Dr. David Silber 19.08.2010 rerelease 23.05.13
Beijing is a good place to go shopping. You can make good bargains, if you want to buy clothing (especially silk), (new) chinese art and pearls. However, do not buy antiques. The reason is that during the cultural revolution almost all genuine treasures were destroyed. Therefore, it is illegal for foreigners to take the few remaining antiques back home. There are basically three options to go. You can either go to
- to the shopping malls: In the shopping malls there is a lot of stuff to find. In these malls prices are fixed and everything has a price tag. Basically there is no bargaining, but sometimes there might be a sale. The most famous and most expensive shopping strip is located next to the forbidden city (Wangfujing). It is a impressive pedestrian-only shopping haven. It is open at the weekends, but most people just window shop. Here you can find an array of restaurants, both Chinese and Western style. The service is very good but I find it rather offish.
- the open-markets: In contrast to this you can find many street-vendors in Beijing. Here bargaining is expected. They sell anything from clothes, to sweets, from parfume to soap. The things they sell are often very cheap, but sometimes you can find good value. Although they are selling from dawn to nightfall they hardly make a earn some money. However, I found that these people were always very friendly and helpful
- to the hutongs: Shopping in the hutongs is something in between these two extremes. Furthermore, while many hutongs have become very famous with tourists, others are not so well developed.
Well the first thing to know is that you do not haggle prices everywhere and that not all chinese people like to haggle prices. So consequently there are some places, where bargaining is expected and some where it is not and you can decide for yourself how you like to buy stuff. At the malls and often/sometimes in shops prices are fixed, but almost everywhere else you should haggle hard.
The most important thing you need for buying stuff on the market is not money but time and patience. Here are some advices I got from my colleagues:
- do not go shopping, when you are in a hurry
- do not say what you are willing to pay
- do not be fooled by price tags (they just let you know where you should begin bargaining)
- the price the seller names first is at least twice (up to 10 times) to high
- do not buy directly, go away, check the other sales booth and come back later (at least one time)
- ask for offers (da zhe)
- check your change (especially 50 and 100 yuan notes)
- be friendly and have fun, think about it as a game
what to buy, what not to buy
Obviosly you can buy (with your money) whatever you like, but there are some things you might want to consider first.
you could buy:
- fashion: Beijing is a good place to buy fashion either modern or traditional. If you are looking for a traditional dress you could ask for a "qipao" (旗袍). There is also a very popular legend how the qipao was invented, which sellers usually like to tell you. (Once there was a beautifull fisherwoman...).
- tea: I do not know much about tea, if you find a good web page please send me an email.
- chopsticks: Some chopsticks are designed for women and some for men.
- kites: There are two kinds of kites.
- The ones which are meant for flying and
- the ones which are just beautiful (and probably fly like a stone.)
If you buy a (flying) kite do not forget to also ask for rope. In Beijing I found two places which are perfect for kite flying. The first is the Tianmen square and the second is the park near the temple of heaven. There are also a lot of older chinese men, who enjoy kite flying and are very helpful.
- opera masks: Opera masks are colour coded. hint about the characters personality. (red - good, black - ambiguos, green - bad, gold - a fantastic creature)
do not buy:
- Antiques: They are either faked (best case scenario) or they are genuine (hardly ever). It is illegal for foreigners to take home antiques.
- Art: Unless you know exactly what you are looking for, it might be better to buy art at home.
electronic city in Beijing
Electronic City is a multi storey building in which you can buy cheap electronic stuff. You will not find anything fancy there, but you may make a good bargain. All in all, it is never-ending accumulation of sales booth, which sell all the same (apple) products. To be fair, I have to admit that I only went there once to buy a simple usb-hard drive. Unfortunately, I was in a hurry, hungry and therefore not in the right mood for haggling a fair price. So I found the whole experience very tiresome.
Given the number of food scandals, buying branded products in a supermarket might be a wise choice. While there is a huge number of small supermarkets everywhere, the larger supermarkets are four storeys high and on my first visit I spent four hours there. Here you will find anything that you would find in a westener supermarket (with the exception of good bread and chocolate), but also stuff you have never heard of.
In the big supermarkets you can find all kinds of meat, as well as living fish and crabs. Since labour is cheap, you will also find an army of sales clerks, who advertise their products via loud speakers turned to its maximum volume. If you do not pay attention you might find yourself surrounded by three or four of them advertising juice, fruits, wine.... Prices were very low in 2010, but my friends tell me that prices for food have increased strongly since then.