It seems that nearly everything is made in China now, but there’s a huge difference between the mass-produced imports we see in shops in the US, and the unusual goods you can find when actually shopping in China. You’ll find many wonderful, traditional products, high-quality manufactured goods, and hand-made crafts made by skilled artisans.
Shopping anywhere in China is part of a larger experience. Beyond finding your treasure of the day, shopping means walking along the narrow cobblestone streets, crowded bazaars, and quaint back streets of Shanghai and Beijing, getting a glimpse of the old way of life.
China is the place of the amazing deal. Bargaining is standard—and if you think the price is too high, just start to walk away, and more often than not, the vendor will follow you to offer you a better deal.
English is less commonly spoken, even in the larger cities, but shop keepers anxious to make a sale will be able to communicate one way or another. As always, a few key phrases in Mandarin (or Cantonese, depending on where you’re going) will go a long way.
The Great Mall of China and Other Shopping Delights
One of the great delights of shopping in China is picking up exotic, hand-made arts and crafts at the local shops, but no trip to China is complete without a visit to the glittering Golden Resources Shopping Mall in Beijing, Known as the “Great Mall of China,” this astounding place has over 1,000 trendy shops, and is a favorite for local and tourists alike. You’ll find high-end designer goods here, exquisite jewelry, and just about anything else you could ever want.
When in Shanghai, Huaihai Road is the place to go. Reminiscent of Tokyo’s elegant Ginza district, Huaihai Road boasts hundreds of shops with a diverse and fascinating array of goods, and plenty of restaurants of all types for taking a break between buying.
For a bit of history, when visiting the city of Tianjin, stop in at Guyi Street. This ancient marketplace is a great place for silks, furs, and other types of clothes, as well as traditional herbal medicines. Indeed, many shopping areas (outside of the glitzy Golden Resources Shopping Mall) are quite traditional, and make your shopping trips a great immersion experience in Chinese culture. In Xi’an, the shopping area is built on stone streets and features older traditional architectural styles in all the buildings, and plenty of traditional arts and crafts.
It’s often said that every lady should have a good set of pearls, and if you don’t yet have a set, get them while you’re in China. Freshwater pearls here are elegant and inexpensive, available in a range of styles and levels of quality. Pay close attention to the lustre of the pearl as well as the texture. (A pearl that feels too smooth is likely to be a fake.) If you don’t see a pearl necklace that suits you, you’ll be able to find many vendors who will make a set for you to order while you wait.
And of course, silks are ever-present, and you’ll be the envy of your friends when you show up back home wearing traditional Chinese silks. Chinese calligraphy is also a high art form and will make a wonderful addition to your living room back home.