THE ORIENT EXPRESSED: SHANGHAI IS FOR SHOPPING
Travel Dates: July 19 – 20, 2011
After diligently avoiding the relentless calls of the “watches, bags, shoes” solicitors on the streets, I decided that while I didn’t want to follow some greasy type down a back alley and end up like Carrie and Co. in Sex and The City 2, I most definitely was not going to leave one of the knock-off capitals of the world without some loot. Thanks to some searching on the www, I found out where the two best and biggest fake markets were, and off we went. The first one we were directed to was at 580 W. Nanjing Rd, which we eventually found after realizing that there was an East Nanjing Rd. It certainly didn’t help that we were looking for a 4-5 story building and both 580s matched that description. 580 East though was a legitimate dept. store, and I suspect we looked pretty shady, checking out their back entrances for hidden passageways. When we finally did get to the right place, there was no mistaking it; I picked up its scent the moment I saw happy women walking past in the opposite direction, laden with huge, black nondescript shopping bags.
The hilarity begins the moment you enter the market. First of all, there are prominent signs condemning the theft of intellectual property, and others citing a cease and desist order against selling the very names everyone’s there to buy: Gucci, Louis, Prada, etc. The whole cease and desist thing is easily dealt with in two ways: one, put a dead-ringer for a product on prominent display without identifying tags or labels, or sell the labeled stuff (especially the Guccis and Louis) in your shop’s secret back room/hidden wall, speak-easy style. I kid you not. In the end, we decide to steer clear of the blatant knock-offs, favoring high quality custom-made items, but transactions can be a little intimidating for the faint of heart. For example, both my guidebook and the blogs I’d read recommended offering just 10 percent of whatever the initial quoted price was, because apparently it’s hard to bid too low in Shanghai, but we Americans find this tough, so it takes practice. After a couple of days and a couple of markets though, I had NO problem offering that 10 percent (or something just slightly higher) and getting what I wanted. The trick is to keep a straight face, even as the vendor acts shocked, dismayed, or even insulted by your measly offer, and to be willing to walk away, even from a product you want badly. More often than not, the vendor chases you down, grabbing your arm and negotiating the whole time, but if you stick to your guns, you get your price. It’s pure theater, can be great fun, and ultimately, everybody wins no matter how much the vendor pouts. BTW, if you want to see Black folks in Shanghai, the markets are the place to go. Lots and lots of West Africans shopping away.
The second fake market is located in the subway underneath Shanghai’s Museum of Science and Technology. This one practically runs the length and breadth of this huge subway station and is remarkable not only for its fake designer products, but for its huge collection of custom tailoring shops. Yes, couture clothing for the common man, for pennies on the dollar. A custom-fitted Chanel style suit or Burberry-esque plaid raincoat can be had for prices you’d pay for clothes at TJMaxx or Marshalls. T. got a long wool cashmere blend coat custom-made (in just 24hrs) for $78!! . As noted above, this is where we did the most damage.
I’ve gone on and on about the shopping, but there’s more to Shanghai than that; it’s just a great city. It’s got everything from the most magnificent Buddhas in the Jade Buddha Temple, to the Maglev, the world’s fastest train, to the most delicious street drink (green tea and kumquat limeade) I’ve ever had. As New Yorkers, we are nothing if not jaded, and we can judge “lesser” cities pretty harshly, but there are some (Paris, Rome, Philadelphia, Rio, New Orleans to name a few) that really live up to their hype in terms of pure flavor; Shanghai is definitely one of these. We’d love to come back some time.
Jade Buddha Temple Gallery: A Buddha for Everybody