Thursday, June 19, 2014

MY TRIP TO CHINA - A Tale of Two Cities - Beijing and Shanghai DAY 1 - The Silk Market and Beyond!

Day 1 (continued from below)

The Silk Market

Despite our long trip, we caught our second wind and decided to set foot into the infamous "Silk Market".  As our China Spree tour was likely going to be jam packed, wall to wall, morning to evening, I wanted to try to get the shopping out of the way asap.  Perhaps the most famous tourist trap for the gritty bartering and shopping experience was the Silk Market which I had noticed in my Lonely Planet guide.  Additionally, my friend had also recently visited and said it was a must see.  I have to agree after going here!  And no, this isn't a market where they sell silk (mind you they do sell some silk but given the parameters of this place, it is likely fake silk actually made out of polyester!).

The Silk Market is a multi-story building lined with stall after stall of merchandise and vendors. The real experience here is that the vendors are known to be quite aggressive and you have to negotiate - hard.  It is not for the faint of heart according to many.  The other claim to fame is that quite a few of the goods here are fakes - fake Rolex, Polo's, even fake iPhones.  Everything looks completely legit, but is completely fake.  Somehow even the electronics are fake even though they work.  Talk about high-tech!

Each floor has a different mix of stalls.  On the first floor it is mostly clothing related, on the second floor more clothing and souvenirs, then the third floor watches, pens, and electronics, and of course there are more floors.  What you quickly will find though is that many of the vendors sell the same thing, especially in the clothing area or the watch area.  You can use this to your advantage for your price shopping because you have an easy reason to just walk away if you don't get the price you want since the next stall over will have the same thing.  The key however is when negotiating, to try to get the price down to about 15% to 20% of their asking price.  

You can get lost in here, both literally and figuratively.  You can plan to spend an hour in here in the morning, only to find that night has fallen by the time you leave.  When you do leave, you will leave exhausted both mentally and physically with your arms full of purchases and your pockets empty, only to find a lady outside selling you even more fake Luis Vuittons for a fraction of the "great deal" you thought you just got inside.  And in some cases, you'll know that you may have left just a little bit of your dignity behind.  But all in all it will be a fun experience if you don't take things so personally!

We had a great time here.  Although it was endless, I identified a few t-shirts, Burberry golf shirts, and other knick knacks like Montblanc Pens that I wanted to buy.  I price shopped and my Dad and I went to work.  Chinese versus Indians.  Kung Pao versus curry.  Cheap versus frugal.  The battle of the two cultures famous for their haggling.  My strategy was simple:  counter their ridiculously high offer with a ridiculously low counter offer.  Ultimately I think we fared well - in some cases I could have saved a buck or two, in others I got them to the point of getting mad.  Just to give you a heads up, we paid about $4US per t-shirt, and about $8 for the polo shirts.  The Mont Blanc pens were also about $8US.  The fake watches were aplenty and boy, the quality sure has changed.  Even the Rolexes, Hublots etc, even have automatic movement and sapphire crystals.  Those varied quite a bit in price but for the better quality ones they could still run you about $100 or so.  If anyone reading has gotten better prices please post in the comments so our readers will know!

Ultimately I can't say the vendors were in fact rude or aggressive, contrary to many things I had read.  Everyone was quite pleasant, and the tactic of walking away worked charms.  They would usually follow you out of their stall and convince you to come back.  Whatever you buy though just assume it is low quality so keep your investment low and keep in mind you won't be able to return anything. Additionally, there is a section on the top floor with tailors.  While you can probably get them to come down in price and probably get a men's suit tailored for around $70US, don't do it!  The material they so certainly promote as wool or cashmere is in fact polyester. Wait until you're in Shanghai which has more options of trustworthy tailors.

Quite the experience spending the morning here.  Yes, I said morning.  We decided to go back to the hotel to meet the German guy and his travel companion at the for more adventures.  Since I loved the Silk Market so much I came back many times before we left Beijing...including later that night where I ran into none other than a certain famous Hollywood actor...but you'll have to tune in for that story.  Stay tuned.

Where did we go next?  What was the subway system like and what exciting people did we meet?  The adventure was yet to start.  Keep visiting for more or subscribe for updates!

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