Unlike my beloved Australia (where my fave band provided inspiration for this blog title), Hong Kong is in close proximity to other countries. Unlike Australia and New Zealand, you don’t even need to jump on a plane or boat to cross the border into other countries. Even more novel (for those of us from Down Under anyways), is the fact you can cross the border in the morning, and come back in the afternoon after spending a day shopping.
I’ve been here over a year and haven’t ventured over the border into Mainland China. Shame on me!
So you can imagine how I jumped at the chance when a friend was organising a quick trip across to Shenzen, China. I have a visa for China, so it was just a matter of getting some RMB (Chinese currency) and off we went.
If you don’t have a visa, that isn’t a problem though as you can get a visa for Shenzen at the border, although it is a little more expensive. The hard part is trying to navigate the labyrinth to the actual place where you get the visa’s.
So – Shenzen, from Hong Kong. We caught a train from Central (Red line), jumped another train from Tsim Tsui to East Tsim Sha Tsui (Maroon line) and then hopped on a train to Lo Wu (pale blue line). From Lo Wu we basically jumped off the train, exited the station and walked straight into the customs area to depart Hong Kong. Once past the Hong Kong border we were in “no mans land” as we walked a bridge over a river to China’s Customs border. They were all pretty friendly, but very thorough with checking our documents. The Chinese customs officer (obviously noting my excitement) even smiled and said “welcome to China”.
We walked out the door and there was Shenzen standing in front of us. I couldn’t believe how different it was to Hong Kong. Very little in the way of english signs, far more spread out, and people eagerly walking over to entice us with phrases like “Missy-missy, you want fake handbag? fake sunglasses? DVDS?”
It was worse than trying to swat away flies. Never-the-less, we ventured into the shopping centre literally metres from the border…
Confronted with 5 floors of shops barely the size of an Australian household bathroom was quite a daunting prospect. We decided to start at the top and work our way down. We didn’t see every shop or even every corner of the shopping centre, but we certainly got to see enough of the place to know what it was like and what to expect.
I took a pair of shorts I’ve loved that are worn through to see if they could be tailored. We found a tailor and showed her what we wanted and she was happy to oblige. She took us down to the material warehouse to her preferred dealer. The range of fabric available was nothing short of amazing. We haggled a bit and I found 2 materials I liked for about 40RBM (AU$6.50). The tailor had worked out how much fabric was needed already and was given it on the spot. The tailor then charged 100 RBM ($16.40) for the sewing, buttons, zips, etc. I went back to pick them up a week later, and I had 2 pairs of shorts which were exact copies right down to the intricate stitching of the original pair I had taken over. They fit perfectly and I was really impressed. For AU$20 I don’t care if the 2 pairs of shorts only last one summer as I know I can get more made – the originals a year or two back cost me AU$60 (and only lasted just over a year anyway). I will definitely be going back to get a few more things made in the coming months. The only thing I would do differently in hindsight is bargain more with the fabric and look through more of the fabric dealers. Never-the-less very happy with the final result.
The other thing I was interested was kid clothes. I had been told kids clothes shopping was quite good in the shopping centre but I had also been told to start low and stay low with the haggling, and if it was too much walk away. It was great advice.
The first kids clothing shop we stopped at had a nice jacket for Bethany. I asked “How much?” I was told 580 RBM. I said it was too expensive and was handed a calculator. Then I was asked “How much you pay?”. After consulting a little currency chart I had made for myself, I typed in 200RMB. They haggled some, but I only raised my offer to 250. Eventually they said 380 was their lowest offer. I said no and started to walk away. Funnily enough they then chased after me and pulled me back saying “missy-missy. Ok – we take your offer.”
That was my first experience, and in hindsight, I think I should have stayed at 200RMB, but it was a learning experience. I ended up buying several more pieces of clothing at different stores for my kids, and never paid over 1/2 the price they originally showed me. Bethany was VERY happy with my purchases.
Another interesting part of the mall was an area that made necklaces and sold chains of beads and pearls. I don’t know how fake they were but they sure had a LOT of choices.
There was food in the shopping centre, so we didn’t starve. Mostly we spent our time window shopping at the variety of things available. It was a bit of a culture shock. People smoked indoors. People spat indoors (yeah – ew is right!), we were harassed from all sides by people wanting to take us to look at their shops or to look at certain things, but it was an interesting experience.
At 4 o’clock we were ready to go home so we walked out of the mall, over to the Chinese border, and back to Hong Kong, going through the customs points on either side of the river again to catch the train home. Too easy to be true it would seem when you’re someone used to having to hop on a plane to get anywhere. 😉
Tips for Shenzen shopping:
1. Take ONLY what you need. Shenzen is notorious for pickpockets and bag snatching. Don’t take credit cards, debit cards, large amounts of cash, or anything you don’t need. I took just my passport, RBM and some HK dollars in my handbag. I left everything else at home.
2. Be aware of your belongings at all times. People will test your awareness. Stay sensibly aware. Do NOT show how much money you have on you or make yourself an unnecessary target.
3. Before heading over to Shenzen, check out the exchange rate and make yourself a little chart with the currency you are used to aligned with the RMB. For me, I make one with RMB, HK Dollars and Australian Dollars on it. That way, you have a quick reference to pull out and find out how much you would be paying or are willing to pay translated into your own currency so you don’t get ripped off.
4. Bid low, stay low and if you can’t get what you want for the price you want walk away. We had a 100% success rate with this method on the day we went. NEVER pay their asking price.
5. If you commit to a price, ie you say you will pay the price you have negotiated down to, you are obliged to buy unless you are already walking away because they didn’t come down.
6. Check your purchases. Always make sure you are walking away with what you paid for.
7. Take tissue paper with you. If you gotta go, the toilets are ‘squat’ toilets and toilet paper is rare if elusive. When in Asia never leave home without a pocket pack of Kleenex. 😉
8. If you are from Hong Kong, have enough money on your Octopus card to ride “First Class” back to Hong Kong if you want a seat and/or have lots of purchases.