Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Beijing: Too Much Shopping

Shopping is an essential part of visiting China, and nowhere is it more enticing than in Beijing.

A decade ago, the streets would have been crowded with outdoor stalls. In stately and modern Beijing, they’ve moved indoors.

Sure, there are malls galore, but we’re talking indoor markets, floor upon floor of giant spaces jam packed with permanent booths selling just about everything you can imagine, from cell phones to D&G labeled jackets to pearls.

Shopping is one of the reasons Gretchen Bentley of Palm Beach, owner of Barzini on Worth Avenue, comes here. I found her in the quaint patio of Red Capital Residence, the boutique hotel created by American Laurence Brahm, where we’re both staying.

Bentley sticks with high-end goods; the Tahitian pearls in the Hongqaio Pearl Market are actually quite good, she says…but they’re not on the usual pearl floor.

Most of the rest of the items here are everyday goods: knock-offs, fakes (“cashmere’’ pashminas sans real cashmere), or factory seconds from name brand companies that manufacture here. I was once told that some companies give each employee an allotment of goods each month, and those generally end up in a cousin’s market stall. Hard to know for sure.

Market shopping here is real experience. “Come see my shop! Come see my shop!’’ beckon the sales people. It’s not unusual to find yourself surrounded by a half-dozen shop girls who are pushing and prodding and grabbing at you. This isn’t because they’re picking your pocket; it’s just the way. It works best if you have a little fun with them. “How much you pay me to take jacket?’’ usually gets a few laughs.

In earlier visits, I fell prey to the burning desire for local designs that at home, I never once put on my body. Now I only buy things I know I will wear, usually from makers I’d buy at home, like Banana Republic and Gap. Then I give it the TJ Maxx test: If it’s not equal to or less than what I’d pay for a similar item at TJ Maxx, I don’t buy.

In the end, it all comes to bargaining. In the past I would have figured that I’d settle at about half of the asking price, but in the past five years asking prices have escalated significantly. Now I start at about 20-25 percent of the asking price. I apologize that I know it is too little. They come down slightly. I go up only a hair, then prepare to walk.

My average deal: 25-35 percent of the original asking price.

A lesson in capitalism, from a Communist country.


Top: Beijing Silk Market
Above: Jane after TMS: too much shopping

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