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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

By Elena Garcia

Halloween CostumesJust four days ago I was complaining about the heat, which continued to linger in the air despite it being fall. I was complaining about how the summer heat wouldn’t go away and my fall fashions weren’t being utilized. But then, like some kind of reverse tropical storm, it’s freezing.

I don’t get it.

On Halloween day, Garrett and I set out to go buy the finishing touches of his costume. As we ventured out I made note of how hot it was (swear to goodness, ask Garrett). In order to accommodate this humid heat Garrett wore shorts, flip-flops and a t-shirt. I wore ripped up jeans, flip-flops and a thin cotton Calvin Klien t-shirt.

A person not knowing we were on the last day of October would have thought we were in mid June based on our outfit choices but it was unavoidable. As we stood in the crammed subway car on our way to Caoyang Lu I carefully used my hand to pat dry the beads of sweat, which not even the Subway air conditioning could prevent.

We arrived at our station and began the quest for a costume that Garrett had planned out weeks before. He planned on being a douche bag. For those of you not aware, a douche bag is not just a feminism product, it is also an expression used to describe a male who is rude, conceited, a jerk, and/or just plain mean. They often wear Ed Hardy shirts, bedazzled baseball caps and cell phone earpieces. An example I would offer for a douche bag would be Jon Gosselin from the show Jon and Kate Plus Eight. He is a douche bag. Garrett decided to portray a douche bag because really, nothing is scarier than a douche bag.

So he needed to find a pink collared shirt to complete this look, the rest would be done with hair and make up. Douche bags have branded themselves with their signature pink shirt and their collar popped.  (Latter I used bronzer to give him nice tan, an entire bottle of hair gel to make his hair un-moveable and an eyeliner with glitter to make fake diamond earrings.)

So off we searched through the markets at Caoyang Lu.

This area has become one of my favorite shopping destinations. It’s never too crowded; there are loads of shops and cute things all of which are reasonably priced. (And none of that fake stuff!) Grace, my Chinese tutor recommended it after she discovered my shopping addiction problem. There are two markets at Caoyang Lu; one is an accessories market that is hidden in the alleyway between two big buildings. Vendors gather in the condensed lane selling hair accessories, make up, wigs, scarves, hats, purses, 6rmb manicures (that’s 75 cents for those of you counting) and tented tattoo parlors. Although those last two give you a twofer, cheap manicures/tattoos and hepatitis!

The first time I went there I was blown away! The buzzing of the tattoo parlor guns ringed in my ears as I walked on the cracked, uneven cement floors while women sat on unstable stools getting hair extensions neatly placed on their heads, I even saw one lady laying across a make shift table having eye lashes glued in and tinted. Call me crazy, but I wouldn’t let anything from that place anywhere near my eyes.

Nevertheless it is a good place to buy cheap little accessories that are a lot of fun. I had purchased a funky little hat, eyeglasses and glitter for my Lady Gaga costume, all of which cost me 2 USD.

The second market at Caoyang Lu is much nicer and bigger. It’s a mall with four giant floors dedicated to clothes, shoes and far too much non-sense. But it’s fun! This mall is much cleaner (which frankly anything is cleaner than Tattoo alley, so that’s not saying much), enclosed and air-conditioned.

Tiny shops fill every inch of every floor, even crowding their windows with samples of the treasures they have inside! The walls inside the shops are covered with hanging clothes, not leaving one inch of space exposed. Shop keepers watch TV shows on laptops, smoke cigarettes and chat with one another through out the day or even while you’re there shopping. I often think it’s a fire hazard to smoke among so much synthetic fabric but I don’t think they care!

Most of the shops are so small that no more than one or two people can fit at a time and so people peek their heads in the door or wait until the person inside clears out or they just push their way in. Most of the time it’s the latter. You’ll hear echoes of negotiations, coughing (more like hacking), and Chinese sales pitches as you walk through the halls but no one is ever pushy or drastic. From all the markets I’ve experienced (and there have been a few) it’s the easiest to shop at.

So on this blistering Halloween Day, Garrett and I roamed the dingy alleyway and the stuffed mall looking for his costume. We managed, after having severe problems trying to say “pink” and “collared shirt”, to find an eight dollar pink collared shirt which was just tight enough to make him look like a douche and to look good on me later! (Hey, there is no point in wasting a perfectly good shirt!)

And as we made our way back to the subway I made reference to the incredible heat.

The next day, after our Halloween Festivities were done, Garrett went out to grab some breakfast and had to come back to put pants on, a jacket and regular shoes. In an amazing over night process it went from 80 degrees to 50 degrees. And because Shanghai is so humid, it was a cold 50 degrees. The kind of cold that bites you and stays there until you thaw out in front of a heater. How is it possible?

It’s been three days now since Halloween and I cannot explain to you the cold that is occurring. It’s the kind of cold that one normally experiences at 2 in the morning, when the frost is just building up on your front windshield. I understand it’s November and it should be cold but really, in one day! What happened to Fall?

Halloween Festivities

America 1, China 0

September 9, 2009

By Elena Garcia

Being in America and not being in China has allowed me proper time to reflect and take in the many expectations I had about finally coming home.

For example, prior to returning the fear that I would be over whelmed by the astronomical prices plagued my conversations with my friends. I mean the prices of things in America are a bit more expensive then the haggle-ings of Shanghai! Or so I thought…but there are many things that American shopping provides me that Shanghai can never!

1st you can find clothes that actually fits you at your variety boutiques and department stores!

2nd you can find cute things that aren’t bedazzled to death!

3rd you can find LEGIT things. Like a real Marc Jacobs bag at Neimans or Moschino Shoes at Saks.

4th I have found some amazing deals since arriving!! I’ve finally gotten to do the kind of shopping that I was so addicted too!

I’ve had a few shopping trips since arriving, an afternoon on Polk Street, a weekend in Hollywood, and of course, adventures downtown! My shopping escapades have all allowed me to visit my favorite shops here in America and boy oh boy has my credit card felt the backlash!

During one shopping trip to Barney’s it occurred to me that I would be thrilled to wear anything on the hanging racks. Barney’s is laid out in that perfect come hither way, it’s not too crowded, it’s not too cluttered, it’s just perfectly placed in a perfect paradise. The floors are hard and cold, giving the exposed chrome racks and clean white walls a very industrial feel. Cut up jeans, one shouldered tops, even a patterned mini dress all fill the displays and my dreams of a fashionable life. Barney’s is my fashion heaven and I will do whatever it takes to get into those pearly gates!

Everything about visiting the definitive department store made me realize what I loved about shopping. All the merchandise was so perfectly placed and displayed, calling to me in that way… that way that only a call from George Clooney could replicate. Every shirt, skirt, and snake skin boot were magical in that non-fake, amazingly fitted, authentically fashionable way!!! China doesn’t have that! Things are piled on barrels in the sticky warehouse malls and sales clerks constantly follow you around letting you know that the things you’re looking at won’t fit you! No one at Barney’s will slap a magnificent Robert Rodriguez blouse out of my hands because they think it wont fit. Damn it, they’ll let me try ANYTHING I want on, no matter what size it is AND they’ll offer you a cocktail!

Its moments like my Barney’s shopping trip, which have made it easy to get back into my old ways here in the US of A. Shopping, having brunch with friends, adventuring through downtown and fantastic dinners out on the town.

Now, America hasn’t been all perfect! During one of those fantastic dinners I had probably one of the most mortifying experiences of my life! Well, I’m sure I have some drunken college escapades that I wouldn’t be too proud of now. But it topped the cake on this trip.

I had gone to a San Francisco eatery to enjoy a birthday celebration; we shared cocktails, appetizers, amazing dinners and even better desserts. When the bill came everyone put down cash, or cards to have it split up. Not thinking twice I pulled out my barely used visa and threw it down for my portion of the bill. Moments later the waitress returned and notified me that my card was DECLINED. That’s right! Rejected, stand BEHIND the velvet rope and you suck, DECLINED.

I was so embarrassed and I didn’t understand why! I hadn’t used the card since I was in China; I had protected this card from my shopping conquests. Everyone assumed it was because I hadn’t used it since returning from China. The company probably thought that a 60-dollar charge in San Francisco after months of in activity was fraudulent. But that had NEVER happened to me before, not with this card! When I went to China, they never blocked the card! So after apologizing profusely and throwing down ALL the money I had and borrowing the remainder. I gathered my things and began trying to figure out what happened. Had I secretly been using my credit card? Had sleep shopped?

On my trip home, I quickly called my credit card company and found out something so horrifying that I nearly screamed! Someone had taken my credit card number and racked up SIX THOUSAND DOLLARS in ONLINE POKER costs, winnings, loses… The credit card company had frozen my account when they saw the charges weren’t my typical shoe purchases! I hadn’t noticed because I was in China when they sent the letter and they hadn’t been able to contact me. I never noticed on my statement because I make payments automatically and just missed it!

The kind man from the Visa office processed everything nonchalantly because as he said, “this was more common then one would think!” I wanted him to be angrier, to sympathize and empathize with my anger but just like a robotic system he cut me off with answers to my questions before I could even get them all out!

How could someone get my credit card number?
-They hacked, looked up, or just plain glanced at my exposed card!

When did it happen?
-42 days prior to my rejection!

Why ME?
-It happens to many, best thing is to make sure you use secure sites and check your monthly statements.

How can someone play that much online poker? (This on threw him off!)
-I don’t know ma’am.

All his answers came in monotone and completely unemotional.

How could someone play so much damn poker!! AND SUCK SO BAD!! Six grand! SIX freakin GRAND! Not even I spend that much on shoes (in one outing)! I wish I knew who this guy was, I would very much throw one of my shoes at him!!!!

By Elena Garcia

Enjoy YoungIf you weren’t aware I have a problem. To some people (the workforce of my favorite department stores and boutiques) my addiction to retail is not a problem. But to my dreams of one day owning a town house in Russian Hill next to Gavin Newsom, my addiction is a baseball bat crashing through the perfectly placed stain glass windows.

Now if you thought my problems would vanish when I arrived to Shanghai, well you thought wrong. One of the things Expats deal with when they move to a place like Shanghai is the magnification of their problems. If you came here with relationship, family, self esteem, or (in my case) retail addiction problems the Shanghai sky magnifies them and unfortunately they don’t sell Retail Addiction SPF at Watson’s.

What they do have for those of us dealing with the desire and need to stuff our closets like a Thanksgiving Turkey is Fashion Week. Made famous by the tents of New York and the designers from Paris, Shanghai has conquered a week in the year to devote to nothing but clothes, fashion and the spending of my money. Because I have mastered the art of spending money in Shanghai I got a few invitations to a few shows here. The first of the fashion shows I hit up was for designers Sury and Kay who have a couture line of dresses and a great boutique here in Shanghai.

On a typical Saturday afternoon out I came across their store and befriended Sury, who happened to be visiting the store for the day. She took my name card and swore to contact me. Weeks later I got a phone call asking for my address to send my tickets to the show!

Through those tickets I managed to leverage some additional tickets for JOG swimwear, a French bathing suit company and Enjoy Young China’s answer to Project Runway and my favorite of all the shows.

Enjoy Young is actually the name of a boutique that carries the designs of the contestants who compete on China’s version of Project Runway. It was exciting to see the looks of the potential next hot designer.

The clothes were edgy and fun and varied drastically like a bipolar house wife!! It was perfect!

My favorite was an amazing royal blue cotton and spandex dress with hot pink diamond-shaped fabric cutouts surrounding the skirt. Very geometrical and absurd in that way that makes it perfect. It was the kind of dress that made you wish you had the courage to wear others like it to get the attention and glory that comes with wearing a fantastic dress like it.

Another magnificent article, which I hope to add to my repertoire, was a hot pink toga style dress that almost looked like a perfectly scrunched and starched garbage bag painted hot pink and belted!

I must say there is definitely something magical about sitting next to a cat walk hidden by the darkness staring up at the bright lights and white walk way. I felt almost powerful, but then you have to get up and walk through the fluorescent lights of the lobby and you remember the reality you came from.

Needless to say for a short moment I felt the power in being an Olsen twin, in having fat greasy photographers take your picture and I mastered the hungry face of “Ohh that’s nice, I’ll have my stylist pick that out… in a different fabric of course!” Ahh to be an Olsen twin!

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!!!

By Elena Garcia

Since the holidays are practically over, the stores and malls have changed their soundtracks. Now when you enter your local shopping establishment you’ll hear a wide selection of your country favorites, mixed in of course with Chinese pop songs I don’t understand.

Maybe country music is big here…

Maybe they think this music will attract foreigners…

Maybe I shop in the wrong stores…

Nonetheless the tunes of Nashville are loud and clear here in China. Awesome.

Bling Bling Christmas

December 25, 2008

By Elena Garcia

Yupp it’s 2002 all over again!! A local mall decided to bring it back when they made their 2008 holiday ad campaign read “Bling Bling Christmas.” It’s everywhere at our local Metro City mall.

Our neighborhood is great, there are 4 malls at an intersection like 3 blocks from our house. Their is Metro City, Orient Center Shopping Mall, Grande Gateway (my personal favorite), and then the Giant Best Buy and Boutiques. The Grande Gateway is the best because it’s probably the biggest mall I’ve ever been too. It’s bigger then Plaza Las Americas in Puerto Rico, which is massive. It has all the western stores I love; anna sui, marc by marc jacobs, see by chloe and all these new stores, which I will grow to love. It also has this huge Costa Coffee, which I’ve visited enough times so that the waitresses now know me.

This Christmas has been very interesting, to say the least. When we first moved into our apartment, I bought a small Charlie Brown Christmas tree, You know the kind; 3 feet tall, sits on your table top, and is basically bald. Garrett and I did the best we could with getting ornaments and lights but it was still scarce. Nevertheless with our Charlie Brown tree we ventured into this Shanghai Christmas. The city did it’s best to put up lights, trees, fake snow, and millions of signs that said Merry Christmas but there was definitely something missing/different about Christmas here. Every store you walked into, no matter where in Shanghai had the same Holiday CD echoing throughout. “Mamacita, donde esta Santa Clause, I look for him because it’s Christmas eve…” Gotta love it.

Usually at home, the family comes over on Christmas eve and we stay up late to open Presents at midnight, we eat way too much food and go to sleep. This year Garrett worked Christmas eve and didn’t get home until about 7, I ran around town trying to find the groceries on my holiday shopping list. Garrett and I wanted to do our best to create Christmas dinner here in Shanghai. I had no luck. I did get frozen chicken, potatoes, rolls and frozen corn. So like the good little housewife I’ve become (ha ha ha just kidding, this was Garrett’s once in a lifetime cooked meal from me) I made pasta with pesto sauce and chicken. I boiled some potatoes, heated up the corn and buttered the bread… all in all it was a descent meal. I didn’t give us food poising (yet). The night ended after about 5 hours of watching the DVD set Garrett got of Lost. Lost is an AMAZING show btw.

In Shanghai, nothing is closed on Christmas day, nothing. The malls, stores, restaurants, everything is open from 9 in the morning until 11 at night. But Garrett and I thought it best to follow the American tradition we like best about Christmas, doing nothing all day. We would have spent some time going to the movies but we have yet to discover an English language theatre. So in the morning we exchanged presents and continued to watch endless of hours of Lost. Garrett pointed out how their situation is similar to ours. Not that we are stuck on an Island playing survivor by any means. But they’re exploring this unknown world just like us.

After our Lost marathon we got ready for dinner… Christmas dinner was an experience. We were invited to dinner with Allen, a Chinese businessman who lives in the bay area and works with Garrett. It was an amazing experience, not like any other Christmas dinner I’ve had before. But I’ll leave that story for another day.