My last China post focused on Business and my personal observations of how the Chinese conduct business in general. It touched on the housing bubble and how our perceptions of what constitutes a housing bubble may not apply to the Chinese.
This post is purely from the perspective of the tourist in China.
I’ll start with the basics. Hotels must be booked in advance or you are going to pay American prices. That is the difference of $350 a night or $100 a night. You can book at the arrival airport via one of the tourist booths. They will call a cab for you and steer you in the right direction so that you don’t get into an illegal cab and end up who knows where penniless and maybe missing some teeth as well.
I’ll start with shopping because at some point after business is concluded and you put things into your mouth you normally wouldn’t dream of then what else are you going to do besides drink yourself silly? Well there is more to do than drink and I’ll get to that.
Most of us Westerners like to shop. I don’t. I hate it. I hate being asked at Best Buy do I want a warranty with that. I hate standing in line for anything. I have no patience. I hate clothes shopping and my Wife will no longer insist I go shopping with her because I get pissed and annoyed. My idea of shopping is to go in knowing what I want or need, buy it and get the hell out. I hate it with a passion. I’ll spend days figuring out what the best hard drive or TV is before buying and then I’ll spend an hour finding the cheapest local place to buy. I am the salesman’s worst nightmare or best customer as long as you don’t try and up sell me.
Shanghai is a great place to shop for those gifts that look expensive but really aren’t. The first place you will probably end up for those fake Gucci bags and fake Rolexes is Nanjing road.
My first trip to Nanjing Rd. was exhausting. As soon as I got out of the cab I was practically mugged by a guy with business card in hand telling me about the best deals in fake Rolex and Gucci bags etc. I passed but soon realized this was going to happen every 50 feet until I had a shopping bag in my hand which would mark me as a satisfied consumer. I gave in and followed one of the street vendors back to his shop.
I wouldn’t know a Gucci bag if it hit me upside the head so all I could go on was looks good and construction.
So I picked out one and started to look at the watches. Watches I know. I should, I have about 20 of them. I prefer antique over modern Flavor Flav bigger is better.
I Looked at the Gucci’s, Rolex, “Broccolli” (at least that’s what the nice lady called them.
Now we get to the fun part. The nice lady whips out her calculator and starts banging away at the keys. I have no idea what she was doing but after a minute of furiously beating on this poor calculator she shows me what she calculated. She wanted the equivalent of a $1000 USD give or take. Because I always research before getting on a plane I knew this was just the opening price.
It took me 45 minutes to get out of the damn shop. I wanted the stuff as I needed to buy a few gifts so we negotiated and in the end I paid about $150 for the three items.
I was exhausted by the whole ordeal and swore I wouldn’t do that again.
Of course I made the mistake of telling Wifey all about it via video Skype and of course now she had a shopping list for herself, friends, family and maybe I could pick something up for the dog as she would look cute with a nice Berken bag.
All I knew was I had a list and orders so I better get my ass in gear.
Back to Nanjing road but I had a plan. I followed the first vendor that harassed me and followed him into the store. We went to the handbag section and I started piling up bags. The store owner was not sure of what to make of this and wanted to negotiate each bag individually and as I was piling up bags she was quoting me outrageous prices. I was explaining to them as I was shopping that we would negotiate when I have picked out everything I was going to buy.
Again she wanted to negotiate for the bags before moving on but I was resolute.
Now we moved onto the watches. So I picked out a bunch of watches. It took me about twenty minutes. Always ask to see what’s in the aluminum briefcases on the floor. Every store has them and they contain a better selection than the display cases. They were pretty much what you find on the streets of NY just more of them and a wider selection.
Real watch nuts would turn their noses up at them. For example the sweep or second hand on the Rolex isn’t the constant movement you would expect. Most watches were self winding and well constructed though and physically great copies.
So after half an hour I had about eight bags and a dozen watches and the nice lady showed me some number on her calculator. I’m not sure if the calculator ran out of display numbers but it didn’t look like it would fit any more. I just smiled and told her $25 per item or I am leaving and I will buy next door. A little back and forth and we settled on $30 per item. I left with a lot of bags but didn’t feel exhausted. I felt like I had run the gauntlet and got out alive.
The woman was a little disappointed as I think she lives for the back and forth of negotiation. The first negotiation felt like I was dealing with the used car salesman for Beelzebub.
So what else is there to do after you have a suitcase full of fake stuff. Drinking and eating out is cheap when you exchange the almighty dollar. Taxi cabs will rip you off if you are not careful. Everyone in China has a business card so collect them so that you can show the cab driver or ask directions if you are walking somewhere. It’s a lot better than talking loudly in broken English thinking that makes you understood.
There are areas of ex-pat activity that are a needed break from Chinese food. Our western stomachs get used to steak and lots of carbs. Irish Pubs, English pubs even a German pub or two are little sanctuaries for our bellies.
They are a gold mine of information on how things work in the small business world. The owner of an Irish pub was an Irish guy who had been living in Shanghai for 14 years and had seen it go from a place to avoid to the thriving city it is today. When he first opened his pub the local tax collectors would stop by and give him a bill which was the equivalent of a couple of nights gross takings. In recent years that has changed to actually looking at the books and they no longer just stop by.
He makes good money, he is happy and he said even when the Celtic Tiger in Ireland was in full swing he was not tempted to go back. There are a lot of British ex-pats but they really don’t open up and tell you much.
The one thing I was disappointed and surprised with was the Electronics section in stores.
You want an iPhone? No iPhone for you. The Chinese may make everything but if they want to buy an iPhone they have to import them. They have some good looking knock offs running on Java and probably Android now but they only physically look like iPhones. Everything they make for others goes out of the country and back in again making electronics cheaper in the US than China.
I’ll add a little more to this post at a later date.