Yay!: No Souvenirs?
What to buy: One of the problems I've found with Harbin as a tourist destination is that it's really hard to find good souvenirs. No one's yet made "Flood Control Monument" miniatures, and post cards don't come easily. If you go inside Sophia Church, they sell some postcards, but those are really the only ones I've found in Harbin.
There are plenty of Russian souvenir shops -who knows for whom they exist- but they sell primarily booze, shot glasses, a few knives, flasks, Russian Nesting Dolls featuring Saddam, Bush, Clinton, Osama and various other people, and some models made from dummy .50 cal shells. Not much Harbinian on their list. They are still interesting places to visit, if you want some Russian trinkets.
Just before you get to the Wal-Mart is a small, local-goods type store which is worth a visit. You can get some fake Disney/Mickey Mouse slippers there too. Wee!
--: Center Street
Harbin's Center Street is a hive of commercialism, with western name brand stores set amid Chinese brand stores. If you're looking to shop, take the 101 to its northern terminus, which is nearby. Other buses may stop here too, I'll find out which ones if I can. Taxis tend to stop at the southern end of the street, away from the river. It's a nice walk.
There aren't, I doubt, really good deals on clothes here. China isn't like it used to be, with cheap shopping and souvenir purchase. But, if you need clothes, this is a good place to go. Be careful buying Chinese brands. Some are well known, but the Chinese have a tendency to rip off product designs and recreate them at lesser quality and price, such as the "NIRE" shoes and fake North Face jackets worn by people who I honestly doubt could afford them. The Chinese themselves are wary about paying much for Chinese goods because they say that they never really know how good the quality is. You might buy shoes that last only a few weeks or months then start to fall apart. It's sometimes hard to tell the real from the fake, but I suppose if you see a glitsy store with Omega and Rolex ads on the front walls you have a better bet of real product than Rolexes sold out of a box... pretty common sense.
- Family Travel
Carrefour: Where's the Wal-Mart?
Carrefours seem to be popular places in Harbin. At least they are always busy and usually very warm. Greasy meat-and-fat-on-a-stick and ice cream greet you at the Haping Lu Carrefour, as you step inside, past the books on tables in the entryway. There is a shopping mall of sorts taking up the majority of the place, with restaurants scattered about. Downstairs (keep right, passing by and sampling the tea from the tea store until you find the escalator) are the food, bath, appliance, and more clothing sections. They have what I've dubbed the, "Gringo Aisle" of western and international foods, though it's pretty sparse. I've noticed a lack of spices that we'd use in the west, such as herbs, mustard and all. Ketchup is plentiful. I notice a lot of people buying prepared mixes or meals as well as from the plentiful fruit/vegetable and nice meat sections. When you're done, get in a long line and sweat for a while. Your cart will stay, don't worry. (You'll know what I mean if you shop there.)
Outside the Carrefour, vendors sell everything from watches and knives to meat on a stick, popcorn, corn, sweet potatoes (which I really want to try, I just haven't yet- they remind me of the sweet potatoes I had on the streets in Monterrey.) You can get a taxi right outside the Carrefour if you don't want to walk. Just near the entrance to the Carrefour, near the street, is a staircase down under the road. It's closed at night, but aside from a warm and safer walk across the street, there is even more shopping there, bowing to China's increasing demand for consumerism and increased capital to afford it.
There is often a lot of coal smoke and usually a very foul, almost other-worldly smell that is beyond description.
What to buy: Sausages and bread are two of the area's famed foods. There are many varieties available. Potatoes here are very good as well, very rich and buttery.
What to pay: We usually buy about 300 yuan worth of stuff, going once or twice a week, maybe less.
- Road Trip
So Many Individual Shops: Underground Shopping
Central Mall Street has a shopping area under the street. Access is though obvious entrance structure above ground.
In this underground shopping area, they sells mainly clothing, shoes but also other items are available. An interesting shopping experience.
- Budget Travel
- Family Travel
Wal-Mart: Great Buys
Along YouYi Road near Central Mall, is the great Wal-Mart hypermarket. It has 5 floors of great shoppings/goods at very good prices.
What to buy: Great place to get your winter wears, shoes, food and many others.
What to pay: Very reasonable pricing
- Budget Travel
- Family Travel
Pai Lian Complex: Shopping near Shangri-La
Pai Lian Complex is about 6-7 minutes walk from Shangri-La Hotel or Press Plaza Hotel. Within the complex is a supermarket with full range of products and many speciality shops are housed within the complex.
What to buy: Virtually everything can be found there.
- Budget Travel
- Family Travel
Zhong Xia Video and Audio Shop: DVD's
This shop has pretty much every DVD ever made. Just make sure you duck when you go to the english section if you are over 5foot 10...lol. The ceiling is pretty low. There always seems to be more boxes miraculously appearing from 'out the back' but most of the ones out the back are older. A huge selection of music too.
What to buy: The boxed sets are really spiffy. I bought a 16 disc set of NCIS for 145Y. A set of six Thomas the Tank discs for 45Y. Anything that you want the english speaking chinese lady owner can get in for you within a couple of days.
What to pay: A single DVD should cost around 6-7Y. Boxed sets have clearly marked prices. The individual items aren't usually negotiable but the overall price can be dropped a bit. For example, I recently clocked up 399Y and she said 380Y was okay. I didnt bother to bargain but you could get them cheaper if you are buying a heap.
Various shops, not only in main Harbin Districts: Russian and NE China Local Specialties, Tiger Fur
These shops are not only found in the popular districts of Harbin, but all over Northeast China major cities, such as Shenyang, Changchun and Dalian.
In the rear of nearly all the "Russian Goods" shops, there are Northeast China specialties stocked.
The typical items for sale here are:
1) Matryoshka Nesting Dolls (price seems cheaper than Russia, but I found none with premier artwork quality, which I didfind in some shops in Russia),
2) Lenses such as binoculars or telescopes or reading lenses,
3) Russian-style pink gold jewellry and watches,
4) Assorted sundries, such as pen-knives, pewter items, etc. which are mostly affordable but none of premier quality.
5) Doubtful this is Russian, but Carved jadework (simulated jade?) in shapes such as a bok-choy lettuce, and other traditional shapes. Again nothing seemed "exquisitely refined", though probably reasonably affordable.
What to buy: As for the "Northeast China" specialties, they include:
1) Thinly sliced Deer Antlers, Whole Deer Antlers, Dried Male Deer Genitals, all apparently for "enhanced men's health". The interested reader will have perform his own research as to application methods, quality ranks, the feasibility of exporting this stuff to his home country, etc.
2) Ginseng, generally whole. I think I recall seeing boxed and packaged easy-to-use ginseng powders for tea. The whole ones seemed to be the most expensive and high quality, but then again I don't have much experience in judgement.
3) Dry savoury mushrooms of different types. Honestly I don't think there are any which are meant to have "psychoactive effects", as I recognised at least one type the "Matsudake" pine mushroom which is an Autumn delicacy here in Japan in which the domestically grown is very expensive - these days the average Japanese household consumer can purchase relatively affordable ones are imported from North Korea, and given the geographical proximity highly likely from Northeastern China as well.
What to pay: Yes, we passed by a closed "Tiger Fur" shop. The Washington convention measures must be working reasonably well, as I don't have a mental image of what a real Tiger Fur coat looks like (how do the stripes lie, how is the fit and the cut etc.), so I looked on the Internet. Except for faux fur shopping and pimp costumes, I couldn't find any fashion images for authentic furs, not even for vintage furs or fashions. So, closest I found was images of tiger's pelts at the Japanese-language site for WWF which details how there is tiger poaching going on in Tibet. Yep, the tiger furs are really much more expensive than the other types.
- Luxury Travel
- Budget Travel
Min Mao: Min Mao for Russian stuff
Thanks to Harbin's russian heritage, russian stuff are easily found in Harbin and are sold at really low price. There is a market for Russian stuff called Min Mao in Chinese which locates in Nangang District. REMEMBER! The first price that dealer gives to you is much more than it really worths. Try to cut the price at least 1/3-1/4, you won't regret. Sometimes the ratio is even 1/7-1/10. Believe me, just bargain and if it is not a deal, simply leave. Nobody will feel bad about it since it is just the way they make the deal.
What to buy: Lots of stuff. It's really great deal if knowing how to bargain. Don't worry, you already knows it if followin' the rule I give you above.
What to pay: Cash
Huge Emporium next to Saint Sophia Cathedral: Shopping in Harbin... hmmmm...
You probably won't do much souvenir shopping in Harbin. The underground shopping centers sell stuff you wouldn't look at twice at K-mart. There are tacky Russian stores that sell flasks and scary knives alongside nesting dolls.
Even postcards are fiendishly difficult to find (and hideous to boot). And then good luck getting stamps (at the Post Office, you get a taste of the infamous Chinese bureaucracy).
Still, I bought a bunch of New Year decorations which now hang in my office, at a huge "department store" marked with a green "M" on your right if you stand looking at the main entrance of Saint Sophia Cathedral. It is a good place to get warm again after walking through the chaos and the construction to reach the Cathedral.
- Historical Travel
- Budget Travel
Shopping districts: Shop 'til you drop
The underground shopping is incredible. It is like nothing I have ever seen before. There are miles of underground corridors lined with shops. It is a giant subterranean marketplace with everything. It is right underneath the center square, near the Sinoway Hotel. Take any street level staircase down and you'll run right into it.
There is a shopping district of renovated Russian buildings. The shops are expensive, geared for upper class and tourists. The street is very pleasant otherwise. Take some time to wander along this street and duck into some shops. When you're ducking, you'll inevitably find yourself in at least one department store.
What to buy: Clothes, tea sets, tea, maps, etc.
What to pay: Half!
Shopping in High Hpot
There are many department store in the street. You can see many Russian / European buildings which are protected by city govenment in the street.
What to buy: Visitors can buy some souvenir. But most of souvenir is from Russia. There are only quite a few local souvenir.
What to pay: The range to buy is huge. You can buy sable or a simply local-made ice cream. So it depends on visitors.
I don't think it had a name!: Chinese supermarket
In an effort to get warm I stepped into a huge traditional supermarket: I spent ages in there and bought only a cup of tea. In the basement they have an enormous food hall - but we're not talking Harrods or KaDeWe. This was like a market place.
It was not for the faint-hearted Westerner. I watched as turtles were prepared for the pot... very distressing for someone from my background, but fascinating at the same time.
Russian Goods: buy Russian goodies
At Stalin Park, you can see many stores for Russian goodies~~~
What to buy: furs......if you are not an animal right activitist.
What to pay: less than $10
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