On Shopping in China

I’m not a big spender, but I can easily pass the time with a few hours window shopping. This was harder to do in Beijing. In the oversized, shiny modern shopping malls, the shopping culture holds similarities with the U.S. but on the street or in places like the Pearl Market, the cultural difference is obvious. It’s atypical for people to just wander around the mall looking at things without buying them, and if you try, staff or vendors will pressure you to buy. This pressure to purchase is most pronounced at famous bargaining market locations such as the Pearl Market.

I was not overly familiar with Pearl Market before arriving in Beijing, but later I learned that it was an interesting place to bargain for cheaper goods. All of Pearl Market’s products are off-brand or fakes of pricier brands, so I decided to look around without buying anything. I did not expect the vendors to be so forward, and was certainly taken aback when one very determined lady seized me by the arm and quite literally dragged me into her stall. She hardly paused for a breath while describing to me the superior quality and pricing of her handbags, and as I tried to tell her I had neither the interest nor enough cash for her products, she threw a fake Prada bag into my arms and asked for 120 RMB. Other vendors had a gentler approach but I still often found my arms full of things I had no real interest in buying. They are very quick with putting their bags, or shirts, or whatever it is they’re selling into your hands. If you try to give it back just as quickly, they’ll almost duck away. I only ever felt less inclined to buy in such situations.

The alertness of the vendors is also rather startling; even a glance at their merchandise will have them smiling at you and scrambling to get you to buy their products. In the States, I wander in and out of stores without feeling the need to purchase anything, but in China, or at least Beijing, doing so will often get you decidedly unfriendly looks from shop-keepers.

Stores also use very interesting ways to promote themselves; more than once I saw the staff dancing in or outside stores to get shoppers’ attention. It is not uncommon to see vendors using megaphones to promote their products, even if it’s just tofu. Sometimes, vendors across the street from each other would try to shout over each other, and I ended up not understanding a word of anything. To attract shoppers, staff frequently stand outside stores and hand out flyers or demonstrate how their products work. Some of these can be interesting when a remote-controlled drone is doing loop-de-loops above your head, but others are funny because they’re as trivial as a man “demonstrating” the spinning capabilities of a fidget spinner.

I missed being able to leisurely drift from store to store without a sales clerk breathing down my neck. However, I realized that for many of these people, their income depends on selling as many of their products as possible. In some street stands, vendors had their children watching TV, working on homework, or even napping in the back. I certainly spent less time in stores I had no intention of buying from, but having gained a new perspective, I stopped resenting the attitude of the staff.

I’m Finally Here!

When you walk to your gate and see this waiting for you, you can anticipate a good trip

Or, if we’re being a bit more precise, I’ve been here for two weeks now. Flying in to Tokyo was one of the most pleasantly overwhelming moments of my life. Navigating international travel, currency exchange, and Tokyo’s intricate train system for the first time was challenging, though who can complain about flying on a BB-8 plane? My experience has been a mix of that daunting challenge and sense of wonder, so it’s taken me a while to finally sit down and write about it all.

Quite a bit has happened since my arrival, so I will split my first two posts between the liveliest points of my stay thus far: city life and campus life. This first post of mine will center around the city life and attempt to give a worthy summary of my experience. My friends and I have crawled the various sections of this vast metropolitan monster numerous times now, and it’s left a lasting impression with me.

Train tracks that seem to stretch on forever

As of July 20th, I have been to Shinjuku, Asakusa, Shibuya, Akihabara, Ikebukuro, Musashi-sakai, Mitaka, and, of course, the International Christian University. A lot, I know. I owe my travels to the wonderfully affordable Tokyo train system. I can’t imagine there’s anything quite like it. Once you become accustomed to the lay out of the city, the large swaths of people, and abandon the ticket system for a much more convenient Suica or Passmo card, the train system becomes your very best friend in Tokyo. This is a somewhat strange thing to rave about, but my hometown, Houston, has little in terms of public transportation. South Bend has a more extensive bus system. So, from my perspective, the train system is a work of modern ingenuity, even if it’s as common as morning coffee for the denizens of Tokyo.


Godzilla says hi

Another dazzling sight is the sheer size of the buildings in major shopping centers. Everything with the exception of large crosswalks and certain roads are much narrower than what I’m used to in the States. Due to the ground space being narrow, when you go to your large department stores, expect to look up. Way up. Some companies capitalize on this architecture in fantastic ways. The picture to the right is TOHO Cinemas and its overgrown guardian turtle. While not every establishment is wonderful enough to warrant this protection, it’s common to see giant screens playing advertisements or banners that are multiple stories high. You’ll see a lot more of that in my later posts.

So what other general impressions do I have after two weeks in Tokyo? Shopping and food. I could easily write an entire post about each of these, but I’ll try to limit myself to one paragraph each.

Directly in front of Shinjuku station right after sunset

Tokyo shopping is… Vast is perhaps the best word I can think of at the moment. You can find just about anything in the sprawling city. Sometimes, all in a single building. You might spend an hour browsing on one floor, head toward the escalator to look for a certain type of goods, and then discover nine other floors to search through. Sometimes more. Window shopping is fun in and of itself simply because there is so much to see. Often prices will be absolutely reasonable, and the more populated and popular areas are often tax free hubs where simply presenting your passport will exempt you from tax on anything over 5,000 yen (about fifty dollars). And, of course, plenty of areas are packed with people.

Delicious beef dish including miso soup, rice, and a salad

Now for the food. This could easily be my favorite part of living in Japan. I’m not a foodie or anything, but you really can’t beat the prices on food here. For 650 yen you can get a meal similar to that depicted on the right. And these meals aren’t McDonald’s quality “food.” They are delicious, (probably) nutritious meals that are very filling. No questionable quote unquote meat. No extra four to five dollars for leafy greens. No two dollar bottles of water. You can buy fairly large bottles of water at a supermarket for less than 100 yen and bottles of tea for a comparable price. It’s simply wonderful in my opinion. It helps that I love washoku or Japanese cuisine. I’ve also become accustomed to using chopsticks for anything and everything. Rice, the floating bits of miso soup, salads, and even chips. Yes. I’m very proud, thank you for asking.

So that’s Tokyo the city thus far. These are all the most general of impressions, but I hope to share more specifics later down the line, because I’ve already had some great times in the various sections of the city. However, that will have to wait. Next up is ICU campus life.

Jyaa ne! Until next time!