Shanghai – A city on the hustle.

If Beijing is China’s Washington D.C., then Shanghai is China’s New York City. People in China are ENTREPRENUREAL and I like and admire that quality. Commerce is thriving everywhere we went in China, but in Shanghai, it’s on overdrive.

Shanghai’s business climate even brought out a side of my demure wife that I had not previously witnessed. Holly the Negotiator. The later part of our trip to China, Holly has shifted her focus from sightseeing to shopping. In Holly’s defense, we are not returning home until two days before Christmas, so any holiday shopping needs to happen while on this trip and China seems like the best place to get reasonable deals and mail things home so they will be waiting when we return.

Suit Shopping:
Holly very strategically suggested that at first we shop for me. Specifically, there are tailor shops all over that will custom make suits within a few days. Almost all of the shops advertise a package deal including: two suits, three shirts and two ties. Since we were in Shanghai for one day before leaving to go to Tongli and Hangzhou and returning three days later, Holly suggested we get the ball rolling, select fabric, get initial measurements, etc. and then have final fittings when we returned. At first I resisted, but actually it was fun and I’m really happy with the final product. The tailor took measurements in the early afternoon and we returned that evening to try on the pattern they had made from the measurements they took early that day.

Here I am trying on the pattern for the suits:

Combat Shopping:
Holly now turned her attention to shopping for everyone else on her list. I of course had been neutralized because we had just dropped a lot of money on my wardrobe, so I tagged along to carry bags and pull out money at the appropriate moment.

We took a taxi from our hotel to a shopping “mall” – a multi-story building packed to the gills with small stalls.

The approaches from aggressive hawkers began almost the moment we stepped out of our taxi, before we could cross the street and enter the building. Hawkers have cards with pictures of watches, handbags, etc. – they approach you with pitches like: “Do you want a watch? Looking for handbag?” We found we had to either complete ignore these advances, or respond with an emphatic “Boo Yao”, which we were told means either “emphatically no” or “finally no”. The few times Holly dropped a “Boo Yao” on people we got very interesting reactions, but it worked.

Holly was interested in merchandise in one stall and she very actively negotiated her deals. Witness Holly’s no nonsense negotiation style below. We were told that whatever you are quoted is at least double what you should pay. Whatever the asking price, the first response is to offer 30% of their asking price, with the objective of ending up at less than 50% of the initial price. Two key strategies Holly employs are:

  1. The walk away. The Shop Keepers we met simply won’t let you leave their stall without a sale. If the negotiation isn’t getting to the right price, we found that walking away always brought a “What is your final price?” and usually we got to a deal quickly.
  2. Show them the money. My job was to be the wallet. When Holly got to a price she was willing to pay, for example 300 Yuan ($50.00 USD) and wanted to bring the recalcitrant Shop Keeper down to her price without further haggling; she’d turn to me, I’d hand her the 300 Yuan which Holly then offers to the Shop Keeper and this usually ended the negotiation with an acceptance of the money being offered.

At this shopping area, and others we went to in China, we were led into little rooms behind the stalls through false walls to be shown knock-off merchandise. We were led into one such room full of “name brand” handbags, wallets, etc. Another “secret room” held “Rolex”, “Breitling” and other knock-offs of high end watches. In Beijing we went to a shop that was recommended by some airline Flight Attendants we met at lunch. This shop was in an alley behind a small hotel. It had no sign and Holly and I were sure we were in the wrong place, but they have a surveillance camera to watch the alley and they unlocked the door when we came close and locked the door after we entered. I imagine this is what going to a speakeasy must have been like during Prohibition in the 1920’s.

On the loose in Shanghai:

We took the Shanghai subway from our hotel, the Jin Jiang Hotel in the French Concession area, to People’s Park with the objective of seeing the park and then walking to the Bund an area of historic buildings along the Huangpu River. The underground subway station at People’s Park is itself a huge shopping area.

As soon as we came out of the station into the park, we were approached by two young ladies who asked us to take a picture of them and offered to take a picture of the two of us. They spoke English pretty well and told us they were visiting Shanghai from another part of China. They told us they were going to have tea and invited us to go along. We declined and continued on to look around the park. Very shortly we were approached by another young woman who struck up a conversation with us in English. She told us she was going to a tea “festival” and invited us to go along. At first Holly was interested and then she remembered reading to tourists needed to be wary about being approached by young women at People’s Park. These young women are actually hustling business for tea shops and other stores. The “tea festival” turns out to be an expensive tea service.

We continued on our self-guided tour of People’s Park. Like every Chinese park we visited, there are luscious gardens and ponds. Here’s a pond with giant lily pads:

Another very common sight in China is groups of men playing cards, Chinese Chess and other games:

Shanghai’s Museum of Modern Art in People’s Park was having an exhibition on Christian Dior and we also saw signs for Shanghai Fashion Week. Shanghai is every bit as cosmopolitan as New York, men and women dress very stylishly and look fantastic. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to see the Dior exhibit. I’m sure it would have been great.

The hustle continued as we walked down East Nanjing Pedestrian Street toward the Bund. Here again we were approached time and again with offers of watches, hand bags, etc. by men and women with printed cards, trying to lure us into their shops. Here’s Holly and a view down East Nanjing Pedestrian Street.

To get around Shanghai for the rest of the day, we decided to buy a ticket on the hop on/hop off bus tour. From the second level of the bus, I took the picture below of the Bund as we drove past. The real experience we are told is to see The Bund at night when all the building are lit up. We didn’t make it back here at night, so I’m sorry but a daytime picture is all I have to offer:

Our guide has suggested we visit “Chinatown”. OK, we thought, it’s a little odd to have a Chinatown in China, but we’ll check it out. There are four main attractions in Shanghai’s “Chinatown”:

  1. The City God Temple: As Holly mentioned in her last blog post, Holly and I have been feeling what we call “Temple Fatigue”. After more than three weeks in China, we have seen a lot of temples, Taoist Temples, Buddhist Temples, even Confucian Temples. In China, it seems every city has a Taoist Temple dedicated to their local city God. Here’s a picture of Shanghai’s city god and two of his helpers.

    The thing that caught my attention and reduced my “Temple Fatigue”, was this monk, sitting just to the left of the City God pictured above who was beautifully playing this instrument. His playing was lovely and really added to the experience of visiting this temple.

  2. Yu Yuan Garden: This garden was also very nice. We’ve now been to a lot of gardens and parks in China, so I wouldn’t say it was the best we’ve been to, but if you are only visiting a few cities in China or have seen limited gardens and parks, then I think the Yu Yuan Garden is worth a visit.

  3. More Shopping: Like the other shopping areas of Shanghai, the “Chinatown” next to the City God Temple and the Yu Yuan Garden is densely packed with shops and stalls and there are a large number of hawkers who will approach you constantly. We didn’t do a lot of shopping here because by this point, Holly had completed almost all of her shopping objectives.

  4. Din Tai Fung Restaurant: By far the most enjoyable attraction is across the street from Shanghai’s Chinatown – Din Tai Fung Restaurant. We had met some people on the bullet train from Hangzhou back to Shanghai who had recommend this restaurant. Their specialty is xiaolongbao – small steamed buns, but they also have many other wonderful dishes. The founder is from Taiwan and when we asked in our hotel, they said: “Oh, the Taiwan Restaurant”. To our delight we found out that this restaurant is a chain, mostly in Asian countries, but they also have a restaurants in Washington State and in Arcadia, California – near enough for us to visit when we get down to L.A. Here’s their U.S. website:

    Here’s a little history about the restaurant from Wikipedia: Founder Yang Bingy was born in Shanxi, China, but moved to Taiwan in 1948 as a result of the Chinese Civil War. After working 10 years at Heng Tai Fung (恆泰豐), a cooking oil retailer, he found himself unemployed due the store’s closing. Thus, he and his wife, Lai Penmei, founded Din Tai Fung (also a cooking oil retailer) in 1958. Around 1980, tinned cooking oil became prevalent, and business diminished drastically. In order to survive, Yang and his wife began making and selling steamed buns (xiaolongbao) on the side. The buns were so popular that the store stopped selling oil altogether and became a full-fledged restaurant in the 1980s. The original restaurant is located on Xinyi Road in Taipei.

    Now that’s a true Entrepreneurial story. That’s the kind of hustle I really admire.

    To close this blog posting, here’s a picture of the staff behind a glass window preparing the dough to make the dumplings. This was really fun and really good. They also clearly get a lot of foreign tourists and they made it really easy for us to order what we wanted and to enjoy ourselves.

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