Category Archives: Shopping

Double 12 – Alibaba’s Drive Beyond China

Double 12

Have you heard of 12-12 or Double 12?  I bet you have not…Neither has most of the world – but Alibaba is driving hard for that to change.  Less than a month ago, here in China, was the now famous Shuang Shi Yi / Double 11 or 11-11.  The biggest (I think) shopping day in the world.  During the 2017 event on November 11, consumers spent US$25B in one day!  Amazing, isn’t it?  Well it did happen.

China, Singles Day, Alibaba

The graph above sourced from shows the super fast growth of Alibaba’s revenues from Singles Day…

Now Alibaba is driving the next best thing (for the e-Commerce giant) a second event with a goal to become a major shopping holiday — the Double-12 or 12-12 (December 12th)

China, Alibaba, Double 12, eCommerce

The advertisements for it are all over Shanghai and globally.

Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post — and is NOT shy at all to use its editorial as advertorials to promote its agenda and Double 12 as well.  It is a bit disappointing, but hey, what can you do….

Now, why am I spending time to write about it on this blog?  Because of Alibaba’s relentless focus on growth – it is fascinating – at least for me.  The company, which I think started around year 2000, has been on a tear – introducing a number of innovations – e.g. AliPay to drive electronic payments in China and more importantly making it a very successful platform which together with WeChat has enabled very seamless transactions processing across the country.  I must admit I am a firm believer in the technology and a satisfied customer and user…

The other fascinating aspect of Alibaba is their drive for global expansion.  They did create the largest single day commercial event – the double 11, and now are focused on expanding via Double 12 (linking it to the December holidays) in multiple countries – namely Hong Kong, Thailand, India, the Philippines.

So, in summary, watch out world retail players — Ali (as the company is often referred to in China) is coming…!


Chiprovtsi Carpets – Now Part of the World Cultural Heritage

The new news from Bulgaria and the village of Chiprovtsi specifically is that the carpets which are woven on vertical hand-looms have been accepted in UNESCO’s world cultural heritage listing. Β  To be more precise, the carpets originating in Chiprovtsi have been “Inscribed in 2014 (9.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”

This is an important development as the move recognizes the uniqueness of these carpets and their value as historical and cultural element – part of the world’s history and heritage.

My family and I have been going to Chiprotsi for many years – and of course are proud owners of several of the carpets. Β For those of you who have not seen them, here is a brief photo gallery

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Here are also some links inside this blog as well as on the UNESCO Web site


HongQiao Market – Update

HongQiao Market

HongQiao Market – also known as HongQiao Pearl market is located in the Southeast part of Beijing near the TianTan – Temple of Heaven; It is accessible by subway and city buses and of course via taxi (if you can find one!).   Here is the location of the market in Chinese characters so you can print this page and provide to the cab driver from your hotel:

   hong qiao market fall

The actual address and location is No. 46, Tiantan Dong Lu, Chongwen District; just opposite Tiantan Park, and to the east of the Temple of Heaven (you can see the Chinese characters for the street name above on the map);   If you are coming with a subway – please take subway line #5 to Tiantan Dongmen Station and once you get off the train car, look for exit A, and you will see the Pearl Market ahead on your right and will need to across the street (see photo above for a visual orientation).

The market is actually pretty big and houses a very large number of vendors which have changed their wares and focus over the years.  As of late the market management is attempting to revamp the venue to a new look and feel and is forcing many of the traditioanal vendors to move quarters to the basement floors of the building.

Link to an earlier article I posted;

Of course the market is also a hustling and bustling place where you can easily spend a week exploring the different vendors and negotiating merchandise.  Many folks consider these markets as outlets where one can look for fake brand name goods — those days are pretty much gone — i.e. I do not think this is the main business of the vendors here.  In reality they are turning more and more to really interesting art work, jewelry, and in some cases you can find the actual artisans that make the pieces right there in the market stalls.   So for those of you who have (a) the time and (b) the language skills to explore — you can actually find some very interesting conversations, art pieces and of course good friends for a long time to come….(believe me I speak from experience πŸ™‚ )

Otherwise for pieces of art and stylish traditional Chinese jewelry pieces (among other things) you can jump to the Web store for;


Cinnabar – What is it?

I have had a number of people ask about CINNABAR — what exactly is it…. So with help from my spouse's e-commerce site and knowledge as that is one of the main materials a lot of the products she imports are made out of we put this brief summary in place:

Cinnabar, also known as Chinese Lacquer, is a famous Chinese handicraft. Traditionally, cinnabar items were created by painting multiple layers of lacquer onto an item, letting the item dry between each coat, and then carving the resulting layers of lacquer into beautiful patterns. Cinnabar gets its name from the toxic red mineral cinnabar (mercury sulfide) that was once used to give the distinctive red color to the lacquer used in the process. Today, cinnabar jewelry is formed from a dyed red resin that contains no harmful cinnabar mineral. However, the look is largely the same. In fact, not all cinnabar is even red! Pure red cinnabar items are very popular, as are items which have both red and black cinnabar. However, the less common all black cinnabar is also available and is quite stunning.

Here are some examples 

Cinnabar Cinnabar ornament
Cinnabar earings Cinnabar earings

If any of these catch your imagination and/or if you would like to see more examples or even think of purchasing some of the crafts shown, please follow the link to the page covering quite a number of examples / different types of costume jewelry...Keep in mind, cinnabar is used also for small ornamental boxes and even for vases and various other objects found around the home….

Any questions — please do let us know.

Buying a mountain bike, assembling it, re-assembling it soon after that…

So my wife and I decided that we needed to buy new mountain bikes — after all we were living in the country where they all are assembled — whether they are Giant, Marin, Trek, Cannondale… appears that they are all (with some small exceptions) are made in China. So we drove with our minivan to a bike shop in Shunyi (Beijing) and started going through the options. We had been biking since the early 1990s — our first bikes were Giant Iguana (mine was green and my wife’s blue). The Giant Iguana was a very strong, maneuverable, and nice to ride on bikes…. Actually I think they may have started the history of Giant in the US — I mean the Iguana may have been one of the first models to be sold in the US market…

At any rate, we had been using those (older) bikes for a long time and had them with us in Beijing – to use for the occasional errand — not that there is a good place to bike inside the city πŸ™‚

So we decide to buy new bikes — and sure enough the bike shop in Shunyi in Jinshun Lu had Giant bikes too. After some deliberation (not too long) we settled on two Giant ATX750s – bright red bikes (and a small Giant bike for our daughter). The sales guys in the store did the assembly of the bikes and soon after that we loaded them in the minivan and headed home.

The next part will actually amuse you — believe it or not it took me a couple of years (tells you how much we rode the bikes) to notice that my bike actually was assembled wrong. I just purchased my new serious mountain bike — and one of the reasons was that the Giant ATX750 never felt the right size for me. Then I suddenly figured it out — the clerks in the store in Shunyi had assembled the front fork of the bike incorrectly – it was mounted backwards. As a result the overall bike wheel base was about 3 inches shorter, the front wheel was closer than normal to the frame and the peddles… all sort of issues.

I disassembled the front and reinstalled the fork — something that took me all in all 15 minutes. But it made a big difference. Then I thought about it — how come the Chinese guys in the store did such a poor job assembling the bikes? After all these were no low cost items — the bikes were about $500 each…! Quite a bit of pocket change for Beijing … But at the end of the day I told myself — “Don’t be surprised — this is just another example of how things are done here”. We have seen examples of such “high quality” work in many instances in many occupations – whether is fixing the wiring of the house, fixing a leaking roof on an additional room / veranda in the house, or as it turns out assembling a mountain bike. Many of the Chinese employees just do not care — they do half baked (I do not want to write a harsher word) job and just move on….
The other possibility is that the shop employs assistants that have actually never ridden a mountain bike, do not have the experience of assembly and are just cheap to employ….(that being their main asset).

So enough of that — the moral of the story is ALWAYS DOUBLE CHECK ANY WORK THAT YOU HAVE DONE ON YOUR ITEMS (HOUSE, CAR, BIKE, CLOTHES….) AND DO NOT TAKE THIS LIGHTLY πŸ™‚ as you will most certainly have problems.

Side note: I have had issues with tailored clothes too — once I had to return a new two piece suit to the tailor 3 times until it was done properly….Oh, well, the nature of the society an the economy in China!

Happy Travels and Happy Experiences – Enjoy!

HongQiao Market in Beijing and a new / better choice near it

There has been a lot of discussions on various forums and among old and new China hands about the markets in Beijing. HongQiao Market is always one of the leading choices for all folks involved.
So, I wanted to add a brief summary about a new, bright shining star for the Beijing markets — TianYa market — located right behind HongQiao Market.

If you are in the mood for some serious shopping for any of the following items:
* semi-precious stones
* Glass
* Stone carvings
* All things clothing
* optics
* souveniers
* paintings (although the paintings are mostly folk art πŸ™‚ what I mean is art which is not of the caliber of the Dashanzi area in Beijing)
* jewelry
* housewares
* cloisonet

Then TianYa market is for you! Get ready for some serious bargaining though. Most of the sellers / stalls here are of the wholesale kind so they have expectations for selling in larger volumes, but you should be able to buy in units of one as well.
The market actually opened in April of 2008, but has been low key until now — and continues to be that way. Not much crowds at Tianya…and the vendors are not aggressive – hardly anyone will tug on you to stop and / or step into their stalls. So you can enjoy a much more relaxed shopping experience at also lower prices πŸ™‚ what more could you wish for πŸ™‚
Happy travels….and shopping!

Qingdao – first review since 2006 – JiMo Shopping Area

Earlier today I landed in Qingdao following a brief flight from Beijing. I was greeted by the a very cold winter Qingdao day — temperature of 1C. Of course I flew in from Beijing, which is not exactly a balmy place either, so I should not be complaining too much…but I just don’t like the cold wind and freezing temperatures….

The last time I was in Qingdao was in the Summer of 2006. At the time, the beaches were full of tourists and the ocean was nice and warm. Now, as I was driving in a cab to the hotel I saw just a few people on the ocean side streets and all of them were bundled up and looking very, very cold.

Once I made it to the hotel I decided to head out and check out some of the neighbourhoods. What a better way to experience a city — just jump into the local scene — check out the local shopping areas. So I headed to JiMo Market area. Well, that was a major let down πŸ™
I made it there by 5pm and most of the shops were closing (on a Saturday at 5pm ??!!!) – go figure. But then the shops looked pretty run down — even if they were open, they were not exactly exciting looking. I took a bunch of photos (will publish them later on once I get to a speedier VPN connection) and briskly headed back to the main street. Needless to say — I DO NOT recommend the JiMo Market.

View of the JiMo Shopping area in Qingdao
View of the JiMo Shopping area in Qingdao
Another view of JiMo shopping area
Another view of JiMo shopping area

Not all $100 bills accepted for exchange in China

I had an interesting experience on a recent trip to Beijing. I had reached the daily maximum at the ATM in the hotel lobby and wanted a bit more cash, so I tried to exchange three one hundred dollar bills at the hotel’s front desk. To my surprise, the clerk politely declined to exchange one of my bills. When I asked why, he told me that it was a ‘series 1996’ bill, and because those bills were frequently counterfeited, the hotel clerks had been instructed not to accept them. Luckily, I was able to find another bill with a different series number on it, and was able to get the money I needed. However, I noted that of the ten one hundred dollar bills that I had brought along to China with me, four of them were marked as ‘series 1996’. (The series number is written in small letters in the lower left hand corner of the bill–to the right of the large ‘100’ in the bottom left corner.) Had I been relying solely on cash for my currency exchanges, I would have been in an unpleasant situation. So be forewarned–if you intend to exchange cash while in China, carefully examine the series numbers on the bills–it may save you much aggravation!

Warning–Be Careful Changing Money at the Beijing Airport

On my recent trip to Beijing in October 2008, I needed to change a small amount of money at the airport in order to pay for transportation into town to my hotel. This was my first time changing money at the airport, so I didn’t want to change a large amount of money as I was wary of the exchange rates. As it turns out, I was right to be wary as not only was the exchange rate considerably lower than that offered at my hotel and at the local banks (6.65 versus 6.75) but I was charged a flat 50 yuan fee to change money–a fact I only realized considerably after the fact as I was befuddled from my long airplane journey. As I had only changed $20 USD, I should have received 133 yuan even at the poor exchange rate of 6.65. However, I only got 83 yuan back–an effective exchange rate of 4.15 RMD to 1 USD. Once I realized what had happened, I was far past the currency exchange booth and it was too late to go back. On my return journey to the airport, I saw a similar currency exchange booth. This one had a reasonably prominent sign stating that a 60 yuan fee (even more than the 50 yuan I had paid) was charged for all currency transactions. Perhaps the place where I had so disastrously changed money had also had a sign, but I was too sleep-deprived to see it. At any rate, be cautious when changing money at the airport. ATMs may be a much better way to go.

Beijing Subway – Part 1

On my most recent trip to Beijing, in October of 2008, I was very excited to find that the much-anticipated Airport Express Train was finally operational. The idea of being able to avoid a long taxi ride into Beijing, especially at high traffic times of the day, was very appealing, so I decided to give it a try.

I needed to get from the airport to southwest Beijing, so I knew that just taking the Airport Express would not get me to my destination–I would also need to get onto the regular subway line and transfer from line 2 to line 5. Alternatively, I could have taken the Airport Express to its final stop and taken a taxi to my hotel, but that seemed like cheating. So, after arriving at the new and glorious Terminal 3 in Beijing, my sister and I made our way to the Airport Express Train and purchased our tickets.

The fare of 25 yuan is much higher than the fare of any other subway journey in Beijing (a flat 2 yuan), but it was a new train and did go a considerable distance. Anyway, after buying our tickets, my sister and I waited about ten minutes for the train (I believe the maximum time between trains is fifteen minutes) and then boarded it. Although it was quite pleasant and clean, the Airport Express Train had remarkably little space for luggage. There was one tiny luggage rack at the end of our car, and a small amount of overhead space running along the length of the car on either side, but that appeared to be it. My sister’s one large bag and one small bag and my two large bags

(I justified my excessive amount of luggage by the fact that I was in Beijing to purchase inventory for my online store––and needed space to take stuff home in) nearly blocked the walkway at the end of our car.

I was able to fit one of my bags on the aforementioned end-of-the-car luggage rack, but that was it–the others spilled out into the aisle. Other than the luggage issue, the Airport Express Train was great. It seemed to travel very fast and the view from the train was interesting. Very soon, we were at the final terminus for the Airport Express–Dongzhimen Station. (It stops at the airport’s new Terminal 3, old Terminal 2, and the subway stops Sanyuanqiao and Dongzhimen.) At Dongzhimen, once we had purchased subway tickets (the 25 yuan tickets we had previously purchased were only good for the Airport Express Train), we began making our way to the Dongzhimen trains.

Getting through the turnstiles was truly tricky given all our luggage, but that was nothing compared with all the stairs we had to navigate. Some of the subway stations have escalators, but many do not, or not in all areas. Fortunately, this gave us an unparalleled opportunity to witness the kindness of strangers in China. On each and every stairway that we encountered, Chinese people helped us with our bags. Sometimes they asked if we needed help, but most of the time, they just smiled and took a hold of a bag. Given our advanced level of exhaustion, we were exceedingly grateful. At any rate, we did eventually make it to our hotel, but it took about two hours–far longer than a taxi ride would have taken.

If you are unencumbered by luggage or are staying in a hotel that is very close to one of the Airport Express stops (Sanyuanqiao or Dongzhimen), then the Airport Express is a fine method of transportation. Otherwise, I would recommend a taxi.