Over the past weekend I went to the silk market (秀水街; Xiùshuǐjiē ) with a couple friends. It was an experience to remember.
The silk market in particular caught my eye simply due to its sheer popularity. On our way to the market we asked for directions several times – but because we didn’t know the same of the actual market in Chinese, we ended up asking where the “foreigner market” (外国市场） was. It was amusing, but it speaks to how popular of a tourist site it is. After doing some of my own research, I found that the silk market alone attracts almost 10,000 customers daily, reaching up to 30,000 people on the weekends.
The environment itself was interesting. As you can see from the picture above, it’s a rather large building. The stalls inside were essentially glass rooms, having the walls made of glass and separating one stall from the other. They weren’t too big, but they all looked relatively well taken care of. All in all, the atmosphere seemed moderately professional and it was evident that the shop owners had some sort of wealth to hold such a spot in a popular place. Each floor of the silk market was dedicated to a certain type of item – clothing, jewelry, miscellaneous items, etc., thus allowing it to be very organized.
My favorite and probably the most important part about the silk market is the haggling. I found it funny that on numerous occasions I would be charged over 100 American dollars for something that was manufactured for and worth less than 2 bucks. The shopkeepers really make the most out of the ignorance of the foreigner, and do whatever they can to convince you that their products are legitimate and worth a pretty penny – however in a short time you learn that there are several ways to get around that.
One of my personal favorites is the excuse that I’m a student, and therefore have very little money (it’s true!). They seem to lower their guard after that. On numerous occasions the shopkeepers would praise my Chinese, however it’s all just a ploy, don’t fall for it! Say thank you or even better mutually compliment them on their English if they speak it, and stick to your haggling.
The trick is that you have to be willing and able to walk away from what you’re looking at buying – if you have your heart set on it the shopkeepers are more likely to get a much better deal out of you. Plus when you just start to walk away, they call you frantically and stoop down to whatever your determined price was.
Overall I had a lot of fun, and it was definitely worth the long metro ride over. The stuff they had there was interesting, but just the experience itself made it all worthwhile.