My new hat collection

November 17, 2009

By Elena Garcia

Pink Angora Beret

Pink Angora Beret

One of the really great things about Shanghai is the amazing shopping. If you’re a size negative whatever with tiny feet, you can find some of the most fantastic articles of clothing for some ridiculous prices. Just roam the streets, you’ll spot street squatters, under ground markets, bargain malls and everything else your little heart desires for prices that will put any sample sale to shame.

Just today while roaming the dingy halls of my favorite bargain market I came across some of the cutest motorcycle jackets in copper colored snakeskin, denim, and sequins. I wanted to buy them all, unfortunately none of them fit me. (I stopped wearing China’s version of a large when I was in third grade.) If jackets aren’t your thing, try on a party dress! These dresses are to die for cute and would blow any socialite out of the water. Heart shaped tops with pleated bottoms, patterns with bold colors and hemlines with just enough to help make the point. They’re adorable and would cost you a fortune at home but here you can get them for 20 bucks, easy. I’ve even contemplated buying two of the same dress and sewing them together, they’re just so cute!  But I am always quickly chased out of the store buy the sales girl shooing me away. God forbid I destroy her ten-dollar dress with my laser vision and fiery touch. You can even find your very own Chinglish T-shirt with embroidered bunnies or glittered hearts! It’s amazing, if they only carried one size bigger (or two).

But just because they don’t make “big girl sizes” here doesn’t mean I can’t shop, damn it. I have learned very easily that accessories fit everyone, regardless of what your waist or bust size are. Today, after being rejected and chased out of all the skinny people stores I came across a store where my waistline didn’t matter. It was as hat store! (So take that China!!)

After spending a multitude of time perusing the shelves and trying one every item in the store I decided on a few head ornaments that would easily grace the pages of my favorite magazine. At 15rmb (2 dollars) a pop I bought a half a dozen magnificent cranial coverings, which are sure to protect my head from the infamous Shanghai winter and to make me look… umm… amazing!

Ear Muffs

Ear Muffs

London-esque Mod Hat

London-esque Mod Hat

Floral Beanie

Floral Beanie

Hot Pink Beanie with Big Poof

Hot Pink Beanie with Big Poof

Cheap Street

July 14, 2009

By Elena Garcia

Shanghai Clothing MarketsIf you ever find yourself in China and aren’t afraid of some rugged environments, then do I have a vacation destination for you.

Xie Pu Lu (pronounced cheap-u-lou, which is all you need to say to a taxi driver to get your there) is where bargainers and clothes whores go to solicit goods. It’s a place where the weary, timid and confused won’t survive and the place where my story begins. Cheap-u like many of the bargaining malls in Shanghai is a battle zone. With the number of shoppers filling the aisles, cat calls from sales people, and hustlers trying to make money, I sometimes wonder how anyone survives, or if it’s even worth surviving. Is a sale price worth that much?

If you find yourself eager to get a great deal be ready for war! I don’t know if that means one should come equipped to these places with army fatigues and padding but be prepared for the hard elbows from the twenty-something girl forcing her way into the booth with the hot party dresses. Or the aggressive sales girl with the raspy voice willing to scream and rip the calculator out of your hands for making an “insulting offer.” And, don’t forget the children, the ones pillaging through rusty garbage and riding ten-gallon water jogs like horses. My personal favorite is the hustler on the side of the street throwing puppies around like bean bags, from one card board box to another, doing whatever he can to unload the precious creatures before they get to old and he’s forced to add to the stray population. I sometimes yearn to buy them all and save them but that would only perpetuate these kinds of actions. I try to fight the war but puppies will always make weak.

Having heard, from multiple sources, about the infamous Cheap-u Street, I decided to drag Garrett and head down for an afternoon of blissful shopping.

With the Shanghai Summer rolling full speed ahead, I should of considered our comfort level inside the multilevel warehouse spaces with no air conditioning (which turned my blissful afternoon into a blistering one) and the swarms of people a Saturday afternoon would bring. But I didn’t and we went anyway.

OHH my God.

This, unlike any millionaire’s closet, is where clothes came to die.

Inside these massive six story buildings (each floor the size of a Costco) were thousands of booths with clothes, shoes, belts, purses, jewelry, fakes, no names, graphic tees, blouses, dresses, jeans, shorts, small sizes, men’s sizes, tattoo artists, hair extensions, nail ladies, ice cream vendors… THOUSANDS in each of the 4 buildings surrounding the intersection, with even more scattered along the streets. From the moment we walked in, the dinginess took over and the rickety lighting fixtures guided us through. The dirt and garbage cluttered the maze of booths on each floor. The small windows, which prevented in any natural light from coming in (or air) brought a gray bleakness to the florescent lighting that shopping seem more depressing then shopping ever should be.

I can honestly say, that I am a very experienced shopper, probably Olympic team status but not even I could make it through all the buildings. After about an hour of the “Miss, Miss”, “Lady, Lady”, the slow dehydration taking place and the total disregard for our Chinese language capabilities Garrett and I decided it was time to go. Well, Garrett decided and the astronomical beads of sweat gliding down my perfectly mystic tanned face couldn’t refuse.

A few days later having already gotten my bearings I decided to brave it again with Gina. This time we took an afternoon off work and prayed for cooler winds. Instead we got rain, a few less people and the most hostile sales clerks I’d ever encountered. From the moment of our arrival, they followed us. Smothering us with promises of Dior purses and Rolex watches, we just had to follow then to their booth. Our attempts to ignore them went completely ignored, and they persisted. Our attempts to tell them “No, thank you”, in Spanish, English, and Chinese, went misunderstood. My attempt to fake a coughing fit and intimidate them with a potential swine flu scare didn’t even faze them. And even our attempts to beat them with our extended umbrellas went completely unnoticed. It wasn’t until the same grimy man with the bright orange shirt followed us up to yet another floor that I finally had to stop, turn around and scream at him. Then he understood!

As Gina and I explored the towers of mayhem we became more and more disenchanted. We realized that no matter what the vendors at Cheap-u had to sell it wasn’t worth having to push, shove, and scream at people for.

Irritated, hot and frustrated, Gina and I lost patience in the street that shopping paradises try to mimic. Not even the wonder of a perfect gladiator sandal or belted plaid dress could divert the filth of the building, sales people and beggars, off of us.

After, just two short hours, we realized that we could not win the battle and Cheap-u was left behind. Another pair of shoppers scared off by the infamous Cheap-u.

Tailor Made

July 2, 2009

By Elena Garcia

Fabric MarketDisneyland is probably, hands down, the happiest place on earth. As a society, the idea of Mickey’s big ears and Cinderella’s blonde locks are the fundamentals of happiness. But unfortunate for Disneyland; I have found THE actual happiest place on earth. The Mecca that Buddha, Jesus and Mohamed all spoke of. The one place were imagination, excitement, hope and FASHION all come together… The South Bund Fabric Market!

Everyone at my work had spoke about Chinese fabric markets, how incredible, cheap and amazing they were. How with a picture and a dream any person could go and have a dress, outfit or suit made for a very low reasonable price. Desperate to see this holy place they spoke of, I dragged Garrett and headed to the address written down on a scrunched up piece of scratch paper by one of my Chinese co-workers.

When we arrived I was taken aback by the chaos surrounding us; the beggars outside of the giant building, the construction clogging the streets around it and the traffic that followed. When we finally got into the warehouse style building I was in complete awe. Hundreds of small booths filled with silks, cottons, nylons, polyesters, denims… the walls were covered with shelves of fabric rolls in ever color, every pattern, every texture that one could ever imagine. It was like the fabric stores they show the contestants of Project Runway shopping at. Swarms of people in booth after booth filling the path ways.

The cascades of flowing fabric coming at us from every angle hid the dingy lighting and dirty floors, booth after booth was filled with silks or cottons or synthetics… the only decision one needed to make was who! Who would be chosen to design my next dress? So we made our way through the grimy corridors, the cat calls from vendors (of which I have all to sadly become accustomed too) rang. “Miss, silk dress?” “Gucci Suit?” “Miss…” “Lady…”

After making our way up to all four floors I decided on one vendor to make my dress. She would be the chosen one.

One afternoon, after this initial shopping escapade I decided to peruse the pages of, Bloomies, Niemans, and Barney’s. Page after page contained the dresses of my hearts desire! And for the first time I didn’t have to calculate when they would go on sale, or whether I would be able to eat based on the price. For the first time they weren’t just a twinkle in my eye, they were reality. I could have every single on of those things, made in the color, fabric, pattern and SIZE of my choice!

Five dresses, two shirts and one skirt later my closet is slowly starting to resemble the websites of my favorite department stores. Where else can I get a 400 Nannette Lepore dress made for less than 20 bucks and couture at that?

Ohh China!!

By Elena Garcia

SaleFor Sale and On Sale

Two very different things.

When I go shopping, I love the hunt. Trying to find the best thing, for the best prices at the best stores. When you go shopping, odds are everything in the store is on sale, but not everything is on sale.

Every so often, during that once in a blue moon shopping trip, you will find something so amazing, so fabulous, so absolutely marvelous that you fall in love with it and prepare yourself to pay full price.

You know the feeling. When you walk into a store, you find that amazing (fill in blank) and you head into the fitting room. There in the tiny 2 x 2 room, filled with the right amount of lighting, you try on what might very well be your next favorite (fill in blank). After you squeeze it on, you stare in the mirror at the reflection of perfection. This feeling is rare, and exciting. At that moment you look at the price tag and your eyes pop out a little, its (fill in blank)!! It’s not on sale, or even worse it is and it’s that much! Then you look at your reflection again, but it makes your (fill in blank) look so good. Again you look at the price, aggravation. It makes you look so good, it makes you so happy, but it costs that much. Slowly, as you stare deeper and deeper into your reflection you begin to convince yourself. “Well it’s not that much. It’s worth it because it looks this nice. I could even wear it to (fill in blank). I needed to buy something for that anyway. Okay, I’ll get.” And with a little bit of guilt and excitement you walk out of the fitting room and towards the register. There you stand in line, continuing the debate in your head but knowing all too well it’s too late to turn back. Then you hand it over; the cashier rings it up and says, “Your total is (fill in blank).” With a look of surprise and joy you hand over your form of payment and giggle on the inside. You were entirely prepared to spend much more then the grand total. You had internalized the pain of losing that much money for that one object. You had mentally dealt with that anguish and for no reason. It was on SALE! It wasn’t marked but it was still on sale. (Or the cashier made a mistake. But shh we won’t tell.)

We all have had that experience. When I’m old and write my memoirs I am pretty sure my top 10 favorite moments in life will all consist of a time when I purchased something with the intent to pay full price but then having the joy brought back by being surprised with a sale. It’s like a surprise birthday party except it’s a surprise sale.

I bring this up because here in China, any sale is a surprise sale. Thus making shopping that much better!! Since I don’t speak, OR read Chinese I have no idea who is having a sale or what that sale is all about. I know what the price tag says, and well that’s about it.

The other day, I went into a store called “abase” which has super trendy clothing and accessories for us twenty something girls. They are a mixture of Urban Outfitters and Forever 21. While I was there I noticed a mannequin wearing a white knitted cape with thin black strips. It was so cute! It looked warm and cozy, perfect for winter. So I decided to try it on. It was perfect. It fit great; it had the trendiest arm cutouts, and amazing big black buttons. Then I looked at the price… they wanted that much for that! I was beginning to feel deterred, but then I looked in my reflection… it was too cute and it was the last one, no one else I know would have it (I think).

After the above-mentioned debate, I decided to get it. I picked it up, and an earlier discovered black belt, and headed to the register. Quickly doing the math in my head I thought I had figured out the total. The cashier rings me and shows me the total (since I didn’t understand her Chinese). It was less then half of what I expected to pay, for the cape, not to mention the additional belt. I was so excited! If the store hadn’t been thumping awfully loud Chinese pop music I am sure I would of heard the angels singing.

Guilt free I walked out of the store, bag in hand.

It was such a great feeling and it wasn’t the last time during the weekend that I would feel that. At Papa Johns (yes the pizza place) the chicken wings were half off, at Emporium (a trendy boutique) a skirt I like ended up being 30% off and I just found a vendor who sells leggings and tights for a quarter of the price of the department stores less then a block from my door step!!

Ahh… thank you for shopping at China!!!


December 31, 2008

By Elena Garcia

I just had the weirdest experience of my life. I decided to venture out today and enjoy my neighborhood, finally. So I got my laptop and dictionary and headed out. My plan was simple; I would stop by a local manicure shop and get my 30rmb manicure (for those of you counting, that’s less then 5 dollars). After which, I would go to the Costa Coffee at my local mall, do some writing.

Everything was going great. I went to the manicure shop. There I enjoyed a magnificent half hour of relaxation. The young girl who did my nails was sweet and nice even though we couldn’t talk. Just like home. At one point an older lady who was in the manicure shop said something while she stared at me. I looked up and over at her, she continued to say something and point to her eyelashes and using her finger to extend them. First I thought I had something on my eye, so I started rubbing. She continued with the same reaction, and then I figured she was saying something about my eyelashes being long. I said thank you, and she smiled and continued to stare. Now there were 3 or 4 of the nail girls staring with her. They were surrounding me just starring closely at my eyelashes… awkward. I said thank you again, but they just continued to stare. What else could I say? “Yeah I wear great mascara, it probably helps?” Not like any of them spoke English and I sure as hell don’t know enough Chinese to say that. So I did what I do best, just smiled and nodded until they finally went on their way. Definitely a weird moment for me, but I got my magnificent manicure, and continued on my way to Costa Coffee.

When I got here it was crowded, all the tables were filled and the tables are first come first serve. After walking around I saw a pair of gentlemen getting ready to leave. I approached their table and asked, or more gestured, if they were leaving. The nodded yes and one of the men gestured me into the table. I began to put my bag down when I noticed another man and two ladies begin to take the bench in front of me. Wasn’t a problem for me, I didn’t mind sharing the table. I just needed a seat. The man then said something to me in Chinese and I just smiled and nodded. But this time it didn’t work. They were gesturing me to leave the table. Well I wasn’t going to do that. Then a man, who was with the group who spoke German approached me and said that they wanted to sit here. He said it in almost perfect English. So I responded yes, that’s fine. But then he continued by saying there were four of them and they needed more space. I told him he could have the entire bench across from me and the space next to me. I just needed space for my stuff and me. Then his reaction kind of startled me. He started off on a rant, that there were four of them and they couldn’t fit, and that there was only one of them. I was so confused; they could have all the empty space. I just needed to space for my things and me and I showed him my laptop bag and my 2 books. It really wasn’t that much.

He started saying something to the extent of what stuff, again I showed him my things, it wasn’t so much, and I didn’t understand what the big deal was. Then he mumbled something in German, which HA I lived in Germany bro, I kind of understand. In German he said to one of the ladies next to him that I needed space for all my stuff and that my one person would take the entire bench. I interjected and said the space next to me is open. That is enough for one person. Then he said, in perfect English, “You’re Crazy!” I was blown away. I don’t know you sir; therefore there is no way for you to evaluate my mental status. I quickly replied with, “you don’t have to call names.” He rolled his eyes at me and went to a nearby waiter to complain. She approached me and asked if I had ordered, I said I needed a menu. At this point I didn’t realize the man had complained. To be honest I was still fairly confused as to why he was so upset. People share tables here all the time.

The waitress told me that they wanted to sit at this table and I told her they could. I also told her I thought maybe there was a misunderstanding. I told her that they could sit in every seat at the table except for the one I was in. She said that they thought it would be too crowded. I then said, “but I was here first?” She smiled handed me a menu and went off to deliver the message. Those four people could easily have fit at this table, what was the big deal about? After the commotion two ladies approached me to sit at the table and they didn’t have a problem fitting, and there is still a lot of space. And really, name-calling? Really?

It wouldn’t have bothered me so much if later a man, foreign looking, hadn’t walked by and given me a look of death. I guess the German man complained to him and he graciously gave up his table. Yeah because he was done, and he was using one table for himself, it’s like don’t give me a dirty look; you don’t even know what happened. Nothing even happened!!

To be honest I am still completely confused about the whole situation. It wasn’t like they were gigantic people who needed a lot of space. And it’s not like I could eves drop on their conversation. I just don’t get it.

Whatever. Happy New Year!!