If I were to break down my time in Beijing into percentage, I would divide it like this:
35%- traveling inside the bus
40%- window shopping
I will be honest here and admit that I am not a shopaholic, so having to spend two of the five days that I was there inside shopping outlets instead of historical place didn’t exactly thrill me. And that didn’t include the visits to the so-called authentic centers which we did sporadically in between sightseeing during the first three days. So yes, I did spend more time loitering around the lobby waiting for our entourage to finish shopping or window shopping in various places instead of doing things a proper tourist should do. Unfortunately according to my traveling agency representative, this is the requirement for tourists who wished to enter the country under travel groups. According to them, unless you’re so used to traveling in China you can do so on your own or if you’re there for business purposes, they will feed you with all these shopping sessions- and you won’t be able to avoid contributing at least some of your money to the local economy.
As I have mentioned earlier, we were brought to several centers around Beijing in between visiting historical sites during the first three days that I was there. The first of these places was a silk center in the heart of Beijing. At first, we were given a briefing (emphasizing on the brief) on the process of turning the silkworm cocoon into ready-to-wear silk. But after ten minutes of that, the rest of the trip was spent listening to the various salesladies promote their various silk products, ranging from purses to bed sheet. Funnily enough, when some of us decided to sit that one out (my aunt and I were the culprits) these charming ladies would try to make us join the rest of the crowd in listening to the promotion.
But the ‘cream of the crop’, I have to say, would be the full-blown shopping session in the last two days of my trip in Beijing. We were taken to two of the biggest shopping emporiums in Beijing, which specializes in ‘Original Copies’ as they named them. Original copies, according to my tour leader, stands for goods which looked so original, they could pass off as their branded counterparts, and it would be marginally cheaper than those you’d buy from original stores. For example, a Louis Vuitton bag you’d find in these shopping emporiums probably costs half to three quarter of the price of a Louis Vuitton bag in a Louis Vuitton store, but only a true blue brand snob can tell the difference. An inside joke between us was that these things were nicknamed ‘Aspal‘ which was a shortened version of ‘ASli-PALsu‘, the Malaysian language for ‘Original-Pirate Copy’.
Still, one must never forget to haggle when they come across these places, for despite the price being cheaper than the branded ones, they were still marked-up pretty high. I managed to buy a chess set for CN¥85 from its starting price of CN¥270. My mother (to her glee, if I might add) got a tablecloth for CN¥160 from the starting price CN¥450. So if you’d like to walk out of there satisfied (and perhaps a little smug too), do have a thick face and iron heart, and be firm with what you’ve put on the table no matter how the salespeople whine or wheedle. Also, be prepared to be accosted by some of the bolder ones, for they will do whatever it takes to get you to buy something from their shops. I myself had been physically dragged into the shops twice by these salesladies. Guess no one could say that they’re not determined!
Fortunately, the other centers we visited, such as the jade center, pearl and traditional medicines were not as bad as the silk one. At
least we weren’t personally tailed by these salespeople, probably due to the fact that there were tourists from other groups alongside ours to attend to. In the jade center, I had quite a time admiring the various jade sculptures, which are really exquisite and impressive. One of the best ones had to be the sculpture of a grand Chinese ship, complete with a chained anchor made of jade as well. This jade center also offered a small jade museum, which chronicled the history of jade-making in China, as well as some artifacts. In one of the traditional medicine centers, we were treated to a brief foot massage while various medicine experts examined our health in the traditional Chinese way.
In conclusion, if one ever decides to join a tourist group to Beijing, one must be prepared to have a lot of money. Because whether you like it or not, you will spend at least for a trinket or two. If I were to find any fault in my Beijing trip, it would be the endless shopping trips, which to them seemed so much more important than displaying the richness of culture and heritage of China. Which is a pity, since I believe that the true treasure lies in the history of the city and the country. While one can get a bag or a blouse in any old store anywhere in the world, one can only appreciate the authentic Chinese architecture, and its unique in China.