Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The shoppin' rocks in Beijing

Is shoppin' any good in Beijing? Well, if you are into cheap 'branded' stuff or generally 'cheap' stuff, this would be paradise! For real branded stuff, wait for the Great Singapore Sale to start instead, unless you are looking for certain French/foreign fashion houses/brands not found in Singapore yet (yes, they actually get some pretty nifty latest fashion ahead of us!).

Wangfuqing Dajie is of course where all the tourists go to (or are herded to), and it's not unlike Nanjing Lu in Shanghai, i.e. pedestrian mall/road with lots and lots of individual shops, shopping malls and of course, the spanking new Oriental Plaza (we exited from the subway station, Wangfuqing right into the basement of the OP - no excuse for not being able to find this street on your own). Oriental Plaza is purely 'upmarket' shopping - credit card(s) required (bring more than one in case you bust your limit on any). "Window-shopping" was great and the OP also boasts one of the larger basement hawker centres with a huge variety of food - all kinds of noodles, baozi, grilled meat etc. in air-con comfort!

As hubby and I were on the prowl for cheap 'branded' stuff, we hit XiuShui Shichang (the Silk market) - in fact, not once but twice during our recent trip. Easily accessible by the subway (Yonganli station), the market is right at the station's doorstep. In the past, XiuShui Market used to consist of this huge ground with lots of stalls (somewhat akin to our pasar malam) - that is all gone in the name of modernization - all the stalls have now been shifted into this huge 7-storey building developed on the site - with a separate floor each dedicated to bags, clothes (ladies, men & kids), shoes, jewellery/watches etc. The urge to spend and spend is hard to control at this place!

The locals expect tourists to bargain - so the only question is by how much? Some tourist guidebooks tell u to start at half the quoted price (let me tell u, the storekeepers already expect that). The stuff we bought were usually concluded at between 20-40% of the quoted price but then we may not be the best of hagglers. If you are truly brave and love the tussle of bargaining - start at 10% and move up (but of course, if you get blasted - please don't quote me). True test that you've hit the rock-bottom price is when the storekeeper doesn't hail you back to his shop should you decide to walk away. There were times, after a purchase, when we felt that maybe... we should have reduced the price further. Our game plan in such situations - cost-averaging - i.e. buy some more at even lower prices to average our costs, now isn't that a shop-worthy plan?

Similar to XiuShui Shichang is the Sanlitun Yashou Clothing Center (again, another multi-storey building with numerous stalls to trek thru'). By the way, if possible, leave husbands behind (either back at the hotel or at a coffeeshop on the ground floor of this place) - they will not have the required stamina! If they wait patiently for u, do reward them by buying dinner at XiaoWang Fu restaurant (this place is directly opposite the Clothing Centre, is set in alley about 20 meters in from the main road - can't miss the huge signboard at the main road). The setting is lovely (in grand reds and maroons) and dinner will not cost more than Rmb50 (S$10) per person. We had really fragrant 'piaoxiang paigu' (pepper-salt fried pork ribs), double-boiled soup, vegetables and fried rice.... believe me, he will forgive u for the 2 hours spent at the Clothing Center.

If shopping in multi-storeys buildings doesn't quite do it for u, take the subway to Qianmen station and spend half a day at Dashilar, walking down Qianmen Dajie, and the parallel walk-alley that intersects with Dazhalan Jie - lots of little shops filled with cheap clothes and silkwear (hubby bought a pair of jeans for S$7, I bought a pair of 'le coq sportif' sneakers for S$10!) - some of the shops here have wonderful traditional facades, being once the shops frequented by the imperial residents (note this place is just south of the Forbidden City).

On the taxi-ride back to our hotel (after an especially good 'harvest' at XiuShui market), I had this silly grin plastered on my face, telling hubby repeatedly that "This is a GREAT country!" (for shoppin').

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