Saturday, May 26, 2012

Tips before a trip to China, #2: Clothes

Clothes : To launder or to simply buy new?

There are two schools of thought. One says – clothes are so cheap in China, just pack the minimum, and buy everything else you need there. When there’s no more room in the suitcase, just leave your old clothes behind.
The other says: I rather like my clothes and feel comfortable in them; don’t wanna leave them behind. Besides, I don’t want to go bargain hunting.

My travel mates and I were of the second persuasion. Which isn’t to say I didn’t buy anything nor yearn to spend a bit more time in Yangshou shops. I bought a couple of skirts (or frocks, as Kathy called them, since they’re dual-purpose) on West Street; a purportedly 100% silk kimono; and a couple of certified 100% silk knit camis in the silk factory in Suzhou, because I’m a sucker for pretty, soft camis. But all that is still a far cry from cramming your suitcase with cheap Chinese merchandise.

river in the center of Yangshou

West Street, Yangshou, during the day

“Cheap” is a trick term. The merchandise is only cheap if you know how to bargain, which I certainly do not. Which is how I ended up paying for the skirts, and a pair of flip-flops, about the same as I’d pay for them in my home town of Rishon LeZion. A rough guide to bargaining is to offer 50% of what the vendor is asking for. You don’t have to know Chinese for that; the vendor types in the sum on his handheld calculator, and you shake your head vigorously and type half that sum. He/she reels with indignation, or insult, or amusement (it’s difficult to tell which) and types in a sum. You make a counter offer. And so it goes until one of you gives up and indicates “okay okay, you win, let’s get on with it!”

Twin Peaks Cafe, West Street, Yangshou. Barely visible at the bottom of the photo: Kathy on the left, Susan on the right.

West Street, Yangshou, at night. The place is hopping!

Another consideration is timing: Say you didn’t pack a cardigan/sweatshirt for a rainy day; or a pretty blouse for a festive evening aboard the cruise ship. How do you know you’ll be close to a decent shop, and have the time, to buy the missing item when you need it? There are no such guarantees on an organized trip; you may want to go shopping, but your tour guide may have made other plans.

Say you’ve decided not to count on shopping. That means you’ll have to do laundry along the way. Doing laundry is fine, provided you’re staying more than one night at the hotel. If you’re staying just one night, the clothes may not be dry by the time you have to pack and check out. Trust me on that. So try to pack clothes that dry quickly and don’t need ironing. But that’s elementary, my dear fellow travelers; surely I don’t have to tell you that.
If you’re staying in a decent hotel, it will offer decent laundry services, which aren’t cheap. We paid 329 yuan for 21 items at The Green Lotus Hotel in Yangshou; and 243 yuan for 24 items aboard the Century Sun cruise ship. Or, you can be adventurous and hire the services of a local washerwoman: 

Woman doing laundry along the Yangtse river

Woman doing laundry along the Yangtse river

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