Before leaving for China, I bought a pair of "backup" glasses in the States in case I broke or lost my main pair. Bought at the last minute, the backup pair cost me well over $100, and within a few months one of the lenses had a big scratch on it. That was dumb: Unlike a number of big-ticket items, glasses are one of the absolute best purchases to make here. And given the nation's number of glasses wearers, it's logical that it's extremely inexpensive and fast to buy very decent quality glasses in China. Based on my unnecessarily extensive experience purchasing glasses in Chengdu, I've put together a list of the basics.
Depending on the shop, frame prices can start as low as RMB40 or run as high as in the thousands, with many stores offering an automatic discount from the marked price of 10 to 40 percent. If you're buying lenses for the frames as well, you'll probably be offered a package deal that, depending on the type of lens you choose, might cost little more than the frames themselves. Lastly, many of the shops run promotions during holidays—Spring Festival, Labor Day, etc.—so if you're willing to brave the crowds of shoppers, that can be a good time to go.
You can find a glasses shop on nearly every street, it seems, but if you're looking for name-brand frames, try major shopping malls or the Chunxi Lu area. And if it's a no-brand bargain you have your eye on, head to Chengdu's glasses megamall, just east of the Sichuan University north gate on the First Ring Road. The mall has two stories, and standalone shops surround it. This area caters to the university students, so prices tend to be budget-friendly, and the styles trendy. Despite that, the products still tend to be of decent quality and the service as fast and thorough as at other shops in the city.
How to Buy
Bring along either your current prescription or a pair of glasses that match your current prescription; the staff will be able to read the prescription from your lenses. Many of the shops do offer basic eye examinations administered by opticians along with the cost of the glasses, but for more extensive or specialized testing—or if this will be your first time wearing corrective lenses—you're best off visiting an optometrist or ophthalmologist.
When glasses shopping, it's a good idea to wear black, white, or a color common to your wardrobe. You wouldn't want to buy a pair of glasses because it looked great with an outfit or color you rarely wear. It's also helpful to bring along a tasteful and honest advisor who can offer input since it's sometimes difficult for to determine what looks best on yourself—and especially so if your vision is bad enough that, like me, you cannot see your entire face in a mirror without corrective lenses.
Choosing lenses is slightly more complicated than choosing frames, but the store employees tend to be knowledgeable and will recommend the lenses most suitable for your prescription and the frames you've chosen. If your prescription is relatively mild, ordinary lenses will likely suffice, but if it's strong—and especially if you've chosen large frames—you will probably be advised to invest in high-index lenses, which are thinner and lighter-weight than ordinary lenses. Also, note that if your prescription calls for a cylindrical lens to correct mild astigmatism—common among glasses wearers—there will be an additional charge of around RMB10 per lens.
The lens cutting will be done onsite, usually within 20 minutes to an hour. Your glasses will come with a case (which you can usually ask to exchange if you prefer another style or color) and cleaning cloth, and you should try them on in front of a mirror before you leave the store to ensure that the lenses are correct and that the frames sit straight on your face. To do this, note how each side lines up with your eyebrows. If either side is higher, ask the shop to make adjustments. It could be that the frames are slightly bent (which will be revealed if you lie the open pair of glasses upside down on a level surface) or that your ears or facial features aren't level. In either case, minor adjustments can be made easily by softening the plastic or metal with heat and bending them into position.
Lastly, make sure to take the receipt (and that it has the store's address printed on it) and clarify the duration of guarantee in case something goes wrong.
Get-Your-Glasses Survival Mandarin
Chinese | Pinyin | English
一副眼镜 | yífù yǎnjìng | glasses
戴眼镜 | dài yǎnjìng | to wear glasses
检查视力 | jiǎncháshìlì | to have an eye exam
视力检验报告 | shìlìjiǎnyàn bàogào | prescription
镜框 | jìngkuāng | frames
镜片 | jìngpiàn | lens
近视眼镜 | Jìnshì yǎnjìng | myopic (near-sighted) lenses
远视眼镜 | yuǎnshì yǎnjìng | far-sighted lenses
散光 | sǎnguāng | astigmatism
双光眼镜 | shuāngguāng yǎnjìng | bifocals
轻便镜片 | qīngbiàn jìngpiàn | featherweight lenses
防反光镀膜镜片 | fáng fǎnguāng dùmó jìngpiàn | anti-reflective coated lenses
防划纹镜片 | fáng huàwén jìngpiàn | scratch-resistant lenses
隐形眼镜 | yǐnxíng yǎnjìng | contact lenses