One of the best things about traveling alone is getting into interesting conversations with random travelers. On my trip back to Beijing, I was seated next to a lady who spends her retirement years traveling. She told me about her trip to Beijing and a shopping area called Ya Xiu (or Yashow). I just had to see it! Thanks to Google Maps, I found it with no problem.
Ya Xiu is located in a busy shopping district called Sanlitun Village where stores such as Adidas, Zara, and several other international brands are abound. It is a 4-floor clothing bazaar that covers a wide range of items including clothing, electronics, jewelry, souvenirs, and accessories. It is quite similar to Beijing’s famous Silk Market but Yaxiu is more frequented by locals so the items are cheaper if you know how to work your way to a good bargain.
There is an assortment of ’Loui Vitton’, ‘Calvin Klenn’ and several other knock offs of high end brands that sellers would claim to be of good quality. Of course you have to have a good idea of what good quality means since these are what they would often call “class A”. I found a lot of fake electronics with brands ranging from Apple to Samsung. Having recently purchased an original Samsung Galaxy S4, my curiosity tells me to check out what its fake counterpart looked like. Its exterior is very much identical but its screen gave it away. The fake ones didn’t have that crisp, and detailed images. Phew.
The number of stalls in the building was quite overwhelming and that’s usually a good sign because the choices are unlimited. There are several shops selling the same items so you can always use that that advantage to compare prices. It has its fair share of pushy sellers who would literally pull a wandering tourist to their stores. This might be quite surprising to many foreigners but this is how business works here – there’s so much competition! Quite frankly, I found most of the sellers to be rude; they could be so welcoming at first but when I had started hinting that I wanted to look around and check other shops, they became quite aggressive.
While I consider haggling as a sport that I am particularly good at, shopping at Yaxiu became a draining experience when bargaining itself takes a lot of time. Take this one occasion when I found a nice dress that I wanted to buy.
Me: How much is this dress?
Vendor: 680 yuan
Me: Tai gui le (Expensive!)
Vendor: How much you want?
They usually quote unbelievably exorbitant price tag on their items. When potential customers say it’s expensive, the merchants would ask how much you want it for. It’s a bit odd but it’s how bargaining works in in this part of China.
Me: 80 yuan.
Vendor: This is good material. You’re joking. Okay, 600.
Me: Nope. That is crazy expensive.
Vendor: Ok, 400. This is friend price.
Me: No. I can buy clothes cheaper than this is my country.
Vendor: But this is good quality. This is already big discount.
Me: That’s okay. I’ll look around.
Vendor: But price in this building same.
Me: Well, I’m sure I can find another style.
I started heading towards the next stall.
Vendor: Okay, okay. I’ll give it to you for 80.
Now this sounds like a great bargain, doesn’t it? I, however, was getting a little exhausted because the price she quoted was more than 8 times she would actually sell it for. I began having second thoughts about buying it because I didn’t really know if 80 was a good price or if I could have done a better job and lowered it at 50. I ended up not buying the dress.
I realized that market shopping in Beijing requires a lot of time. If you’re a fussy buyer like me, you will definitely need 6 hours or so in the market to explore more items and find an armful of bargains. I believe that my frustrations stemmed from the fact that the bargaining environment in Beijing is not quite what I was used to. In many countries that I’ve been to, merchants didn’t sell their items at a price so much higher than what I have ended up paying for. In Beijing, I felt like I would up paying one month of their space rent t if I was such a sucker and paid their initial price offer.
My rule of thumb when shopping is to determine how much you’re willing to pay for an item. If you’re willing to pay 100 yuan for a dress, tell the vendor that you will buy it for 80 yuan. If the vendor doesn’t agree to it even after you have made an attempt to walk out, tell the vendor you will pay 90 for it. If that doesn’t seem agreeable to him/her, offer 100 yuan if you really, really like the dress. If they won’t sell it to you for that amount, then they are probably not making much profit, not making any profit at all, or they are hopeful that there are others customers who will potentially buy it from them at a higher price. Sometimes, it’s best not to appear interested and simply walk away since you will most likely find another shop that sells the same item.
Arm yourself with a lot of time, a lot of patience, and a handful of bargaining prowess and you’ll get out of Yaxiu alive – and happy.
Take line 10 and get out of Tuanjiehu Station. Take exit C and walk to the street where the overpass is. If unsure, print the location (in Chinese characters) and show it to a traffic enforcer or anyone who looks pleasant enough to help.
Know Before You Go
- Don’t pay more than 40 yuan for T-shirts. They always say it’s good quality so they’ll accuse you of being a “joker” if you say you’re going to pay 30 yuan for a shirt that they originally priced for 300 yuan.
- Dresses may differ in price depending on style/quality. I personally wouldn’t pay more than 150 yuan for a dress.
- Men’s ties really only cost between 10-20 yuan. I made a bad bargain by paying 30 yuan for a tie that they originally priced at 250 yuan.
- Don’t feel guilty for bargaining. If they’re not making any profit, they won’t sell it to you anyway!
- Only ask for an item’s price if you really, really like it. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself in an uncomfortable situation where you’ll be badgered and even followed just to get you to buy the item.
- If noise bothers you, bring a pair of earplugs. Markets can be soooo noisy in China. The shrilly voices that come from all bargaining/convincing activities may be a little too much.
- Bring a bottle of water. I seriously felt dehydrated after hustling my way to get a good bargain.
- If you have more time to spare, avoid going to markets when you’re tired from an all-day excursion. Believe me, bargaining here takes your energy as much as hiking on the Great Wall!
- You’ll find “silk” shops in many markets in Beijing. Most of the sellers in these markets insist it’s silk that’s why it’s expensive. Don’t take their word for it. Polyester can look like silk. If you can distinguish the two from other each then you’re good. Otherwise, find other reputable silk shops to get the real thing.
- Take care of your belongings as with any crowded places in Beijing.
- You may find that the Chinese wear something fancy with a pair of stilettos even when they climb the Great Wall (this is not an exaggeration…I have seen it!), don’t feel obliged to dress up or wear expensive jewelery especially when you’re shopping.
- Scammers can easily pick a tourist from a crowd. Be wary of strangers who approach you to practice their English or those who claim to be “art students”. They will try to get to convince you to see their “work”. You might end up paying an exorbitant fee for an “artwork” that has no value. Honestly, I feel weird ignoring people but I would bet that 99% of the people who will randomly approach me in a crowd is a potential scam artist.
- Shopping in China is an adventure. Tempers may flare. Shouting and smacking may not be unusual. It may exhaust you or frustrate you but keep in mind that this is part of the shopping vibe. There IS always a story to tell.