China smells like Wal-Mart…

18 May

… Luckily, I live in Hong Kong. This past week I took a 15 hour round-trip to the mainland – just across the border to Shenzhen, China. The day included near limitless shopping and closed with 7 hours at the spa to calm the frenzy.  Luxurious, right? Keep reading.

Now, I love shopping because I love fashion. I love to see the latest trends, different designers take on the new IT accessory, and see who decided to go a completely different direction. I appreciate wide open aisles, displays that are works of art in themselves, and most importantly, not walking out of the store to see everyone else dressed just like me. Which is why I am still deciding if shopping in Shenzhen counts.

If you love Canal Street in NYC, digging for a great find, and feeling like you got a great deal, then “China shopping” is for you. AND, if you love (eau de) Wal-Mart, then Shenzhen might be your Heaven on Earth. Let’s just say it’s not exactly my cup of green tea. The “mall” we went to was a six-story building of tiny shops organized along winding corridors, each bursting with a not so well-edited selection of wares. No exaggerating, you could put the entirety of your wardrobe from birth to the present into a 100sq ft room with clothes hanging from every surface and then piled in the middle, and that should provide you with a fairly accurate visual. There are hundreds upon hundreds of them. Want a knock-off anything? They have it. Sure the Polo horse may be running the wrong direction, or the bag is labeled LouiseVuitton, but baby, it’s there. If you appear to actually have some coin to drop in their tiny shop, you can sit and wait for the good stuff to materialize from a mystery warehouse; near perfect replicas of next season’s bags, glasses, shoes, whatever, in top-quality materials and accurate labels, with authentication materials to boot. It is really unbelievable (as is that gently used Prada tote you picked up on eBay for $50 and free shipping). And lo, the haggling. Whatever you buy, you get a better deal if you buy in volume, because of course, I need three new pairs of sunglasses, or those shorts in every color. What starts out as RMB$150 for one ends up RMB$80 for three and before you know it the 22-inch roll-aboard you brought with you is bursting at the seams. Good thing they sell luggage! When you finally leave the mall to hop in the car service to the spa, you have only a vague idea of what is in your bags, little recollection of what you spent on anything, and your ears are still buzzing with, “Missy! Missy! You want buy DVD? Ten dolla!”

Did I mention the smell? The entire place smells the same – a bizarre stench of cigarettes, synthetics, and (ironically) de-odorizers. Everything you purchased will smell exactly the same, and when you unpack your bag of treasures (you fabulous bargain hunter, you!), your entire home will smell like Wal-Mart for the next 12 to 24 hours – longer if you leave things packed in the factory cellophane protective covers. Lovely.

So, why do I return (3 trips so far and one planned for next week), you ask? Two reasons. First, when you are shopping for the right things, you can manage a smokin’ deal. For example: I need a silk-fill King duvet. Hong Kong price: $5,300 fixed. Shenzhen price: $480 at first offer, which means I aim to purchase it for around $300 (since I am, after all, only purchasing one). Even after I pay to have it dry-cleaned before I use it, I will have only spent 10% of the Hong Kong price. Secondly, I exploit any reason/opportunity to go to the spa. The spa? Really? Why go all the way to China to visit the spa, you ask? Geez, grasshopper, you sure are full of questions. Allow me to enlighten you.

We visited Queen Spa. You check in right between the train station and Stinky Mall-Mart, and a mini-van drives you through downtown Shenzhen to a 100,000 square foot, open 24/7, no-appointment-necessary sea of tranquility. All services are available on a whim since there are over 150 massage rooms and even more “therapists” available to offer localized treatments (foot, head,  or back massage, mani, pedi, and so on) on location at your recliner in the mammoth, co-ed “relaxation area”. Don’t worry – Everyone is wearing standard issue jammies. My spa time went something like this: check in, shower off the stink from shopping, and chill in the steam room, letting my skin get all gummy before I go for a 30-minute full body exfoliation. Shower again, and go slip into my spa pyjamas. I find my friend waiting for me in the relaxation area, where we select side-by-side recliners and turn on our private TVs. We signal for service, order a 45-minute foot massage at our chairs, and order lunch. My Pan-Fried Udon with Shrimp and Scallops in XO Sauce was excellent, and I finished up just as the foot massage was over. My very relaxed feet walked me over to the fruit bar where I picked at sliced watermelon, dragon fruit, grapes, lychee, and strange little gelatin snacks. I picked up a latte’ and a glass of water and headed back to my chair. I chilled while she had a manicure, right there in her comfy chair, and then we decided it was a good time for a massage. We check in at the massage counter, select the style, the aromatherapy oil, and the length – our choices were 90 minutes and 90 plus an additional 45. Some decisions are so easy. A glorious two hours and twenty minutes later, we realize that we had better be on our way lest we be forced (by the train schedule) to stay at the spa over-night. Although worse things could have happened, we wanted to make sure “the husbands” let us out together again. Snicker. We shower again, change back into our street clothes, and go pay. Mind you, I have max-tipped for everything. My total after conversion: US$122. I KNOW. Pick up your jaw, stop being jealous, and come visit!

China may smell like Wal-Mart, but I left smelling of bergamot and sweet mandarin.

2 Responses to “China smells like Wal-Mart…”

  1. Cheri Salazar May 18, 2011 at 11:03 am #

    Ok, Lizzie. I’m skipping Africa next month and coming to see you. How do I get there? (The second to the last line of your post WAS an invitation wasn’t it???) 🙂

    • window2chaos May 18, 2011 at 7:23 pm #

      SFO to HKG on Cathay – and absolutely! Remember you need a visa for the mainland… 🙂

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