Shopping in China differs greatly from shopping in America. Most places in America it is not possible to find bootleg DVDs and CDs, fake designer brand purses and clothing, or stolen bicycles. Malls in America do not have live music on the lowest level, which is often underground. And the only place to bargain in America is at garage sales and then you cannot not shout at the salesperson or get away with telling them that their product is ugly or useless. All of these things and more can be discovered in a Chinese shopping district.
In the center of Chengdu, a giant statue of Mao salutes the most popular shopping area in the city, Chunxi Lu. There you can find high-end shops like Armani and Louis Vuitton. You can also find men and women selling food and objects out of baskets perched on their shoulders. The other day, when I was out with my friends, a group of women selling sleeping masks sprinted into a back alley when a policeman walked buy. Apparently none of them had permits.
As for me, I prefer the middle ground: the nondescript four to six story buildings that contain vast honeycombs of booth-sized stores selling everything from wigs to watches.
“Take a look! Take a look!” the shopkeeper says.
If I betray any interest in a product, he or she asks, “Do you like it?” If I like it, but I don’t want to buy it, I reply “no.” If I am feeling brave, I say “yes,” and the games begin.
The shopkeeper whips out a calculator and types in their starting price, then holds the calculator out to me. I type in a ridiculously low price. The shopkeeper laughs and shakes her head, then types in a price only a few kuai lower than her starting point. I type in my next offer, and so on. Once it gets as high as I want to go, I say “nevermind” and start to walk away. Then the shopkeeper will stop me and give it to me for the price I want.
After shopping, my second vice in Chengdu is eating.
Sichuan province is known for serving the best, and spiciest, food in China. So far, I have had noodles, dumplings, bao zi (round steamed buns with meat or vegetable stuffing), hotpot, roast duck, various pastries, tofu, eggplant, potatoes, bok choy, cabbage, yak and yak butter. The list goes on, and we have only been in Chengdu for a little more than a week.
Many of these dishes have contained the famous Sichuan spice that looks like a peppercorn, has a sharp metallic flavor, and numbs your mouth and tongue.
The foods I hope to eat many times this semester are potato dumplings from a small restaurant that resides in the front room of the owners’ house, red bean paste bao zi from a 7-Eleven type convenience store, and various types of flavored milk, including mango, coconut, peanut, pomegranate, strawberry, and chocolate milk tea.
Things I have seen and refuse to try include chicken heads and feet, and duck heart on a stick. These dishes remind me too much of things I dissected in middle school.
In China, the simplest activities are an adventure. It does not take very much to find a source of entertainment.