One of the things I've discovered my new non-Chinese girlfriends love to do here in China is shop. And judging by the lack of oxygen and space in the discount shopping malls, Chinese girls love to shop too. While food and other daily necessities can definitely be bought in almost any store for cheap, clothing prices in the malls seem to be around the same as in America.
But Beijing also has tons of discount shopping malls.
The ones that I have been to and that my friends frequent have been compared to something called a "swap meet" by my Californian friends. I had no idea what they were talking about, so I went to check it out not long after we arrived. I had expected maybe something like Job Lot or even Savers, but no, these are nothing like that. In 动物园 (dong wu yuan) the zoo market, there are two huge buildings on either side of the road running parallel to the zoo entrance. They look more like office buildings than malls, I think because they lack the outdoor signs that we usually would rely on to be informed about which brands are available there. This is because there are no actual stores like I am used to!
Inside the doors, stalls line the hallways. Most are decorated and some even have names, but all of them are crowded and packed with clothes. Covering the walls in each little shop are hangers and mannequins displaying the styles of each stall, so much that you can't even see the walls themselves. Sometimes the clothes are displayed all the way down to the floor so that you have no choice but to physically go into the stall to see what they have. And once you're in, the unseen store monitors attack you.
Not really, but almost. Since these are not chain stores or even large enough stalls to require a uniform, most of the time I have no idea who I should be asking questions about price or quality to. Once I seem to be paying attention to a specific section or article of clothing however, it becomes clear quite quickly. The people who are responsible for the stores 售货员(shouhuoyuan) are all in everyday clothing, but they all have fanny packs where they keep all the money they've made during the day. No cash registers needed. Maybe it's because I don't look Chinese and am an obvious foreigner that as soon as I tarry to browse a selection there is a shop attendant telling me prices and asking me if I'd like to look at anything closer. In America I prefer to do my shopping alone when I actually get up the energy to go clothes shopping and browsing is something I often do; however this is not an option in Beijing's discount malls.
I had read in another blog post online that the idea of "window shopping" is not in the Chinese understanding, and in these kinds of malls at least, it's true. I go shopping with my friends who are American-born Chinese, and I don't think they get as much attention as I do from the shopkeepers. Once I've found something I think would look cute, then discussion begins. First we need to find the right size. There are only the samples on the walls which are all sized for Chinese bodies. If I need a bigger size, the shop person will go digging under piles and piles of clothes wrapped in plastic bags until he/she finds a bigger size. There is no such thing as trying on these clothes here, although I have heard in the bigger, what I consider "normal" malls you can. In places like this, I honestly think you just have to guess. The 售货员will stretch the clothes to demonstrate how well they will fit you, and size you by laying the clothes against your back, but normally my question of "可以式式吗, can I try this on?" is answered with laughter and some guy looking at me like I'm crazy. In America I am normally around a size M or L in clothing, depending on the store. In China however, it would appear that I am around an XL or even XXL. This has killed my self esteem in the being comfortable with my body department, not to mention that most Chinese girls are incredibly thin and I'm simply not used to being the biggest person around.
And then once you've decided that this is something you want to buy, the haggling for price begins. I'm going to leave that for another post seeing that this one has gotten quite long already. In short, you can get clothes in places like this for cheap, I mean really cheap, sometimes around $5 American dollars for a button-down shirt. If you are bad at bargaining or simply don't like to do it as I've discovered some Chinese just don't like to, such as one of my professors, you can just give the people what they ask for in terms of price, or just do your shopping online!