The best time to go shopping in China is in the months in the middle of the year. The best place to do it, Guangzhou. Summer high and ripe in July, the coastal city south of China experiences a warm and airy climate, which provides one of the best environments for a frugal shopping spree. I’m returning home after a year and a half and everyone knows that it’s not acceptable to return empty handed. I plan to get a few gifts for my cousins, dresses and jewelry for the girls, t-shirts for the boys and maybe some shorts for my brother.
The train ride there is a comfy and speedy one with transiting views of grass land and rocky mountainous landscapes on a sunny blue back-drop. There is always a display of village life in the distance, farmers in their fields picking at crop as we quietly swish by. After 4 hours on the Gao tie 高铁 (the new and fast rail line) from Wuhan, I arrive at Guangzhou South Train Station at 12pm.
The city’s metro line conveniently connects to all major rail stations, bus terminals and airports. It also has links to tiny pockets in the city that are specific to shop for particular commodities. From the station I jump on to line 2. There is a growing bustle of people that join us as we get closer to the centre of the city, most of them young, the women stylish and fashion conscious. I make two changes at Gongyuanqian and Tiyu Xilu until I get to Linhexi Lu station. This puts me in the business district of the city, arriving in a grand square, the Westin Hotel on one side, a shopping mall complex on the other and glass skyscrapers on the rest.
I meet a friend there who helps me find a place to drop my bags. However there was no time to rest. Businesses close at 5pm and my flight leaves in the morning, giving me roughly 4 hours or less to shop. Our first destination is to Jie fang bei. You can use bus 208 from Guangzhou East station to get there but we hail a taxi and ask the driver to take us to the place they sell bags “mai bao de difang”. We arrive at street selling bags on both sides and I have never seen so many. I want to buy my mother an evening purse, something subtle and classy. There are many kinds of bags, some decorated with glass stones, others with glitter. With a little help from my friend I finally settle on a clutch purse with a silk like material and black sequencing at the front.
The next destination is to Sanyuan Li station to a plaza just outside its south exit. Known to foreigners as the place for jeans, the 5 floor plaza offers a wide variety of styles, sizes and prices attractive to anyone on a budget. Walking around you can see that the city particularly these markets attract a great number of foreign business opportunities. Chinese businesses are no longer the only force in the export of their product; every year a large influx of small foreign businesses come to China attracted specifically to Guangzhou as a trading capital and are now too responsible for exporting Chinese products all over the world. These people are bulk shoppers and experienced negotiators. It’s all part of the dance. The buyers and the sellers have developed a manner of communication they both understand. It’s a mixture of broken English thrown in with some Chinese words and phrases.
My eyes speedily drift through what I can really describe as a sea of clothing. I stop only to sift through a stack of jeans and with a few pairs imagining their fit on someone I know. We go up upstairs where I manage to find summer dresses, the sign on the rack showing that each goes for 30 Yuan. I buy 3 ofthem. On average the price of clothing here goes for 40 Yuan per piece depending on how many pieces you buy. The more the cheaper and if you are a good negotiator a good deal is always attainable. This is particularly attractive to bulk shoppers, who by now are dragging around large black bin bags filled with clothing.
We leave the plaza and walk to the main road to a nearby market on Ja Nan (to foreigners known as Kanan) street. At the bottom of the street is a place that sells men’s shoes. Further up are the street is the main market. It offers a wide range of t-shirts, blouses, jerseys for men and women. I find large fitting t-shirts for boys, making sure to inspect the designs for any miss-spelled logos.
Walking back out on to the main street the time is 4pm. We are hot, tired and hungry. A little way down the road we make a turn into the side of a building. The alley way leads us into a busy market place behind the main road selling watches and other pieces of jewelry. This is very characteristic of Chinese city layouts. My friend leads us into one of the buildings and up a flight of stairs to a restaurant she says serves authentic Middle eastern food. You can smell wafts of baking bread and other aromas as you ascend up the stairs.
The restaurant has an open setting, flowing out on to the patio. The host, a gentleman is welcoming and leads us to our table. We take our seats and flick through the menu. We take no time ordering, chapattis, chicken curry, fried rice and cold drinks. The food goes down well as we reflect on the items I bought and figure out what I would give to whom. Gift giving is a custom at home. Whenever someone comes from abroad, they always carry small souvenirs or gifts for their family and relatives. As a child I always looked forward to sweets and dolls whenever my Father, uncles or aunts came back from overseas.
After our meal we take the train back to Linhexi Lu where I pack the gifts in with the rest of my luggage. At 9pm I purchase a bus ticket at the bus terminal to the airport. It struck me then, I would be home in a matter of hours and I couldn’t wait.
If you’re ever in China and interested to shop in Guangzhou here are some important points to visit:
Xiao bei Lu offers a buzzing street market during the evening hours.
Guang Yuan Xi Lu also has a popular shoe market
Yu Long a plaza specifically for selling jeans
Shi Dai Guang Chang: offers more quality and expensive goods.
Times Square: also has a number of shopping malls