Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Material Girl

I'm a very lucky girl, because I got to spend four days in Shanghai with some friends while Terry stayed home with the kids. Ordering a few shirts at the fabric market was one of the highlights. That's Brenda in the photo above, holding one of the samples at stall No. 357, the shop where I made my first purchase; the vendor, the guy I struck the deal with, is behind her wearing a gray shirt and fitting a different gray shirt onto another customer.

On the advice of other more experienced fabric market shoppers I had brought one of my own favorite shirts to be copied. But when I first walked into the building I was immediately overwhelmed. The place is a maze, the stalls are jam packed, there are bolts and bolts of fabrics, piled like giant logs or leaning against the wall, every spare inch of the place covered with samples on mannequins and hanging from the ceiling. There are just too many options -- you name it and you can have it custom made: suits, jackets, cashmere coats, cocktail dresses, dress shirts, slacks, skirts, tuxedos. When after maybe 20 minutes of wandering around I came upon this pile of linen you see in the picture and felt ready to do business. I liked the look of the fabric and the colors it came in. The vendor didn't pounce at first sight. I picked out a bright persimmon red and a lilac purple, showed the man my shirt, and the haggling started, with a calculator as communication device. He'd type in one amount, I'd type in another. I think he wanted 360 yuan for two and I managed to talk him down to 240 yuan, or around $34. After we had come to an agreement -- it took several minutes, during which the guy slowly and repeatedly shook his head, as if I was ruining his whole day, forcing him to take so little for his hard labor, a very effective tactic, at least on me -- I was given a receipt of pink tissue paper with "Shanghai South Bund Soft-Spinning Material Market" printed across the top, and the address of the building, No. 399 LujiaBang Rd., typed on the bottom, and the specifics of my order written in Kanji. He stapled his business card to it, which read Ji Bao Tian, as well as small snips of the material I had chosen, and I gave him a deposit. If I had lost this piece of paper, it's unlikely that I ever would've found my way back to him two days later to pay up and collect the goods.

Before fabric market fatigue drove me back out onto the street, where ladies were selling costume jewelry laid out on blankets and sheets spread all over the sidewalk, I managed to put in a second order, with Lucy from stall No. 219, for three sleeveless tops, all in the same style (another copy of something I already owned) but in three very different colors/patterns, in silk (or a convincing imitation of it), for 560 yuan, or about $80. In that transaction I totally buckled early.

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