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Courtesy of Lindsey Dawson .
Best to take a half-empty suitcase if you visit Shanghai. The shopping is vast and varied, from to the very best brands in the world to fake knock-offs you can bargain hard for.
Just a few hours in Shanghai is time enough to cruise through four places that boggle the Kiwi mind.
Plaza 66, a luxury-brands mall in the popular Jing An shopping district is about as empty as any place you’ll find in a city of 23 million because the goods on show are supremely gorgeous with price tags to match.
This is high-end China, mega-rich China, and worth a look if only to contemplate how far this nation has come from the time when everyone wore battered baggy pants and Mao caps.
The only guy I saw dressed like that was selling drinks on the Great Wall of China and only had old clobber on, I’m sure, to provide tourists like me with a cutesy photo opp.
Inside Plaza 66’s gleaming windows, home to the likes of Cartier, Hermes and Prada, magnificently groomed staff prowl virtually alone and a string quartet plays Mozart to the passing few sightseers.
Drift past the glittering displays, pause to admire the scarlet Bentley convertible outside the Fendi store, and then take yourself off to an utterly different experience at the 580 Fakes Market on Nanjing Road.
You need to brace yourself for the vendors selling knock-offs of the luxury brands. ‘Lady, you want Louis Vuitton? Sir, you want Rolex, you want Prada?’ Ignore arm grabs and walk on while at the same time trying to eyeball things you might want to buy.
This is new, wanna-look-good China. Malls looked and sounded like this in Singapore 30 years ago. Now the knock-off shops have moved on here, trawled by strollers like us who come keen for a bargain.
Some of us love haggling to the point of getting annoyed about being ‘ripped off’ – meaning we may have lost a couple of bucks on an already crazily good deal. Some of us hate it – detesting the game of naming a low price and walking away, knowing that if vendors want to sell they’ll come after you.
Know one thing. They are much smarter than you and never sell at a loss. The best thing to do is just relax and play the game.
The 580 Market is four floors of tiny shops crammed with what look like designer shoes, bags and accessories. Of course the big-brand European companies hate the fakes business and there are occasional raids by the authorities.
Hence, some shops have tiny inner chambers. Lured in through a secret door I found myself wedged with a super-saleswoman into a wardrobe crammed from floor to ceiling with ‘Chanel’ bags. There would be no escape without a purchase.
Hot and harried, I bargained a bit and left with a little black quilted number on a gold chain. The real thing costs about $NZ4000. Mine was about $20. A good bargainer would have been ashamed to pay that, but I was sucker enough to be happy with it.
Outside in daylight I took a closer look and saw how clumsily made it was, with a nick on one corner. Ha! You get what you pay for. I may be too embarrassed to use it because it is so obviously fake. But the experience is priceless.
Next up: South Bund Fabric Markets on Lujiabang Road– more floors of shops overflowing with bolts of fabric and tailors on tap to make garments for you. I didn’t try as it generally takes several days (which I didn’t have) and ideally you should have a fitting along the way. Locals in the know say it’s best to take a favourite garment you’d like repeated, or stick with standard items like men’s shirts (about $NZ20-25.). You can bargain silk ties down to about $5.
Prefer a more western-style shopping experience with no haggling? Do your browsing in streets with conventional stores, of which there are thousands and where prices are still really good.
If you’re looking for somewhere arty, the charming Tianzifang area is a blast. It’s an old neighbourhood of rickety brick buildings where people still live upstairs, somehow enduring the racket of visitors strolling the tangled maze of narrow alleys full of bars, coffee places, art studios and craft shops.
Duck your head to clear the laundry hanging on overhead lines and say ni hao (pronounced nee how) to say hello to the locals and xie xi’ (shey shey) for thank you. For the many times you might want to say no to a street hawker, bú yào (boo ya) might be your handiest phrase ever.
By the way, while you’re out and about in Shanghai, be aware that toilets may be ‘squatters’, though hotels, good restaurants and modern buildings have western plumbing. Good idea, too, to carry tissues – loo paper not always supplied.
Drink bottled water, for tap water is a bit dodgy. And carry some cash as well – Chinese remnimbi (RMB). The locals say, kuai (kwai), their slang word for a dollar, much like our ‘buck’.
Not all stores take credit cards, but there are plenty of ATMs in most places where tourists hang out.
Air New Zealand flies direct to Shanghai five times weekly.
Fares start from $1662 return including taxes.
For further information and to book visit www.airnewzealand.co.nz
By Lindsey Dawson