And so I was wondering how I should organise this post because we spent a considerable amount of time during our field trip shopping. Anyway, here are the shopping areas we went if you are interested to check out, and some advice which may not necessarily work for eveyone.
Be warned: Extremely long, grandmother story post and unintentional advertising.
And I gave away most of my haul.
1. Bargaining is key for non-price tagged items
You have to cut at least half the price of what the vendors offer. They are reluctant to sell their wares at low prices because they think they barely earn enough to get by, but customer is always right.
2. Do a mental calculation of how much the item will be worth in your home currency
So that you can decide whether it is more worth it to get it in China or back home, unless you don’t see the item at all in your home country.
3. Use the “Walk away” method and be firm in your stance.
Should they stubbornly refuse to sell the product at the price you want, walk away and pretend you are heading to another shop. They will then shout at you to come back and ask you to quote your desired price. Less money is better than no money.
4. Don’t feel guilty for denying the livelihood of the vendor.
He might be a tycoon in disguise. Who knows?
5. Be prepared to get yelled at in Chinese, or get black-faced by the vendor.
Oh well that can’t be helped. But whatever. You got the deal.
6. Never ever push your luck bargaining for a price tag item, or in a wholesale shop where items cost 10RMB storewide.
The shop staff will think you are nuts.
City God Temple
Not only it is a temple, it also possesses tourist shops, Shanghai local product stores, international eateries (Starbucks and McDonalds), local food stores and links to other shopping centres. Navigating around the complex can be tedious as it is a maze of passageways and entrances to new places. Most products are fixed price, but you can take advantage of those placed outside the shop with no price tag. The tourist shops tend to repeat as you walk around the area.
(photo credit chinatouronline, because I didn’t take photos of the temple!!!)
There are department stores with entrances that camouflage with the row of shops. The McDonalds located at Basement 1 is actually part of a shopping centre which I don’t know the name. There is a shop at basement 1 that sells quirky stuff like wallets with world currency designs. No price tag so you can bargain, but the owner is a tough nut to crack.
Got the mirror below for 25 RMB after much haggling. I really love it! (Dancer problems)
China is well-known for imitated goods. So the tour guide bought us here to the 4 storey tall Han City in Shanghai to get counterfeit products which resemble their branded doppelgängers.
Han City has a variety of “branded” merhandise such as bags ( esp Cath Kidston- they are everywhere!), shoes (New Balance, Converse, Toms), children clothes (Juicy couture, abercrombie) here. Others include tourist souvenirs, hello kitty toys, scarves, optical and gadget shops.
There are no price tags attached so it is time to put your bargaining skills to the test. Usually the owner will quote you a high price so be sure not to let them take advantage of you.
The shops tend to repeat after a while and sell the same things. The 4th floor is less vibrant as the bottom floors as their business might have been competed away. Come to think of it, it doesn’t make sense to repeat shops unless they are all part of the same company assuming different shop names. Conspiracy!
So here’s what I got: Hello Kitty wallet with an acyclic mirror, a Mao t-shirt and some of the chinese-saying pouches (you will see them later).
Only 3 shops sold Hello Kitty Wallets. 1st one was a wallet shop but I didn’t like the designs. 2nd one sold mixed wares and I initially wanted to get the wallet from there, but it looked rather bulky. Ended up at the 3rd one and got this. Out of all designs I felt this was the most compact, “won’t get dirty easily” and “number of card pockets is just nice”.
It wasnt cheap in SGD though. When I checked Singapore TaoBao for wallet prices I saw in Han City, most of them were around $16, including the bulky wallet I wanted to get. I got the current wallet at nearly double the price. But since I didn’t see this design on Singapore TaoBao, I guess it is better not to know its market retail price.
Ping Jiang Road
It is a straight path of shops located in Suzhou old town. The old and quaint facade houses many quirky shops and themed cafes attracting hipster fans. Opposite the shops lies the suzhou canal. It is pretty scenic to shop along here with the mix of old and new elements. Be prepared though, to be confronted with scooters and bicycles coming from both directions of the road.
Items at the quirky shops are relatively cheap (Okay that depends on the kind of good, but referring in general) since Suzhou is not as metropolitan as Shanghai. There are shops selling postcards at 2 RMB each (That is SGD $0.40!) and customers can write on them and mail them out in the shop (You will also see that in Tianzifang). Eateries sell mostly fried food, and don’t miss out the potted plant ice cream.
They are aplenty in Suzhou, selling goods from fat juicy grapes to chinese hulu flutes, machine sewn chinese scenery drawings and chinese fans. It is alright to buy from them, just that you have to bargain especially when they quote you a price which you find ridiculous.
Specialized Souvenir shops
Got those below at Shanghai Jin Mao Observational tower, M50 creative industry and Shanghai Museum. They are marked at tourist price but in SGD they are relatively cheap and provide an alternative souvenir choice.
M50 is a free to roam space built with studios where aspiring artists display their works. Their works are re-designed and sold as various sorts of merchandise, including a miniature reproduced version of their artwork. I like the photos shot by Jin Xuanmin because they are a honest depiction of rural life, and it is refreshing to see his retouches of the otherwise “boring” scenes of daily life.
Shanghai museum souvenir shop sells merchandise designed after their artifacts on display in their galleries. There are also a range of books available, from chinese paintings to phrasebooks.
Suzhou supermarkets (industrial park area) are generally hypermarts selling local products. However, a lot of them require you to be a member by spending a minimum amount of money before you can start shopping there (eg SAM club). Shopped at Ou Shang instead. I did see imports like durians and international brands, but most goods are mostly China based. Also, they do not provide plastic bags in name of the environment.
The Hello kitty chocolate costs 12.50 RMB. Steal.
On the other hand Shanghai supermarkets import more international brands and prices are relatively more expensive. Saw the same hello kitty chocolate in this supermarket near Xin Tian Di, retailing about 20 RMB. Still cheap in SGD, but Suzhou hypermarts have better deals.
Tian Zi Fang
A fusion of quirky shops, art studios, themed cafes, fashion botiques and narrow passageways. Prices depend on the kind of product sold, so just exercise your judgement to determine if they are within your budget.
It is challenging to navigate around because one alley leads to another new place. The art studios are located in the inner part of the area . I can’t describe exactly where because it is complicated for a tourist. You get the idea. Since the lanes and shopfronts are very narrow, expect much shoving with other shoppers.
The entrance is rather nondescript and blends in with the surrounding shopfronts by the road. Read here for a more comprehensive guide. Shops also repeat after a while if they sell the same product, such as Shanghai lady vanishing cream and teahouse.
Teahouse sells a variety of fruit and chinese tea LEAVES. I love their packaging as it is compact and pretty! Have been drinking the Anji white tea and it is quite fragrant. Check out their taobao shop here (have to find a way to make them ship to Singapore). Standard ones are 25 RMB, but if you buy their pre-packaged ones (i,e. those in boxes), expect to pay for the box too.
Wholesale Markets outside Shanghai Oriental Bund Hotel
There is a stretch of wholesale shops within a walking distance from our hotel, and located near City God temple. Items range from children toys to souvenirs and accessories. Most shops price their items at a flat rate of 10 RMB unless otherwise stated, so you have to exercise discretion to see if they are worth your money. No bargaining, but seriously prices couldnt go lower anyway.
In fact, you will see chinese scenery embroidery and fans from Suzhou in these wholesale shops. Since they now have a price tag, make the best bargain from the Suzhou street vendors.
They close rather early around 6-7pm since the sun sets early in China. Closing also depends on weather I guess.
Got the canvas bag for 10 RMB. Seriously that was a steal. Somemore the quality looked decent.
Most of them (located at City God temple and wholesale market street) sell typical china memorabilia like fridge magnets, key chains etc. Prices depend whether there is a price tag or not. If you are the kind who goes for conventional souvenirs then this is the place for you.
“You see them everywhere” products
This section is difficult to write because many items are seen everywhere and I was trying not to repeat what I wrote earlier. Anyway, most come at a fixed price because they are from the same company, while others are bought wholesale and sold at a higher price quoted by the vendor. So here are some of the commonly seen items from Shanghai.
Expect to see many panda retail stores selling panda themed items because pandas are icons of China. They cost relatively higher than most souvenirs because of marketing and branding etc.
The pic below is Shanghai Sisters vanishing cream. It is a very old house brand, Shanghai exclusive and supposed to be moisturizing and nourishing. Tried it but couldn’t feel anything magical (I am a sucker for beauty products). They are sold at 1 for 20RMB and 3 for 50 RMB , flavours are jasmine, rose and evening flower. If you visit their full-fledged stores in Tianzifang, there are more product variations available.
Got these pouches from wholesale market and Han City, but they are seen in most tourist shops. They are sold at 5 RMB each at the wholesale street, and for Han City it was 1 for 25RMB but I bargained until 5 RMB. Most of the designs poke fun of chinese society or reflect someone’s personality.
Playing cards of different themes are also available in quirky and tourist shops. Most tourist shops sell designs like AV stars. I got the china history one from a quirky shop in suzhou. Each playing card has a portrait of the emperor/empress (because chinese history is just damn long that there are more than 54 rulers) and brief background about them. A history buff item, I would say.
Yup that’s all for the shopping post! For an avid shopper I had fun writing this, and I kept spelling “souvenir” wrongly each time I typed the word. Thanks auto correct!