“Required” Shopping in Beijing

I call it “required” because our tour guide said that we had to go to 3 shopping places as part of the tour, despite our declarations that we DIDN’T want to go shopping. At least these 3 shopping sites were not just shops, but also included some sort of educational tour/lecture about the products. I’ve experienced this in other countries (most memorably Turkey and Nepal), and knew what to expect…..an interesting lecture, then a push to buy. Rather annoying, I thought, but at least we weren’t required to buy anything, and it’s always good to learn something new.

Our tour was 5 days, so we spread out these shopping sites over this time period.

Our first stop was the jade store. Here we saw gorgeous pieces of jade of all colors, and carved in many intricate forms. It was breathtaking!

Green apparently is the most valuable color of jade, but the other colors are quite attractive as well.

While the large sculptures were compelling, they were really just too huge and not practical to even consider purchasing. We were actually more attracted to the jewelry pieces, such as pendants and earrings.

As in all stores in China, haggling is expected and encouraged, and be ready to low-ball them with your initial offer (I would say, 25% of the asking price). Of course you’ll get their requisite aghast look, but don’t worry…. this is all a ploy, and part of the ritual.

Here was my purchase from the shop: a pair of T’ang Horses which is supposed to encourage prosperity.

I was just attracted to the design of the horses, being somewhat unusual. I was told their short tails are typical of T’ang Horses.

Next shop was the cloisonné factory. Unlike the jade store, here we actually got to see HOW cloisonné was made.

First step is to solder metal strips onto the metal object, to form little compartments, called cloisons.

Here you can see the cloisons up close. Imagine that the whole metal object is covered like this.

The next step is the EACH compartment is filled with little bits of enamel, each a different color depending on the design. Sharp eyesight is needed for such fine detail.

After each compartment is filled, the object is then fired in kiln, where the enamel is baked and takes on its characteristic shine. The result is a beautiful piece of stunning colors.

Here’s a table that I saw in the showroom. Beautiful!

Again, practicality (and budget!) won over, and I contented myself with a pair of tea containers as my souvenir.

Our last “required” shop was the silk factory.

We started at the factory, where we were shown mulberry leaves that the silkworm were fed, and the whole cycle of the silkworm’s life.

The cocoon is actually made up of only 1 long silk thread, so after the silkworm is finished spinning its cocoon, the end of the silk thread is found and is tied to a spool, and the cocoon is unwound. You can see the many spools in the picture below.

Everything is highly automated, so the process is quite fast. I suppose the slowest part is waiting for the silkworm to finish spinning.

BTW, the cocoon (and the silkworm) are placed in boiling water while the cocoon is being unwound, so at the end, the factory ends up with a lot of boiled worms.

Silk is a very versatile fabric. Being a natural fabric, it is very cool to wear during the summer, yet warm during cooler weather. After the factory we were brought to the showroom (of course!), and shown their many products.

Here we demonstrate how strong and flexible the silk fibers are, as we stretch a single cocoon across a queen sized bed.

The finished products came in a variety of vibrant colors, and the most popular ones were the bed linens. No purchases for me here, since they were rather bulky, and I don’t relish the thought of dry-cleaning often.

Of course I couldn’t leave this post with saying something about the REAL tourist shopping: Wangfujing Street, which is their famous shopping street. Similar to New York’s 5th Avenue or Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, Wangfujing is energetic and vibrant, even, or maybe especially, at night.

It is lined with many stores, some the big department stores filled with designer goods, but the ones I liked were the smaller ones that sold native goods.

My favorite was this quaint shop that just sold chopsticks.

I saw chopsticks for all occasions: plain wood ones for everyday, lacquered ones for fancier fare, and precious silver ones for heirloom pieces. Really beautiful items! I now regret not buying a couple of sets. You never know when you want to serve a fancy Chinese dinner.