Navigating through the world of factory stops in China

If you are visiting China, then you have probably come across the “mandatory factory stops” in your tour itinerary.  On our recent visit to China, we had to visit four such factory stops.  We knew about these stops well before we went there… which means, I had a lot of time to do research.  I found quite a few posts regarding how overwhelming the visits can become and how most of the time you feel like fish who have caught the bait.  While reality was mostly what was predicted, after visiting the places, I felt that there really was no reason to be apprehensive.  I am writing this post regarding my personal experiences just to give another perspective.

As I mentioned in my previous post, visiting China was on my bucket-list.  In another post, I described how I enjoy collecting souvenirs (like most people).  These days, when I shop on my trips, I try to pick up meaningful souvenirs.  As a follower of Feng Shui, my China (FS did originate there!) shopping wish list was quite long.  But, I was warned — you will pay a lot more than what the item is actually worth — after all it is China (and made in China is more expensive in China :))!

Please remember:  You don’t have to buy anything at any of these stops if you don’t want to!

The Jade Factory (Beijing)

This was the first factory we visited.  The tour started with an introduction to Jade, the different kinds available and the value of each type.  After a few minutes, we entered the gallery / shopping area to browse and shop.  This is where life gets complicated. 

You are left on your own and you end up trying to figure out: 

  1. What are you attracted to?
  2. What is the asking price?
  3. What should be the buying price?

(Listed price x Conversion Rate to home country currency) vs. (Value you have assigned) == good or bad.   

Either way, think about what counter price you should offer.  The dance goes on until you either agree on a price or you walk away.

A few people in our group picked up jade bracelets.  I, on the other hand was more interested in the Feng Shui related statues.  Even though I ended up walking away, I later realised that about 20 to 25% reduction generally gets you to a point that you could reasonably spend on the item in your home country.  This was confirmed when I found similar prices at the Xiushui Market later on.

The Pearl Factory (Beijing)

Truly a land of Pearls.  Once again the tour starts with an introduction to Pearls, the different types and quality grades available.

After the introduction, you are left to browse and shop.  The colours you encounter are truly beautiful.  Most people who shopped ended up picking up some Pearl based anti-wrinkle / anti-aging cream.  I, on the other hand, found their small Jade statue section more interesting and managed to buy some small figurines that I had not picked up at the Jade Factory earlier.

Because of the offers that were already available, bargaining was not really possible.  It was “take it or leave it” scenario.

The Ceramic Factory (Xian)

This is an interesting factory.  You get an opportunity see folks making the Terracotta warrior replicas up close.  You also see people carefully creating the silk thread works of art.  The factory also houses a nice selection of ceramics, paintings (we actually met a painter who wrote the kids names in Mandarin on a piece of paper — we did buy a watercolour painting from him), and near the exit, silk scarves and other small souvenirs. 

To be totally honest, I did not bargain hard after seeing all the different folks working hard at their art.  There were some folks in our group who managed to bag some amazing deals on the silk thread art (e.g. four pieces for the price of two).

Having read the many posts regarding the factory, we only bought things that we could carry with us.  As a result, it turned out to be a very nice experience even though we may have slightly over paid on one of the silk art items.

Silk Factory (Shanghai)

During the introduction part of the tour you see how silk threads are created and how these threads are then used to create different things (cloth to comforters). 

The kids and I were really fascinated with the way the comforters were made and since these were on my wish list (in the past, thanksgiving sales at Macy’s were awesome for comforters but silk ones always felt too expensive back home), I went ahead and purchased a couple for the family members (the price felt reasonable).   They did vacuum pack the comforters which made it easy to transport. All in all, I am completely happy with my purchase even though I had to pay the full “fixed” price !

There were silk bed sheet sets along with duvet covers also available.  Luckily neither the designs nor the prices (remember the calculation above?) were appealing.  A few folks from our group did end up picking up some nice silk blouses.

Final Notes:

1) You literally find everything in the Xiushui Market and similar shopping places – from the Jade figurines to the Resin ones you find on Amazon.  You also find the paintings, silk thread art, ceramics in these shopping complexes.  Ultimately, where you want to shop depends on how much time you have available and what “authenticity” value you assign to each mode of shopping (i.e. buying at a place where you actually see people making the stuff vs. buying it in a store vs. don’t really care where it comes from). 

2) Buy stuff you can carry back with you.  Having read the many other posts on this topic, there really is no point in having your purchases shipped to you back home.  The hassle involved is just not worth it. 

3) Before embarking on your trip, make a list of what items you would potentially like to buy, the budget you are willing to allocate and the space (volume & weight) you are willing to accommodate in your check-in suitcase.  If you have these things figured out before you shop, then final packing is not an issue.  For example, on our trip, we allocated one suitcase (anticipated buying comforters) and 15 kgs towards purchases (since there were three of us traveling and I had a long wish list).  So, our suitcases coming into China were a lot lighter than the baggage allowance of the airline.  As a result, meeting the baggage allowance while leaving the country was a no-brainer.

4) So, what did I end-up buying in China?  Here is my list:  a) small jade zodiac figurines (Feng Shui secret friends), b) Resin Fu Dogs at Xiushui Market (these are available on Amazon – just wanted the “bought in China” feeling, c) Ceramic vase, small silk thread artwork, watercolour paintings, small terracotta warrior statues, ceramic “no poo-poo dragon” in Xian (there were beautiful Jade “no poo-poo dragons” in Beijing Jade Factory, but I had chosen to walk away unfortunately), d) silk comforters in Shanghai.  As you can see, except for the comforters and the vase, mostly small but beautiful things.

Bottomline – explore the factory stops with an open mind and you might actually end up being happy with your purchase!

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