4 Authentic Shopping Experiences in Beijing
Our family spent 10 weeks in Beijing one summer for my sabbatical. The children were were ages 6 and 11 at the time. It was my second extended stay in the birth country of my parents who came to the U.S. via Taiwan in 1965. I wanted to better understand my past and the diverse culture of modern day China. I also wanted my children to have a totally different experience and possibly make some cultural connections later in their lives.
I’m only one generation removed from my parents who immigrated to the U.S., and I know how easy it is to lose the connection with my Chinese past. This is what I love about traveling. In going to different countries, you get to experience a culture that you cannot experience watching YouTube videos. You get to interact with local people and experience local life. If you are lucky, you get to experience something authentically different.
One of those interactions is bargaining. Like many people, you might hate to haggle. I used to as well until I came to understand that bargaining has been and still is a normal social interaction in most parts of the world. It’s a part of daily life and how local economies operate on a person-to-person basis rather than a more “advanced and developed” form of impersonal interaction.
When I began to see that human interaction and a win-win outcome were needed for bargaining economies to succeed, I saw it more like learning to socialize rather than fighting for bragging rights. Granted that tourists spots do not represent the normal social interaction of most bargaining economies, I still wanted my children to have the experience. We stayed near “Silk Street” in Beijing and went there a few times a week so my two children could receive an early education in bargain shopping.
My son wanted this toy, and I gave him some Chinese currency. I sent him and his older sister to buy it. They knew the routine. Never take the first offer. Offer something less than what you plan to pay.
He says to the saleswomen: “How much for this?”
The saleswoman says: “80.”
My son: “20.”
The saleswoman: “70.”
My son repeatedly shouts out: “20! 20! 20! 20!”
The Saleswoman: “Okay! 20.”
I think he still overpaid, but he got his toy. Everyone was happy.
You may still not like shopping this way but understanding that there is a price at which both parties can be happy may help next time.
Here are four authentic Beijing shopping experiences that are still available in this city that is modernizing and losing some of its own culture and past.
Best Places for Bargain Shopping in Beijing, China
The old neighborhoods of Beijing are called Hutongs. They are easily identified by their one story buildings. Their streets are narrow, and they take you back in time to the Ming dynasty about 500 years ago.
At the peak, there might have been 3,200 of these neighborhoods in the 1940s. In the boom and bustle of the 1990s, about 600 Hutong neighborhoods were being destroyed each year. It is estimated that there are fewer than 1,000 Hutong neighborhoods remaining in Beijing, and they will be almost all replaced by modern apartments and buildings by the year 2050.
In 2005, the government of Beijing passed a proposal called the Beijing City Master Plan protecting a large area of Hutongs in central Beijing. People still live and work in them. You can walk through their streets and find vendors selling produce and meats, ready cooked foods and drinks. It’s an experience few tourists to get to do.
I highly recommend a walk through a Hutong neighborhood. There is one just north of the Forbidden City within blocks of Hilton Beijing Wangfujing.
Nanluogu Lane is part of a Hutong. The alley is only 8 meters wide and about 800 meters in length, but it packs plenty of historical value and fun. This street goes back over 700 years to the Yuan Dynasty. You can find traditional Chinese snacks and shops, as well as contemporary Asian fare.
If you are able, check out the courtyard in a Hutong. While old fashioned, many modern planners in the West have emulated the social aspect of the central meeting places that open up from the living spaces. Google Maps Location
Tobacco Pouch Street
Walk one kilometer from Nanluoguxiang to another historic Hutong street called Yandai Xie Street. This Hutong goes back about 400 years to the Qing Dynasty. Clothing, arts and crafts are sold here, but don’t get distracted and miss the original architecture and buildings of this Hutong neighborhood.
For the adventurous, I recommend a visit to a bathroom in one of these buildings. We did just that when we had lunch at a well known restaurant in a Hutong neighborhood. We had to leave the restaurant and walk through a courtyard. Most people prefer not to use squat toilets but almost all of them will say that it’s cleaner than western toilets.
For fans of architectural history, this street is a must-visit. Google Maps Location
Panjiayuan Antiques Market
A visit here is more for curiosity than for serious antiques shopping. Some things maybe old but they are not as valuable as their price as marked. Enjoy this market for the arts and crafts from the past. I enjoyed visiting this market purely because it took my imagination on a tour of China’s former way of living. Like the razing of the Hutongs, China’s history is losing out to modernity. Google Maps Location
Where to Stay in Beijing
For easy hotel reservations, I highly recommend Hilton Beijing Wangfujing for your stay in Beijing. It is centrally located within walking distance of Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.
Also, less than an 10-minute walk east of the hotel, you will find two standout restaurants. Try the Hong Kong based Lei Garden for dim sum for lunch or traditional Cantonese fare for dinner. Also, Da Dong Roast Duck serves some great all around Chinese dishes as well as, of course, Beijing duck.
Hilton Beijing Wangfujing is stylishly modern with a cool 6th floor pool. Book direct with Hilton for the best price and where there is never any haggling. Enjoy!
You may also enjoy:
- Top Things to do in Beijing, China
- Local Etiquette in Asian Countries: Do’s and Don’ts
- Top 10 Things To Do In Tokyo With Kids
- 5 Memorable Things to do in Kyoto with Kids
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Eugene lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. He and his wife have taken their two children to about 15 countries for work and vacation. Eugene is…