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July 07, 2008

Hongqiao Pearl Market

Shopping at the Pearl Market is an experience like no other. There are no rules -- prices are based on the color of your skin, what you’re wearing, and your shopping companions -- and merchants will often do anything to complete a sale -- even if that means physically grabbing you and pulling you into their booth once you express interest. Sure, there are pearls -- an entire floor, in fact -- but there’s also an entire floor of shirts, pants, suits, wallets, handbags, watches, and much more -- many either fake or factory seconds.

Haggling with merchants can be stressful if you actually want to walk out with the goods, but if you don’t care either way, it’s all fun and games. I haggled for an Armani suit and shirt and a Burberry tie. The suit’s original price was 1680 CNY, but my “special price for a special man” was 1200 CNY. From there, the rule of thumb is to make an initial offer of less than 10-percent of the asking price. In this case, since I didn’t really want the suit, I offered 100 CNY. After 10 minutes of haggling, including multiple attempts to walk away, we agreed upon a price of 200 CNY (about $29). The shirt’s final offering price was 45 CNY ($6.50 from 300 CNY) and the tie sold for 15 CNY ($2.20 from 100 CNY). Prices will climb significantly come August; so don’t expect any mind-blowing deals. It’s fun to visit the market, but counterfeit goods are illegal in the U.S. so don’t bring them back into the country.

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Also common at the Pearl Market and throughout the city are gray market or even fake electronics. You can find everything from point and shoot cameras to memory cards and knock off cell phones. Looking is fine, but don’t buy any counterfeit electronics -- it goes without saying that they don’t come with a valid warranty and aren’t as high quality as the real thing. There’s a saying in China for counterfeit electronics, “If you buy it in China, it only works in China.”

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