Friendship Store, Beijing
The Friendship Store is one of those classics that just goes on and on, defyint the critics who suggest it must be due to close soon.
It is worth visiting one of the Friendship Store as much for its historical significance as for buying anything there, but it also has prices that are not unreasonable. Also it remains one of the few places to have a true Western-style deli (Jenny Lou's shops are another).
In the bad old days, there was only the Friendship Store. Period. If it wasn't in the Friendship Store (and usually it wasn't) you basically waited until you left China. The Friendship Store accepted FECs and foreign cash only, not Chinese money, so local people hung around the entrance looking in longingly at the goodies inside, reserved for the oppressed foreigners and the poor unfortunate cadres and government officials who were forced to buy stuff here.
Now, the Friendship Store is an anachronism: the vast numbers of bored, largely useless staff remain sullenly unhelpful and underemployed. A transaction like buying a magazine takes four of these talented individuals to complete the job: one to write down the price laboriously on a sales slip, one to take your money at a distant till, one to check the sales slip, and one to put the magazine in a plastic bag.
What to buy: The small touristy antiques are frequently 'only' found in the Friendship Store, and it is worth searching for handicrafts here. This may seem surprising, but there is rationale here. The Friendship Store is part of the 'tourist merchandise distribution channel' which means that they always get some of the stuff that goes into the wider market-place. As the Friendship Store gets much less shoppers than most places, the stock doesn't move as fast.
The downside is that the prices are almost fixed: not one worker here cares whether you buy or not - they are paid at the end of the week either way. Haggling over the price is utterly pointless.
In a bizarre way, visiting the Friendship Store is like a flashback to the 1970s, if you missed life under old-style Communism.
What to pay: More than average for everything, but not a whole lot more (maybe 10% more). Worth itif you can't find something elsewhere that you really want.
The Friendship Store is a bizarre anachronism from all the old days when the good people of China all equally had nothing, and the Friendship Store was where the poor wretched foreigners spent all their money on delicacies and other nice things.
It always was a hotbed of non-existent customer service, and I understand they considered rebranding it as "Mei Yo Store".
In the new century, it remains a fascinating - if frustrating - exhibit of how bad store layout, customer service and point of sale tactics can get.
What to buy: It used to have the best selection of foreign books and magazines, and probably still does, but it has recently moved - just a few metres away - so that they can scatter the books about more haphazardly and make absolutely damn sure that you can't find what you want.
Many of the books are now in glass cabinets, and the whole lot is mixed up. They still have the most incredibly bizarre selection of publications, including fashion books from the 1970s (possibly due to come back into fashion again soon), weird architecture and interior design books, and strange tourist boks for other countries.
It always was a miserable place to buy books, especially as they refused to sell you the decent copies kept under lock-and-key and made you buy the moth-eared, dusty old version. Now it's worse.
Friendship store is a big souvenir store selling many different kinds of Chinese art and craft. You can find small items as well as big ones. You can visit their "workshop" where they are making the Chinese art (see the pic). There you can find Chinese costume as well.
One of the interesting items you can purchase is a personalized stamp. Stamp is an important object in Chinese culture. it is like a signature in Western culture. If you visit Chinese museums you can see the stamps of Chinese Emperors made of jade, precious stones or others.
In friendship store, you can purchase a personalized stamp for yourself. you can choose the material to make the stamp. They have different kinds of material and they are in different sizes. If you have a Chinese name, you can write it down on a piece of paper and someone will engrave the stone or wood with your Chinese name.
I bought a small stamp (see pic) made of stone. It costs RMB 40 and takes only 5 minutes to finish engraving. And, the Chinese usually uses red ink for the stamp.
What to buy: - souvenirs
- art and craft
- Chinese costume
- personalized stamp
What to buy: My best buy in China was a waterproof winter jacket made of 90% duck down.It was a saving of hundreds of dollars compared to buying something similiar in australia.Although you must be carefull of the zippers and buttons which might not be of the best quality.
Huge tourist oriented shop with a ceramics factory attached. Tour around is almost obligatory but interesting nontheless.
Good restaurant there too!