Saturday, December 18, 2010

Shopping in Beijing

Everywhere you go in China you will find shopping. Almost every site or city I went to there were dozens of people trying to sell me his or her goods. It can get overwhelming feeling like you are constantly being asked to purchase items, but there were a few things that I knew I actually wanted to buy so I headed to two famous markets in Beijing: the Silk Street Market and the Panjiayuan Antiques Market.

The Silk Street Market is one large building with many floors that I can basically only describe as a mega shopping center full of everything you could ever imagine to find in any Chinatown across America. Each floor sells different goods starting with shoes on the bottom and working your way up to clothes, jewelry, purses, handicrafts and just about anything you can imagine. The place can be extremely overwhelming and to some it is great fun, but to others it could be seen as their worst nightmare. The vendors grab on to you clothes as you walk by trying to get you to look at their goods and the bargaining is outrageously inflated with prices starting at sometimes more than 300% of the actual selling price. If you are interested in any fake designer shoes, purses, sunglasses or clothes this is the place for you with rows and rows of fake Gucci’s, Louis Vuittion’s, and Christian Louboutin’s. Kind of makes you wonder if any of the purses or shoes in China are authentic. If everyone has a fake one the appeal of having the real one seems to diminish and therefore the appeal of the fakes diminish too, but I guess that’s more of a sociological issue to delve into at another time. You can buy plenty of silk at the silk market and can even get clothes tailor-made for reasonable prices, which is really fun. You get to pick a design from the book and then pick your fabric and in three days they can have your garment turned around. You have to go back for one fitting, but you can also pay for them to come to your hotel to do the fitting and for them to deliver the garment if you do not want to brave the market multiple times.
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The Antique Market is less of an abrasive experience than the Silk Market and is a must-see in my opinion for all visitors to Beijing. The market is similar to antique markets in the states where many vendors are lined up in rows with their goods spread out on blankets in front of them. There are three main sections: one with large stone sculptures, one with all types of handicrafts and jewelry, and then one with books and magazines and Mao memorabilia. I had a wonderful time walking through the market and luckily found a nice young man, who of course asked to take his picture with me, so I asked him if he spoke English and he said a little so I had him help me ask questions to some of the vendors about their wares. Eventually he had to leave though and I had a lot of trouble communicating with the vendors about the objects. It is easy to bargain because they hold out calculators and they type in a price and then you type in your counter (same as at the Silk Street Market), but asking questions about the history of the items is impossible if you do not have someone with you who speaks Chinese. Even if you are not looking to buy anything it is fun to walk around and see all the goods and rub elbows with the locals.
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