I know the title looks like Eden got hold of the keyboard and typed random rubbish but no, Shenzhen is a real word, actually it’s a place – like no other!
One of my missions before my parents arrived was to find the best place to get the best copy designer bags, purses etc. It didn’t take much asking around to be told about Shenzhen which is an area in mainland China that you need a visa to get to. Even though Hong Kong was handed back to the Chinese years ago, it would appear that Hong Kong is still kept very much separate from China – separate currencies, you can’t just hop from one to the other easily and many other political things that I won’t go into as I don’t really do politics and this blog is about shopping!!
So Shenzhen was the place we needed to go to get our fake designer clobber and we set aside a day for my parents and I to check it out. As the day got nearer I got increasingly nervous. I hate doing new things for the first time that I know are going to be complicated procedures – like weird train journeys, driving routes, stuff like that – and Chinese visas!! I’m always fine once I’ve done it, it’s just the first time I lose sleep over!
We were going to take Eden with us as I’m still not 100% comfortable leaving Eden with Judy, our helper, for the whole day, especially when we were going so far away. They get on very well and play beautifully together – when I’m there! But Eden is still quite insecure if I’m not there and gets very upset. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been told how resilient and easily-adaptable kids are but this whole move has obviously had some kind of affect on her and I can’t just assume she’ll always be fine. However, we decided in the end to leave her behind. Firstly, we knew she’d stop crying eventually, she couldn’t keep it up for the whole day! I also knew Dan was nearby and a friend in my block told me to leave Judy her number as well so I felt better about it. I’d also been told that having Eden with us would attract all the Chinese who would poke, grab & stroke her at every opportunity so definitely best to leave her behind! We would have left my dad with her as the prospect of shopping for hours wasn’t exactly his idea of a good time but my mum urgently needed him (well really just his feet) to come as there was a pair of Prada shoes in that place with his name on it, apparently!
The vision in my mind of what Shenzhen would be like was a kind of outdoor market but I was told it was actually an indoor air conditioned shopping centre – phew! Although we were warned to take food & toilet roll as the toilets there were basically holes in the ground and don’t buy the food! However, after a bit of online research and a bit more asking around we found out that there’s a Shangri-La practically next door where people go to use the loo and get a bite to eat and there’s also a good dim sum restaurant on the top floor of the shopping centre which is perfectly fine and also has proper toilets.
I was still stressing out about the prospect of a complicated train journey and the whole visa procedure when we got there. As luck would have it, I found out that 2 friends were also planning a trip to Shenzhen on the same day, that they would be driving to the Chinese border and there was room in the car for us – woo hoo! These pals were like our Guardian Angels for the day – we followed them like puppies onto the train from the car park and through all the visa procedures – I really could not have done that for the first time on my own! The plan was that we would split up from there as I really didn’t want to muscle in on their day more than we already had but the first shop they were heading to was one of the ones on our list too so the Puppies and Guardian Angels stuck together a bit longer!!
On first glance, all the shops look the same – small shops with displays of bags, purses, belts, shoes, sunglasses, clothes etc. How on earth is a novice meant to know which ones to go in and which ones to avoid?? We had been told that of the 5 floors in the centre, one floor is mainly for electrical stuff, one for linens and the rest are pretty much the same. We soon discovered that you just have to keep your head down and head straight for places you’ve been recommended that other people have already discovered. It’s the only way to avoid all the shopworkers that stand outside their shops saying, “Missy, Missy, come in here” or “What you looking for? I have Prada, Gucci, Chanel” or “Missy, Missy, you want purse? Belt? Bag? Shoes? Watch?” Get the picture? For that reason, I was glad we were armed with 5 or 6 recommended places that other people had already bought at. We would just head for those places. At the first shop which our Guardian Angels had said was great for bags and purses I could see disappointment on my mum’s face as soon as we walked in! None of the bags were up her street, there was only one particular Prada bag she was after anyway, obviously this was a very new design so would be the hardest to find a good copy of! But then we were told that we just had to tell the lady what we were after and before we knew it about 5 catalogues full of really every designer bag & purse you can imagine were pulled out and we just had to go through them, point to what we liked, say we wanted the best quality she had, she made a call, we sat and waited and then suddenly they arrived! Turns out these shops all have a bigger stockroom nearby where they keep their main stock. The shops themselves and the less impressive stuff they have on display are really just a facade in case inspectors come, or something like that. I mean, you can’t exactly hide a massive shopping centre full of fake stuff so I’m not really sure what triggers the undercover police into action and what they choose to ignore – a very woolly area I think!!
Anyway, after the strict Sandy inspections – no one can spot a flaw better than my mum – we left the shop a couple of Miu Miu purses and a Mont Blanc wallet for the better! No Prada bag for my mum though. My dad also ended up getting new glasses from a nearby shop, where the saleslady of course pulled out catalogues of watches, as you do, for us to browse through whilst he was waiting for his quality-crafted glasses in less than an hour. My mum ended up getting one so they obviously had good instinct!
Things went a little less smoothly in the shoe shop we had been recommended. We ended up choosing about 5 pairs of shoes we wanted but the guy wouldn’t give us any prices! He kept saying we’ll ‘talk’ once we’d chosen how many pairs we wanted. In hindsight, we should have insisted on a price per pair but we know for next time. I chose some Prada sandals and took a risk on 2 pairs of shoes for Dan. My dad also got a couple of pairs including the Prada shoes we knew were out there somewhere! We didn’t get major bargains and had to do some firm haggling but it was certainly a lot cheaper than the real thing!
After that, we decided it was time for a break. Actually it’s the choosing and haggling that’s the most tiring bit as when you are in the shops there’s a lot of sitting browsing through catalogues and waiting for the goods to be brought that our feet weren’t actually hurting. We headed to the Dim Sum restaurant where we had delicious dim sum for about £5 per head – a great find!!
Luck was on our side again when we ran into our Guardian Angels at a time when we were all just about ready to head home so we were able to go back through the border with them and hitch a ride back to Hong Kong too which was a big relief!
Eden and Judy survived their day together too so at least I now know that even though Eden might protest at bit, I can start to enjoy a couple of hours off without her!
Would I go back to Shenzhen? Probably, but not often! I think it’s a trip to be done with overseas visitors so they get the experience – or if someone offers me a lift again!!