Made in China

With China being my last destination on my four month trip, it finally meant that I could shop.  I had been practicing great restraint throughout the rest of my travels.  It was rather easy to pass on buying things that I saw, especially in South East Asia, because I knew that I would most likely come across these items again because everything is made in China.

First shopping in China was in Shanghai.  The plan was to buy a couple of tailor made dresses there.  After finding the fabric market, I found a vendor to haggle the price of dresses and then started to pick the material.  One pattern was easy to pick, but I found the rest of the silk patterns too elaborate and therefore too formal for what I wanted.  Then she showed me the silk blends and I found something there.  So I said to her, this is a silk blend, this material is less.  She said, this is imported from Korea, it’s actually more.  I scoffed at her, what are you talking about?  Everything is made in China!

In the province of Yunnan, I was rather good and only picked up a few items that fit into my backpack with ease and did not add too much weight to the pack.  However, in Xian, I made the mistake of jumping the gun and buying a mahjong set there instead of waiting for Beijing.  That set added about 4 kilos to my bag and took up all of my compressible space!  Everytime I put that back pack on, I cursed that mahjong set!

Finally, in Beijing, this was the last stop and it was time to start buying.  With Beijing being a big city, you didn’t really find a network of streets loaded with souvenir shops like you did in smaller towns.  Maybe, I was going to regret having passed items on the way because I thought I’d find them in China or in Beijing.  (Actually, the cracked egg shell tea pot set that I saw in Vietnam is not made in China).  We decided to visit a couple of markets.  The weekend market was full of antiques and I didn’t part with my money there.  Then the next day we headed to the Pearl Market which is good for jewelry and bingo it was also souvenir heaven.   Word of advice, if you go to China, fly out of Beijing and do all of your shopping at the Pearl Market.  Not only did it have everything there that you could possibly imagine (clothes, electronics etc) but you could get these items for next to nothing!  It’s every bargainers dream!!!

I noticed immediately that the prices here were marked up much more significantly than anywhere else.  If you are not good at bargaining, then you will be paying more for these items.  It definitely helped that my friend was a cut throat bargainer.  She started buying first.  When she’d ask the prices, she’d counter at 1/4 of asking.  What was great was that the vendor drastically dropped the price.  She ended up buying a couple of things for dirt cheap.  Then he turned to me and said what are you buying.  So I pointed to a screen which had a price of 900CNY on it (~115USD).  He typed into his calculator 320 and handed me the calculator.  Instead of countering an offer, I handed the calculator to my friend and he grimaced with pain, not her not her, she’s too tough!  She got him down to 110 (~16USD).  Then I bought a smaller screen for 50.  The vendor wanted us to buy more, but we said that we had to  feed other people in China.  He said no just feed me.

I wanted to pick up some stress balls and only wanted to pay 10 CNY for them.  So we met our next victim.  I whispered in my friend’s ear, get it for me for 10.  He started at 35.  She countered with 10 and he exclaimed that she was stingy!  I sat back silently as they haggled back and forth until he she was offering 12 and he was asking 15.  Then I said, what if I buy 3?  How much for 3?  Oh he loved this idea!  He said, you are very clever, you are a clever girl.  Let me guess if you buy 100 then you get them for free?  What? I said, you’ll give me 100 for free, then I want 100!  My friend decided she wanted one as well and we got 4 for 53.

I haven’t had this much fun bargaining since Egypt.  In Vietnam, they hardly budged on the prices and in Thailand they were only bargaining about 20% off the price and then they wouldn’t budge.  Some didn’t even want to bargain.  The Chinese were all smiling and laughing as we engaged in the combat of bargaining.  They dropped the significant mark up rather quickly.  I would go back to Beijing just to go bargain there.

Now the trip has sadly come to an end. I’m currently visiting my parents.  I was showing off my portable loose leaf tea bottle that I bought in China.  My mom said I have one of those.  I countered with , but yours isn’t made in China.  She said I bet you it is.  She looked at the bottom of hers and said haha it is.  Everything is made in China. 🙂

The Great Wall of China…and Shopping Tour

Although when travelling, touristy things are sometimes avoided, there was no way that the Great Wall of China was going to be missed.  As my friend and I arrived in Beijing, we were in search of tour information for the Great Wall.  We thought that hostels would offer the cheapest rates for tours, but to our surprise, we found a tour for less.  There were lots of people outside of the Forbidden Wall who were selling the tour at a fraction of the cost of the hostels.  Although, I like the best deal in town, I do get suspicious when I see something that’s too good to be true.

Later that night as we did our research to figure out which part of the wall we wanted to visit, the Lonely Planet (or bible) gave us some helpful hints when selecting a tour.  Ask lots of questions such as 1) How much time do you actually spend at the wall? and 2) How many shops are we going to visit?

The next day, as we booked this cheap tour, we were told 2-3 hours at the wall, one stop at the Ming Tombs and another stop at the Olympic Park and two shops with no obligation to buy.  We decided that 2-3 hours was sufficient time and we could put up with 2 shops.  So we booked this tour.

The great thing about the tour was that because it was low season and we were going to the MuTianYu section (which is the less popular section), we ended up on a private tour. However, the guide was a bit confused about the tour’s itinerary.  So we had to call the person who had booked the tour for us to straighten the guide out.  Then when that was resolved, the guide told us that Ming Tombs was very boring and there was nothing to see and that it would be better to go to the Silk Art Museum instead.

We did indeed visit the wall for 3 hours.  The cost of the tour included our entrance to the Wall, but didn’t include the cable car or toboggan run/ski lift ride up and down from the wall (yes, you can come down from the wall in a toboggan).  There is a free option to walk up, but you do need to save your energy for the wall.  Believe it or not, tickets to get up to the wall were more than the admission itself.

The wall: amazing.  Probably my most memorable part of China.  Be warned…it’s a work out to visit the wall and I hadn’t really considered that it would be exhausting climbing up the steep steps.  There were 23 towers.  Depending on how you go up, you reach the wall at different midsections.  Most people try to get to at least one end of the wall which is at a high point and gives you the best views.  There are old parts of the wall that are crumbling and have shrubs growing through the bricks which I wanted to walk along, but couldn’t figure where to pick up those sections from.  Without a camera in hand to take photos and without stopping to take in the scenery, you can probably walk the entire wall and back to your starting point in 3 hours.  I only made it to one end of the wall and had to turn back to return to the tour before reaching the other end.  I was so close, only 4 towers away, but it was the steepest section of the wall so would’ve been time consuming.  I also bumped into a friend from home who just happened to be at the Great Wall that day too.  1.3 billion people in China, and I meet my friend there.

Back to our private tour.  We had a lunch stop.  Now I haven’t mentioned that before reaching the wall, we had one of our two shopping stops.  We saw cloissening, an ancient tecnhique that they use with copper and enamel to make designs on their pots.  We did really well.  Listened to the 10 minute presentation and walked quickly through the gift shop and back into the van.  After lunch, we returned to Beijing and drove past the Olympic Park (I only caught a glimpse of the bird’s nest) to shop number 2.  This was a tea shop.  We sat down, watched the presentation, drank the tea and didn’t succumb to the high pressured sales lady who just badly wanted to make some commission.

Next, we headed to the Silk Art Museum (which was 500m away) and which was not entirely a museum.  We did learn how the silk is made but then there were 3 rooms to buy silk products: bedding; material for making clothes; and on the already made clothes.  Now, it was here that we faltered and didn’t make a beeline for the door.  I have to admit that some money was spent, but not copious amounts.  In fact, I think our guide made so little commission on our purchases that it wasn’t even worth it to him.

Now it was Olympic Park time, right?  NO!  There was another stop.  Not technically a shop, but a free foot massage…?  I was wondering how this foot massage factored in.  It was a massage school within the Olympic Park.  We started off with a foot soak in 40 degree water with tea bags in it- I couldn’t get my feet in because it was too hot.  The soak was followed by the most painful foot massage I’ve ever had.  Thailand you are the best at massages.  Then the first pitch came.  They offer another service other than the free foot soak and massage.  You can have the dry skin on your feet taken off for the equivalent of 15 USD.  I wasn’t intending to shop and had spent what extra money I had at the silk shop. By telling them I had no money, the aggressive sales pitch came to an end.  Then the second pitch came.  The Tibetan doctor came in who had to speak through a translator.  He was going to diagnose us by reading our palms.  First he started with my friend.  I have to admit, it was impressive.  For everything that he said, she agreed with him.  That was really interesting that he was able to tell this by just looking at the palm.  Then he took out his prescription pad and told her that she needed 3 boxes of herbal tea at 300yuan a box (~50USD).  When she said, she didn’t have that kind of money on her, he advised her that they took credit cards or she could buy one box and if it worked, then they could mail her the other two.

Then it was my turn.  I’m not going to disrespect Chinese Medicine, but once he read my palm, I felt like he was a bit of a fortune teller, and a herbal tea pusher.  He first said that there was something wrong with my digestion.  I have no concerns about my digestion, so I thought, maybe something is starting and I’m not aware of it.  So I asked him for more information.  He said that I was constipated.  Nope.  Then he asked if I’m regular with my eating and I said normally, but I’ve been travelling for 4 months and there have been irregularities.  Next, he asked if at home I’m on any regular medications.  I said only oral contraception.  Then he replied that I don’t need to take any meds.  Afterwards, I realized that the phrasing of his question made me think of what meds I take at home, but I completely forgot that I was on antimalarial.  Had he asked me if I was taking any toxic meds, then I would have been impressed, but he just seemed to be asking probing questions.  Then he asked about back pain.  I said that I occasionally have it, but it’s not a concern to me.  Then he said, well herbal tea can be used preventatively as well, so I think you should buy a box.

Finally at 5:15 (and we started the day at 8:15), 4 shopping experiences later, we arrived at the Olympic Park.  I was so excited to see the Birds Nest and grab some photos of it.  We were given enough time to walk to the Birds Nest, take a few shots, then to the Water Cube, snap snap, and then back to the van.  If you actually wanted to go into these buildings (which isn’t worth it), you wouldn’t have had the time.  Then back to the hotel by 6:45.  We had wanted to see an acrobatics show that night, but we were too tired to go straight to the theatre.

The Great Wall was fantastic.  I could have used slightly more time there instead of having my feet beat upon and pushy sales people trying to get me to buy overpriced goods.  But, hey, you get what you pay for.  So my advice, if you really don’t want to go these high pressured commissioned based shops, then pay the extra money for a non-subsidized tour and maybe they’ll only take you to one shop!  🙂