It’s shopping, Jim but not as we know it.

Shanghai isn’t just big it’s vast! You can travel on a train for 2 hours and still be in Shanghai! There are 26 million people living here and I had expected to have been served a world class shopping experience. I have been disappointed.

Our problem is that our winter wardrobe was packed into storage in Morecambe. We thought that we were going to be in tropical climes and wouldn’t need jumpers, coats or boots! Now here we are in China where they have cold, wet winters. We looked in the lock up this summer but our warm clothes were packed so deep we couldn’t access them easily! And we also had limited luggage allowance so we decided it was just going to be easier to buy things here to last us for 3 years. Hence my need to go shopping.

As I also need to restock the kitchen my ideal venue was a department store, something along the lines of a John Lewis or Debenhams or event an outlet store. But strangely Shanghai doesn’t have them or any equivalent.

There also isn’t a central shopping area (like Oxford St in London or Siam in Bangkok) I was expecting glitzy shopping malls catering to china’s nouveau riche. Somewhere where you can try things on, wander around, see the choices available- you know, old fashioned things like that.

Instead we are faced with Tao Bao, the massive online shop. Everything but everything is ordered online. When I ask my Ex-Pat friends where to get things from they all say Tao Bao. Tao Boa looks like this:

And as you can see all in Chinese. Great! There is another site in English which obtains many (but not all) of the same items at a highly inflated price just because it’s in English. What a cheek!

Tao Bao I have found does accept English in the search bar which is a relief. So I can search, however I have to think carefully about search terms. ‘Wellingtons’, ‘Wellington boots’ and ‘Gum Boots’ returned nothing but ‘waterproof boots’ did.

Next we needed sone basic letter sized envelopes, not something out of the ordinary you might think. Think again! It was REALLY hard. There are no obvious stationary shops, Tao Bao showed us this

Which are pretty but not the sort of thing you want to send a letter to the bank in! It took ages of searching to get regular envelopes!!!

The prices are very reasonable and items are dispatched and delivered within only a few days. On occasion though the driver has called me with a question & we’ve had a less than interesting conversation as they speak NO English.

My main problem though is that the item description is all in Chinese so I am unable to read the small print. Last week I confidently ordered what looked like a sieve from the picture (none being available in Carrefour) only to find when it arrived that it was the size of a tea strainer!!!! Hey Ho.

It’s all trial and error.

We did find the famous ‘fake’ market but the pressure from stall holders to drag you into see their wares was the most intense I have experienced ever. One guy waited for me outside every booth I went into which I felt was pestering and just made me want to leave.

We did have to travel to another area (for a meeting) and found a small shopping complex there which had a very unusual structure which lit up at night. So maybe there are others that we just haven’t discovered yet.

The whole shopping experience plus coffee stop etc seems to be reduced to sitting at home ordering on your phone then waiting in for the delivery & hoping it’s right! I am fortunate that my two library assistants have helped me to learn which buttons to press but I can’t ask them to translate all the time.

One thing which we have seen which is fascinating are these automated servers in some restaurants or markets

They glide around in a very futuristic way and we feel as those we are in an episode of Lost in Space.

All the shopping apps link to the main app which is called We Chat. It’s a messaging, phone and Facebook app all rolled into one. It also has a wallet which has been linked to my Chinese bank account. No one uses cash anymore. Everything is scanned on your phone and the money is deducted instantly. I even buy school dinners that way!

We Chat also has a scanner with a pretty nifty translate function. You can scan some text and it translates it to English as if by magic. This can be quite amusing. I bought a rice cooker (everyone has one) and the buttons are all in Chinese.

In the shop I had been shown which sequence to press to cook the rice but I was curious about the other functions. The button on the left I suspected was a timer but when I did the translate it said ‘book an appointment’ LOL!

Perhaps this kind of shopping is the way of the future and China is just way ahead of the west.

Don’t get me wrong there are a couple of malls, but so far all have contained shops that I wouldn’t want to buy anything from… so if you are planning to visit us, bring everything you need as shopping won’t be on the agenda

… on the plus side we can easily obtain cheese and wine.

5 thoughts on “It’s shopping, Jim but not as we know it.

  1. After Bangkok with its glitzy malls it must have come a shock. I do internet shopping for my holidays but thats about all. I would loathe to use it for all other shopping. Good to hear you can get wine and cheese though; two of lifes staples!! Good luck to finding more options x Hope you are finding interesting coffee shops again. x


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