Michael loves to shop. I love to shop. Maybe that is why we are such good friends. A few weeks ago we went shopping for him a pair of new jeans. We shopped in the shops by my flat on Changle Road. All of the jeans were too expensive, I thought, since I am a bargain shopper. At that time, I told him we could go to the clothes market where I go for all of my really killer deals over on Longhua Road near Longhua Temple. He told me he did not know of this market. I told him that maybe we could go in a few weeks.
I should say now that one of the reasons we are such good shopping buddies is because I am the explorer and he is the dealer. I will walk all over Shanghai on a whim. I have covered many districts of this wonderful city on my trusty ever-ready feet.
Michael, since he is Chinese, he can get a better deal than me. Some of my Chinese friends do not bargain with the market merchants like I do. Michael, however, bargains bitterly and coldly, better than I bargain. He shows no remorse in his bargaining. This I knew would be a very good thing, our teamwork. We are the Lewis and Clark of fashion, the Scully and Moulder of shopping, the Rowan and Martin of bargaining.
Earlier this week, we set our market date for Sunday. We fortified ourselves with a brunch made by me. I had not made brunch in ages which was so nice. I had forgotten how much I loved having a guest for whom to cook brunch. Michael is the perfect brunch guest. He loves everything that I cook.
For brunch, I made French toast (with a dry baguette that I had bought on Thursday) and ham. For our first course we had apples drenched in yogurt. Now that I am no longer drinking alcohol, we had no Champagne in our orange juice. Nevertheless, we did have a nice pot of English Breakfast Tea which - to me - more than compensated for the lack of alcohol.
Michael loved the French toast. I tried to explain that American French toast is different than French French toast. In my explanation, I am sure that I failed miserably.
Fortified with a nice heavy maple syrup soaked breakfast, we were ready to haggle, hustle and deal. Since I did not know exactly where the market is located, I hunted down a business card with the address from a previous visit. Each time I go, I come back with a handful of business cards with the address and directions printed in Chinese and English. Since I have not been there in 6 or 7 months, and during that time in between I have been to America subletting my apartment; I was not sure how easy one of these business cards would be to find spur of the moment. If I did not find a business card, I could probably fake my way there but I really did not want to do that. I wanted to have the security of a business card with the address emblazoned on it.
Quickly, I did a sweep of the apartment for a business card. Behind some books on my built-in shelves which are quite deep, I have a black cloth covered box with miscellaneous cards and documents in it. I was quite sure a Longhhua Market business card might be in the black box. As I pulled some of the books down to get to the box. I stumbled onto a card under a book. Yes, this card was one of the Longhua Market business cards. We were indeed set and ready to go.
We took off our slippers and put on our sneakers and headed out the flat to hail a taxi. As we were walking on my lane to the main road, I asked Michael if he had the card that I just handed him. He felt in his pocket and did not feel it. He told me he must have left it on my sofa. So, we walked back to the flat. The card was not on the sofa. He felt in his pocket again and there the card was in his pocket. This time, we were truly ready to hail a taxi and head to the market.
Hailing the taxi was easy. Not many other people were stirring yet even though we were looking at the other side of noon at this point. We jumped into the taxi and talked as the driver shuttled us off to the market. On the way to the market, Michael asked me if I had shopped on the street on which we were driving. I told him no. he told me maybe after the market we could shop on that street. I told him that would be nice even though, I figured we would both be worn out after the market. The market usually does me in.
20 rmb later, we were dropped off somewhere in the proximity of our destination but by no means in front of our destination. Maybe it’s my imagination but it seems that when I take a taxi, the taxi never seems to drop me in front of my destination. Often, I am dropped a block away for no real reason. Why this is, I am not quite sure, maybe a Maoist thing.
It took me a bit to get my bearings but then I realized that we were dropped off at the beginning of Longhua. We started walking. We walked past the McDonalds. We walked past the temple. We kept walking. Michael asked me if we should turn right. I told him no we must keep walking straight. We kept walking. The market was farther away than I had remembered. Why the taxi driver did not drop us in front of the market, I was still pondering. The morning was brisk but clear. Actually, the walk was nice, refresing.
Our memories are strange tricksters. I thought the market was much closer to the temple than it actually is. While we were walking, I was certain we were going the right direction and that we would soon happen upon the market but I also doubted myself. I know I am by now means infallible. Was the market on another street by the temple?
As we walked, we passed an open gate; a few people in front of us darted in. I asked Michael what the place is that we were walking past. He had a hard time translating. It looked like the former estate of a high ranking state official. The place looked as if it was somewhat sizable. The well-kept grounds held many mature trees.
Finally, after guessing a few different possibilities, I was able to ascertain that we were standing in what was once an army base for the Red Army. A somewhat plain stucco tiled roof guardhouse sat unimposing at the entrance.
Michael asked if I wanted to stroll around the grounds. I told him I might like to after we went to the market. When I get that shopping itch, I just got to scratch it. Now that I have the part-time job at the business English school on Thursday and Friday evenings, I thought I would buy some more cheap Armani knock-off dress shirts. I was madly itching to buy some more Armani knock-off dress shirts.
At this point, I should draw a line in the sand regarding my love for knock-offs. Here in Shanghai, you see everyone with LV, D&G, and Gucci bags. They never ever look like the real thing, ever. You can tell from across the bus that that bag with the LV pattern all over it - like bad acne- is not Louis Vuitton. To my knowledge, Louis Vuitton does not work in cheap plastic and cracking, pathetic vinyl.
Knock-off sunglasses annoy me as well. I can spot the fake - the fake Chanel, un-Gucci, non-Christian Dior with no problem. Expensive designer sunglasses are quality sunglasses. They are made better - with better lenses, heavier frames, finer detailing which includes the designer logo, the hinges and the nose-pad.
However, I am a sucker for the quality knock-offs. The dress shirts are close enough to the real thing to make them very desirable. And, at approximately 5 dollars a shirt, I can become quite covetous toward them.
Back to the market: I have not been to the market in over 6 months. The last time I went was the first week of May. As soon as I walked in this time, the merchants whom I have patronized recognized me instantly.
Michael and I headed for the jeans. He looked them over and decided he did not want them. Okay, that is fine I thought. There are three floors of market stalls to browse. Actually, we didn’t really browse because all of the sellers are pulling you - mentally and physically - every which way. Really, you must walk at a fairly fast clip as if you are driving a Datsun B210 in mud so that you do not get stuck. Getting stuck in a stall where you are not aiming to buy is excruciating and just plain stupid.
Before, when I shopped at the market, I always bought the Armani knock-off, but now they have started knocking off Pink, as in Thomas Pink of London. These are quite tempting. At the first stall we stopped, I had shopped previously. She asked me what I had paid previously for my shirts. I told her I paid 40 rmb. She told me that was fine. I told her I would look around and come back. She did not like that idea. She told me to buy them now and she could hold them while I shopped. I did not like that idea. She told me that 40 rmb was the price if I bought them now. I questioned her:
“You mean, if I walk around the market and come back, the shirts will no longer be 40 rmb?”
She really did not have a broken English answer for me. I told her I would come back and buy some shirts later. Michael and I did a sweep of the first floor. Several stalls had jeans. Michael did not see any he liked. He kept asking me for advice. I steered him away from the ones with big pockets and baggy legs. I kept steering him toward the Diesel jeans and the 7 jeans, both being basic, classic- looking and -fitting jeans.
At one stall, I found some inexpensive embroidered coasters which will make nice gifts. They have the character for luck embroidered on them. They are square.
Finally, when we circled back to the jeans first stall en route to the second floor, Michael saw the same jeans that I pointed out when we first walked into the market. He liked them now. He tried them on in a makeshift dressing room – a sheet strung up in the back corner of the small market stall, not exactly Bloomingdales but oh well. As he was trying them on, I spotted some knock-off Burberry lycra underwear. Of course, the seller was all over me. I told him with pantomime and luck that I was with my friend and that I was not shopping.
At this point, Michael had on the jeans which turned out to be a tad small. He could not zip them up. His underwear bunched up around his crotch. The woman handed him a size bigger. He went about trying them on. I moseyed back out to look at the Burberry underwear which actually looked like it was made fairly well considering.
When I went back in, Michael was sporting the jeans, 7 for all mankind. They looked great. I told him they look great. He haggled. After this went on for a few minutes, the seller and Michael agreed on a price. He got them for a bit cheaper than I got mine the last time I was there. Now I know, now I know. The woman asked me if I needed another pair. I told her no.
Since Michael is a better haggler than me, I thought maybe I would let him broker the underwear deal. I found 3 pairs of Burberry. I asked him what he thought the underwear should cost. He told me 20 rmb which is exactly what I thought it should cost. When I can find them, I buy Paul Smith boxers which are actually in a Paul Smith box for 50 rmb which I think is a fantastic deal because they actually seem to be the real thing from what I can tell.
Michael started haggling over the underwear with the seller. The seller would not agree to 20 rmb. Michael was adamant. I watched in awe. A few minutes, I walked off with three pair of Burberry boxer briefs. Michael bought two. We continued our stroll. Yes, we paid 20 rmb a pair.
Michael decided he needed a computer bag which I took to mean a modern take on the briefcase. I kept pointing to what I thought he meant. Finally, a woman pulled out what he was looking for. What he meant was a back-pack. Communication Maodown.
He looked at a knock-off Samsonite which was quite nice I thought. She then showed him a black and orange Swiss Army pack which was even nicer. I told him the Swiss Army pack was much nicer. He should inquire about it, do the deal. The seller wanted 230 rmb which I thought was insane. Michael did too. He thought the price at a bargain should be about 60 rmb. The woman would not budge much less than 100 rmb. We knew we would find plenty more, plenty more. We knew there were stalls and stalls of these, stalls and stalls. We were not worried.
We started looking for a belt for Michael at the same time. He decided he needed a cool belt with his new jeans. Hunting for belts was nothing but discouraging. He had faith that I could find something cool for him. Now, I know, without a doubt, where the belts come from that find their way to Wal-Mart.
We did keep running across the same Swiss Army packs. All of them seemed fairly sturdy. The zippers seemed of good quality. Finally, Michael found a lady who came down to 80 rmb for a pack. We bought matching packs. At this point, I thought we should be walking around Chelsea in NYC together. All we needed was a miniature dog in a cute little outfit to complete the picture.
We continued to search for a belt. This was dire, truly dire. There were no belts that even came close to being okay. We kept looking and kept looking. We were now on the third floor. There was an inconspicuous little belt and wallet stall. We did a quick scan. I saw a white leather Calvin Klein belt with a silver buckle that was fine. I asked Michael if he liked it. He tried it on. He was set to buy it. I then saw a white Hermes belt that was quite nice. I gave it a closer look. It was actually made well. I was surprised at the quality for a knock-off. Before I moved here to Shanghai, my fashion stylist friend in NYC told me that China had great knock-offs, fabulous knock-offs. Without a doubt, I knew then that I had found a really great quality knock-off that looked every bit as nice as a belt that I would see at Barney’s in NYC for like $200. I tried it on. It had a nice fit. I asked how much. The seller told me something ridiculous, 230 rmb. I asked Michael if he was going to buy the Calvin Klein knock-off. No, he told me, he thought he would buy the Hermes if I was not going to buy it. He had bargained them down to 30 rmb. For 30 rmb, I would buy six of them I thought.
“30 rmb?” – I asked him.
I don’t know why I thought that was so hard to believe. The seller told me he had more of them. He looked and found another. I looked it over, and this happens often; the other one was not of as good of quality. I really wanted this Hermes from heaven but then Michael really wanted it too. I would have settled for a red belt but I had just bought a red belt a few weeks ago. There were 5 different colors; red, black, brown, orange and white. I have a nice black belt as well. I really do not need a orange belt and I was not wild about the color of brown. Michael then told me he would buy a different color.
“Really?” I asked.
“Yes,” he replied. “I buy red one.”
With our purchases, we walked out of the market. When we walked out of the market, Michael noticed a sign for a flower and bird market across the street. Although the clear crisp day had become a bit dismal while we were in the market, we walked across the street to the flower and bird market.
The flower and bird market across the street turned out to be very small, as in one bird shop and two slight plant stores. The stores - and the plants - were slight. Well, we walked into a pet shop that had exactly 4 dogs which included a grown Schnauzer which I do not believe was even for sale. There was two little puff balls rolling on the floor. Michael, captivated, started playing with them. Up above was a puppy in a cage. I said something like 'Oh, look at this one.' He was whining but not barking but whining like his heart was about to break in half, absolutely right in half.
Michael looked up at the puppy and then something somewhat magical happened. The lady took the puppy out of the cage and put it on the floor. Michael started playing with it. I instantly loved this little puppy. How can you not love a puppy?
Michael talked to the lady, the pet shop owner; I know not what they discussed. The next thing I know, he is playing with the dog and then he is paying for the dog. It was a whopping 60 rmb which even in China is a bit shocking I would say. There was this other lady that kept talking to me and I acted like I knew what she was saying but I had no clue she was talking a mile a minute in Chinese. I was agreeing in Chinese. dui dui dui dui...is pretty much what I was saying as she was talking. She had money and she was pointing to the money. I thought she must be agreeing that Michael was getting a killer deal. I just kept saying dui dui dui. Yes. Yes. yes.
The owner of the shop then started outfitting, literally, the dog. She first put him in a hot pink jumper of which Michael did not approve. He wanted the dog to look more manly. She then put him a baby blue jumper. This was better. I told Michael baby boys wear blue in the West. Then the woman pulled out some dungarees with flannel that were supposed to mimic overalls and a flannel shirt. Michael thought this perfect – a cowboy. I did not want to break his heart and tell him the doggie was dressed as a farmer, not a cowboy. And, of course, while this is going on, that other lady kept talking to me. She was really quite emphatic about whatever she was telling me. I just kept agreeing in Chinese.
Well, I learned the story from Michael as we were walking around with our new matching Swiss Army packs and the outfitted dog who Michael told me to name an English name - the first name of which I thought being Ralph.
It seems the lady with whom I became so friendly owned the dog and had to bring it back to the pet shop because her other dog and Ralph did not get along. Ralph is really mellow by the way. He almost barked twice the whole afternoon and evening but just did not have the energy to go through with the bark so he sort of almost growled instead which was more of a slight moan. I guess the woman had paid 400 rmb for Ralph and when we walked into the store. She thought we would be a good couple for the dog (our matching backpacks, no doubt). Well, after Michael and she agreed upon 60 rmb she got cold feet and she was telling me the whole time that we should give her more money and I was adamantly agreeing because I had no idea she was the owner, now former owner of Ralph. I thought her to be some innocent bystander. Some pet shop dog loving hanger on. In the end, all was well, and now I am a uncle of sorts to Ralph the dog.
After we left we tried to figure out Ralph’s breed. I thought Michael would have asked what sort of dog Ralph is or I assume they would have told him. I thought he might be a Chihuahua but then he is really mellow which does not seem like a Chihuahua. I then thought he could be a miniature Pinscher but I am not sure because of his coloring. He is a small black and white dog with a long tail.
Oh, and we really do not have a clue as to his age. I thought he was a puppy that would get bigger but Michael did not ask that either. He seemed to think that he will not get bigger.I assume Ralph might be like 3 or 4 months old but I am not sure. I told Michael he needs to take Ralph to the vet so I think the vet (I hope) will shed light on all of this doggie business.
Later, we took Ralph back to my flat to play. He is so mellow that he really does not play. I had a tennis ball in my newly retired backpack that I got out for Ralph. On this, he half-heartedly chewed. We gave him some water. Michael bought some dog food at the pet store. He fed him a small handful of that. I followed him around thinking that he would pee or poop at some point. I had newspaper handy for such an event. Of course, when I was not ready for him to do so that is when he decided to pee. I am glad he did it on the marble floor and did not lift his leg and pee on my silk curtains.
I gave Michael a little dog advice. I told him to buy a little house for Ralph to sleep in and to stay in while he is at work. When he comes home from work, he can take Ralph out of the little dog house and outside to pee and such. Michael took this advice under advisement.
Later in the evening, I got an email from Michael. He wrote:
“I think I need to teach Ralph how to go to the bathroom because he just make excrement at my home and I will be buy a house carrier to put him in it.”