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.

By Elena Garcia

Fake Mall

Fake Mall

So Garrett and I did it. We went to the mall where Prada and Luis Vuitton go to die. Yatai Xinyang Fashion and Gift Market is located inside the subway station at the Science and Technology Museum stop.

Everything is fake, cheap and everyone speaks English! Whatever it takes to make a buck right?

There through the dirty store front windows are all the bags that clutter the pages of Vogue, Harpers Bizarre, and Vanity Fair. But those masterpieces now look like sad pieces of fabric, wrapped in plastic, squeezed onto a shelf with millions of others. I had been to one of these malls before in Shenzhen but I had forgotten how depressing it was.

I guess presentation is everything because Dior looks amazing when it’s on the shiny, well-lit tables of Bloomingdales. Now, they just look like the bags at the grocery store.

And frankly they aren’t that cheap. Yes a real one could cost you $2,000 but paying $100 bucks for a fake seems fairly over priced. I mean I could rent the same bag for a month at that price from Bag Borrow or Steal and have it be real! Genuine! True I would only have it for a month but a fake one would probably fall apart in that time anyway.

It doesn’t help that the mall is so dingy either. The floors, the walls, the lighting, it looks like a dirty flea market. And I refuse to spend $100 bucks at a dirty flea market. I refuse! The fluorescent lights blind you as you try to make your way through the massive compound, the smell of cold wet towels lingers and the voices of the sales people chants throughout…

“Just looking, pants.”
“You need watch?”
“DVD…. DVD…”
“Prada, Chanel…”


I do love how they chase you with “just looking” as they show you things and follow you around. It’s like they’ve taken what they’ve heard and turned it into a sales tactic. Given better circumstances, I am sure these people could rule the world.

OHHH and the most exhausting part of this whole experience… it’s not that the place is huge (which it is) or that I spent about 15 minutes going up and down the same two aisles, passing the same purse store about 50 times because I got completely lost and couldn’t find the exit. (Which, by the way, happens to be the number of times you should walk by a store in order to get them to leave you alone. By the 50th time they don’t even bother with you anymore.)

The most exhausting thing about shopping at malls like these is the negotiations. Don’t get me wrong… it’s fun but after a while you crave an actual price. Not the “special price,” the “friendly price,” “best price,” or “final price.” JUST GIVE ME THE CHEAPEST POSSIBLE PRICE where I get a good deal and you still make a profit. I don’t have time to be playing these games. I thought I was done with games once Garrett and I got together. Turns out my desire for designer bags made that un-so.

I have decided that instead of spending my money at these things I am going to save it and buy a REAL Jimmy Choo bag… because Jimmy I Choo-se you!! =D

Then again, here in China you could be carrying a one of a kind YSL clutch and everyone would assume it was fake. Why? Because why would anyone spend $2000 on a purse they can get for $100 bucks? (Personally I think the feel, weight, and smell of the bag are reason enough and they bring a certain confidence to their owner. But I also have an addiction to fashion that teeters on being a problem.) At the end of the day a bag is a bag, and you can find great ones at H&M and thrift stores. People want designer bags because they’re designer and that says something about the person carrying it. I have Prada = I am successful and fashionable. If someone is going to buy designer and pay for it, they want the world to know. Otherwise, they would be glad to carry their H&M bag just like an Hermes bag.

But think about it, most girls who go out and spend a month’s rent on their very own Louis Vuitton monogram purse do it so that the world knows they own an LV bag. If they did it because they TRULY loved the bag they wouldn’t need it to say LV all over it. So if appearance is what it’s all about, why not just go fake?

Don’t get me wrong there are girls who just LOVE bags and who JUST want beautiful things. But these girls have no problem frolicking around town in their H&M bag and they don’t shop at Fake Malls. There is a reason why these places don’t have aisles and aisles of fake Oscar De La Renta dresses (which don’t advertise the brand), and why 90% of the bags they sell have the brand pasted everywhere on them.

The sales that are made at a Louis Vuitton Store, or at a fake mall are probably made for the same reason… they want someone thinking they are successful and fashionable. And if having a logo will make you feel those things then I say go fake. Take the money you save and laugh all the way to the bank.

Just saying.