While there is a LOT to do in Shanghai, shopping remains king. I met a gal here from Beijing who came with an empty suitcase and one purpose. To fill it. Her attempt to close the bag at the end of her two days in Shanghai was testament to sheer shopping options in Shanghai. Whether you want high end merchandise, fake high end merchandise, cheap souvenirs, or a cool window shopping experience: Shanghai has you covered.
For souviners that scream “China,” the place to go is Yuyuan Gardens in Shanghai’s rapidly disappearing Old Town. I remember Yu Gardens from when I was here six years ago. It was loud, crowded, dirty, and most of all: smelly. I was kinda sad when I returned. Yu Gardens (like all of Shanghai) has cleaned up. The sewer smell was almost non-existent and the din of the crowd seemed calmer too. This is still the place for Chinese-y souvenirs though. Jade Buddha’s, China dolls, silk in any form, chopsticks, and toys spill out from store fronts into the streets. Yu Gardens is all about bargaining – you can usually get whatever you want for at least ½ (if not ¼) of the initial asking price. Bargaining is done via calculator. The salesclerk will type in a ridiculous price, you’ll type in a fourth of that price and then she looks hurt, as if she’d have to live in a cardboard box for the rest of her life if that’s all you’re willing to pay. However if you shrug and walk away she’ll most likely chase you down the street, accepting that price after all. Yu Gardens isn’t really a place to spend a day – it’s kinda tacky. For some ambiance with your shopping, head uptown.
The French Concessions
There are two main shopping centers in the French Concessions, Xintiandi and Taikang. Taikang was my favorite by far. You know how trendy boutique places in America try to create an “old world” feel by creating fake old building and putting up strings of lights? The Taikang Road Art Centre accomplishes that feel without even trying. The narrow alleys, cobblestone walkways and tiny cafes create an endless maze of shops and wine bars. Chinese people live in or above the shops, thus solidifying that this place is “real,” not created. The prices vary here. I got a dress for the equivalent of $15, although most stores were offering merchandise at ten times the price. The restaurant options at Taikang are plentiful, whether you want Tibetan dumplings, New York pizza, Spanish tapas, Tandori chicken, Japanese sushi, or Swiss fondue. Most restaurants have just a few tables and a tiny bar area so prepare to get cozy with the people around you. I ate at a little Italian place (I missed cheese, what can I say?) and watched my waiter/cook make my fettuccini carbonara from my perch at the bar. Taikang Road is right across the street from the Dapuqiao station on metro line 9.
Xintiandi is the other cluster of shops in the French concessions. This place had a decidedly more “French” feel (as opposed to Taikang, which was more international) and was a little more boring. There were some cute stores, but the big restaurants and open courtyards felt a little too close to a shopping mall for my taste. Many of the restaurants were American chains – Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Starbucks (of course), and even California Pizza Kitchen. The Xintiandi metro station is on line 10.
For brand name shopping amongst crowds and crowds of people, head to the pedestrian-only Nanjing Road. This has been the fashion mecca of Shanghai for nearly one hundred years and is centrally located between People’s Square and the Bund. Hundreds of stores, hotels, and McDonalds can be found along this shopper’s haven. While taking in the crowds and stores along Nanjing Road, be prepared for numerous “salesmen” to come up to you with laminated pictures of Rolex watches and Gucci bags. If you show the slightest bit of interest (a millisecond of eye contact for example), they’ll lead you just off the main drag to a room full of (illegal) fakes. On a **ahem** totally unrelated note, I am the proud owner of a new “Coach” purse. To get to the heart of Nanjing Road, head for the East Nanjing Road station (not the West) on metro line 2.
Faking it under the Science and Technology Museum
If you have a long shopping list from your girlfriends that includes Coach, Gucci, Prada, head across the river to Pudong. You’ll find the mother of all fake markets under the Science and Technology Museum. Be sure to bargain here as well. If you can’t find the exact thing you are looking for, the storekeepers will pull extra stock for you out of hidden nooks and crannies, behind false walls or in another location. To get to the fake markets, take metro line 2 to the Science and Technology Museum, and there you are.
Be aware that fakes are technically illegal. On your way back to the states you are asked to declare purchases and customs people can inspect your luggage. If they find twenty “Prada” bags you might find yourself in a bit of trouble.