello beautiful lady.”

“Welcome to my shop pretty lady.”

These were the typical greetings used by savvy shopkeepers to lure us into their stores. Obviously there were ulterior motives behind these random compliments, but I just chuckled along and enjoyed them. I wasn’t really interested in the wares they were trying to sell, but wanted to witness firsthand the “experience” of shopping in China.

I skipped the stalls in Beijing, having no motivation to tackle the markets on my own. I knew that when I got to Shanghai, my skilled shopper pal Beth would give me a crash course in the art of Chinese bargaining.

My first haggling practice took place at the Yu Garden Bazaar, after our dumpling lunch. Beth used several key Mandarin phrases to secure some good deals. With her help, I purchased a few souvenirs from among the thousands. There were fans, scrolls, chess sets, chopsticks, silk scarves, jade jewelry…on and on and on. After awhile, the stores all started to look the same.

The Fabric Market was much more interesting to me. With a little imagination here, the possibilities are endless:

Many folks who live abroad here for any considerable length of time wind up with a wardrobe of custom-made clothes – dresses, coats, suits. Beth explained that her family has been more than pleased with the quality and price of their purchases from the fabric market. So I gave it a try. I picked a silk and design from the samples at one booth, and was fitted for a dress. A few days later, I picked up my brand new Chinese qipao:

It needed to be altered slightly, so we had to go back again the next day to pick it up and pay the balance. The dress, plus a shirt I had made as well, cost me $71 total. Travelers who want custom clothes and have a few days to spare in Shanghai should visit here first, to allow ample time for items to be made and altered if necessary.

We also made several trips to one particular pearl shop within the Xiangyang Market, an underground shopping center near the Museum of Science and Technology subway station. (This is a new location for the market — an earlier outdoor version was shut down in 2006.) Amylin’s Pearls is a popular place to stock up on gems:

Again, the possibilities are endless — there are tons of stones to choose from, in all shapes and sizes, and they can be stranded together any which way you like. Since I rarely wear jewelry, it took a little convincing from Beth to get me excited about pearls — but I did order a few black pearl items. I spent about $40 and took home gifts for myself and others too. If they have the time, the gals at Amylin’s will make your jewelry while you wait – you can walk through the underground mall while they work, or you can watch them in action:

Beth’s favorite place to shop is the outdoor Dongtai Lu Antiques Market. It was mine too, but not because of what we purchased. The place was empty, quiet and full of stories to tell. Even in the brutal heat, I liked it here. If it hadn’t been so hot, I would have spent more time walking up and down the main corridor of booths. I’m sure there would have been more folks shopping if the weather had been cooler. But even then, Beth said that this market is usually pretty sedate. (No “beautiful lady” compliments here.) The best thing to do is peek down the side alleys while walking along the main shopping strip. See the stories lingering here?

The heat severely limited our time at Dongtai Lu, and it was obviously affecting sales for these merchants. We did a quick sweat walk through the stalls, purchasing some Chinese games, calligraphy brush holders and ink seals from this kind gentleman, who said we were his first sale in three days:

I was wiped when we were finished. As a self-proclaimed non-shopper, I had reached my limit. All the “pretty lady” compliments in the world would not have kept me going much longer.

But I’m grateful that Beth pushed me through the Chinese shopping experience. I would have never had a custom dress and matching jewelry made in China if it weren’t for her. I’m glad to have these personalized souvenirs to take home with me. And I’m very glad the shopping spree is officially over.