Holiday rush leave you stranded without any gift ideas? Looking for the thing to stock up on before you leave the 'du? Sure, there are always the "traditional" things—silk embroidery, bamboo-wrapped porcelain, lacquerware, spices, mini opera masks—but surely some of your gift recipients (or you!) would appreciate something more hip and contemporary. For those folks, we've compiled this list of 10 Good Buys in Chengdu. All of our picks are either special to Chengdu or China or are simply don't-miss-out deals.
10. Chengdu Paraphernalia
It used to be mighty difficult to find those mainstays of tourist souvenirs—the magnet and the postcard—in Chengdu. But with the boom of Chengdu's tourism industry, that's changing. These days, apart from stuffed pandas (sold at every other shop in the city), shoppers can find keychains, T-shirts, notebooks, posters, magnets, and more with Chengdu-themed motifs—we've even seen coin pouches printed to resemble Chengdu street signs.
Where to get it: EGO Plaza, shops at Kuan/Zhai Xiangzi, or, if you're really desperate and ready to fork out the big bi, the airport
How much to pay: Varies depending on what and where
9. Leather Bags and Belts
High quality, genuine leather goods are available in Chengdu for comparatively low prices. You might have to dig a while to find the style you want, but once you find it, you've probably scored yourself a deal (of course, make sure to ask for a discount before you pay, even if you're in a shop with marked prices). (See issue 39 "Basi de Hen" on page 15 for information on custom leather boots)
Where to get it: Chain stores; one-off shops on major and side streets or in shopping malls
How much to pay: RMB39 and up (several hundred for a medium-sized handbag)
8. Electronic Gadgets
From tiny, foldout USB sticks to funky headphones and laptop cooling fans to colorful mini MP3 players, you name it, and it can be had. We're not talking big-time stuff here, like computers and cameras, but the small accessories to your high-tech lifestyle. On no-name products (and sometimes on faux-name products, too), prices are great, and, if you're careful, decent quality can be found. (There's plenty of crap, too, so buyer beware.)
Where to get it: Computer Street—for the little things, try the third floor or higher, or the promotional tables outside on weekends
How much to pay: Under RMB100 for most items, depending on what you buy
7. Fashion Accessories
RMB5 earrings, RMB10 scarves, knockoff cosmetics, headbands, barrettes, hair bows, tights, cell phone charms ... the list of cute little things that can be had by the bundle on the cheap here goes on and on. To counter (or complement) all the girly gizmos, last time we checked in the mirror (oooh), geek chic was still in, and, these days, all the real geeks are ordering their glasses online from China. Cut out the middleman and save a bundle by buying big plastic frames directly from the source—with or without the lenses; flannel shirt not included.
Where to get it: Small shops, especially near university gates; sidewalk vendors; Lotus Market
How much to pay: Under RMB10 (RMB100 to 400 for basic prescription glasses)
6. Warm Winter Things
Hand-knit wool scarves are sold in every other shop during the cold season, usually for the cost of a skein of yarn. Plenty of luxury fibers like angora, cashmere, and sable are available if you go to the right places—and many will knit it up for you after you select from their available styles. Other shops specialize in machine knitting and can whip up a custom-made cashmere sweater. And, finally, since they say to keep the extremities warm, don't forget the legwarmers, socks, hats, gloves, and mittens of all shapes, sizes, and fibers that are sold pretty much everywhere.
Where to get it: One-off shops (there are tons along Nijiaqiao Lu in Yulin); supermarkets
How much to pay: RMB10 to 20 for accessories; sweaters sell for significantly more
For the person who really. doesn't. want. anything. Curious snacks(chicken feet, dried meat disguised as "candy," miniature gummy hamburgers) are always fun, but even the familiar in foreign packaging (M&Ms, Snickers, Lays) can be a hit, especially for those who've never left home. And of course, if your recipient is in China, but not Chengdu, there is a smorgasbord of Sichuanese snacks already in gift packages for your consideration.
Where to get it: Supermarkets; convenience stores
How much to pay: Varies, but probably negligible
4. Exotic Alcohol
Nobody leaves China without trying at least a sip of baijiu, and after that experience, most people don't leave without buying a bottle of Erguotou to feed to their friends at home. If a sadistic experience isn't your idea of a gift, and you don't have RMB500 to drop on a bottle of Wuliangye, may we suggest beer with weird names (Reeb, anyone?) or simply weird beer or "beer" (beer-flavored tea, pineapple beer) for the hard-to-shop-for on your list?
Where to get it: Supermarkets; specialty liquor stores
How much to pay: Varies widely, but will your friends know the difference between the cheap stuff and the other stuff? Probably not.
3. Craft Supplies
Yarn, buttons, zippers, trimmings, chains, lace, elastic, ribbon, hardware, feathers, fur, fabric, and did we mention yarn? Certain sections of the Lotus Market are like the world's biggest crafting superstore minus the fluorescent lights and sales tax, and what's known as "craft supplies" and sold piece by piece in tiny packages in other countries is sold in bulk here, which means you can buy all the trimmings for a crafty lifestyle (or that little crafter you know) for a fraction—trust us when we say a serious fraction—of the price they would be elsewhere. One caveat: Cloth, strangely, isn't always particularly inexpensive in Chengdu, but some of the silks, hand-dyed batik textiles, and traditional calico prints are so special that you just might want them anyway.
Where to get it: "Yarn street" (Beizhan Xi'erxiang/北站西二巷) and fabric and textiles section of Lotus Market
How much to pay: RMB10 to 40 per meter of cloth; RMB25 to 100 per half-kilogram of yarn; notions vary
2. Tibetan Stuff
Would any Westerner would turn down a little piece of Tibet? We doubt it. With Sichuan's Tibetan population and proximity to Tibet itself, you don't even need to leave Chengdu to become the bearer of Cool Exotic Gifts from the Roof of the World. The region is known for its silver and turquoise which are used in the jewelry that's widely available here, but there are plenty of other apparel and home décor items to be had as well.
Where to get it: Tibetan neighborhood near Wuhou Temple; sidewalk vendors at the Lotus Market; charity events
How much to pay: Varies
1. Hipster Kitsch
In addition to the ever-popular waving Mao wristwatches, Little Red Books, and Cultural Revolution propaganda posters, contemporary kitsch abounds in Chengdu. From funny children's toys to Chinese-character-emblazoned messenger bags to retro Feiyue shoes, to the fragrant Shanghai Bee & Flower soaps that come wrapped in colorful paper, there's surely something funky for every wannabe on your list.
Where to get it: Songxian Qiao will fulfill any need for historic trinkets (most are probably reproductions, so bargain hard and be wary); cheap plastic toys can be found at the Lotus Market; supermarkets; sidewalk vendors—most notoriously near school gates and children's hospitals.
How much to pay: Under RMB50 for "antique" trinkets, depending on the item and your bargaining skills; RMB25 to 100 for shoes and bags; RMB4 for soap
how good are the goods? a checklist
Seams are straight and finished
No threads are hanging
Cloth is sturdy and pliable
If the garment is stretchy, it returns back to its original shape after being stretched
No edges have been left raw (unless part of a design feature)
Trim, lining, and finishing is neat and secure
Zippers pull up and down smoothly without snagging any fabric
Is it really leather?
Many synthetic leathers seem so close to the real thing that it can be difficult to tell if that "genuine leather" (真皮/zhēnpí ) is the real thing or a PVC clone. If there's no tag to tell you, and you suspect whoever's selling it to you is simply telling you what you want to hear, try the following:
Look at it. Poor leather imitations will be obvious on sight.
Touch it. Does it feel like leather? Rub two pieces together between your fingers. How does the underside feel?
Listen to it. Does it have the distinctive creak of leather?
Smell it. Leather has a distinct smell, although synthetics can be treated to give off a similar odor.
Look for exposed edges along trim that can reveal a leather or synthetic underside
Brooms. The 6-kuai specials at the corner store might be tempting, but if you want something that will last more than a week and won't break your back by causing you to double over to sweep the floor, shell out RMB50 or so for a tall, sturdy one at the supermarket.
Mops. The less you pay at the outset, the more you'll pay per refill head over the course of the mop's life.
Laundry detergent. The powder is cheaper, but will shorten the lifespan of your clothes. Go liquid.
If you can't try before you buy, don't buy. And make sure you can return it to the shop if there are any problems.
The seller promises it's good because it's DVD-9! Just kidding. We haven't figured this one out yet, either. Luckily most shops are lenient in regard to returns of DVDs that aren't working, aren't in the right language, or just aren't right, period.
Previous article: Panda Electronic music festival update: schedule, tickets and directions
Next article: Panda Electronic Music Festival 2011 in photos and videos