Thursday, March 12, 2009

Eye for an Eye

As I sit in the Ritz-Carlton business center on top of one of the zillions of modern towers in central Shanghai, I look out at thick fog and wonder if some boogeyman will jump into the galss surrounds to remind me it is Friday the 13th and you can't really get away with a 'Marc Jacobs' handbag for $30. Now there's a horror movie in the making...

The rain has stopped, thankfully, but yesterday was a dreary winter day with relentless wet. Peter Chan spent the day with us as translator and cultural advisor; his driver -- who did not have a Western name so we have called him Jim-- was able to get us in and out of many markets and shops with relative ease considering what a mess this city becomes in a downpour. We're told that in weather such as yesterday's, it is impossible to find a taxi so that if you get one, you keep him and pay him to wait for you, or you stay in your hotel to watch those DVD's you've already bought for $1.50 each.

Since I am strongest in mornings, I chose the most difficult task first-- it was much like an assignment from The Amazing Race. Sarah had clipped an article about an underground eyeglasses mart located between subway stations where the river meets the sea and the clouds hang low and the tree is crooked when the moon is bright. Yes, it was something like the treasure map in that movie Romancing The Stone. We eventually gave up looking for the mart as described in the article when we found an above ground, modern, clean building called International Eyeglasses Mart, on the north side of the Shanghai Railway Station.

Since Peter and Jim are native speakers, we were even able to learn that the market we were looking for was demolished (welcome to China) and all the vendors had moved in here. And what a place it was-- three floors of the latest technology, frames and contact lens products.

The article in hand had given us a clear idea of price, so we were able to bargain our lens+frame packages down to about $18 a pair. Unfortunately, I did not have the progressive Rx with me so could not do a comparison on how long or how much for a complicated pair of glasses. Instead we just drooled at the cases and wandered the aisles where women would call out to us like barkers at the carnival.

Designer frames, or should I say 'designer' frames, were invariably put away in hiden drawers or tacklebox cases with trays that lifted up and out. Mikli, Chanel, Armani, RayBan, yes...even Toyota. Hey, I just report the news, I don't make it up. But considering what's happening in Detroit these days, perhaps the big three automakers should re-tool. Put your face in a Ford ...and all that. Really See the USA from Your Chevrolet...

The best part of the adventure, and having a translator with, came when I tried on my glasses and found them fuzzy. They weren't really, truly, horribly wrong, but I decided to open my big American mouth and say they wouldn't do. I gave the glasses I was wearing to the technician for inspection in the machine and comparison to the hew glasses. Here's what happened.
* They had taken my Rx acurately from my existing glasses.
* The numbers did not makes sense to them, so they decided an error had been made and changed the positive to a negative and made up the lenses.
* When I put on the glasses, they weren't right. It was explained to me that the optometrists had never before seen a script with a negative in one eye and a positive in the other. I asked Peter to explain to them that I had LASIK and mono-vision!
* The moral of this story, don't buy glasses for other people who are not with you and cannot try them on if they have tricky eye balls.

While we waited the required one hour for all 6 pairs of glasses we ordered (hey, don't look at me...there were 4 of us in this project), we went to McDo next door. Jim ran back to get our glasses-- each of these pairs was perfect.

Then we headed for Fenshine, on Nanjing Road, a seemingly regular old, upscale office tower at a good address that turns out to be the new venue for the fakes market in town. The old outdoor market was demolished about two years ago. This market is about four floors of the usual but has enough twists to offer a different, and very entertaining experience. And a $30 Marc Jacobs handbag similar to the one I bought my friend Dinny for $50 in Shenzhen last year.

For the first time in my years of doing this, I found Rosetta Stone CD's. I have long wanted to try this system of study for foreign languages but I have a bad ear, I always say I will study and then I don't and most importantly, who am I I really think I can learn how to speak Chinese? After fierce bargaining I got French, Italian, Mandarin and Adobe Fotoshop for $30. Total.

The handbag stalls also offered surprises. Each one seems to have a fake rear wall, so you have to be invited into the inner sanctum (which in one stall actually locked with a loud metallic click behind us) where the best goods are stashed. The shelves are filled with LV, Chanel, Loewe, Balenciaga, DG, etc. Mulberry is having a very big season in China-- I had already bought Dinny a Mulberry in Beijing for about $100. Prices here were slightly less if you bargained fiercely. Sorry Dinny, I didn't know.

Our final stop for the day was the HQ of a designer named Lilly who makes upmarket bags, wallets and gifty items that usually sell in hotel gift shops for US-style prices. She has an apartment, considered the mother ship, not too far from the Ritz Carlton where you can knock three times and whisper low and come to shop. We left in short order-- prices were outrageously high: an adorably chic jade dingle dangle to add to your handbag strap cost more than my Marc Jacobs bag.
{Note: At the Mitsokoshi store in the Okura Garden Hotel there was a lot of Lilly merhandise-- all of it fabulous!)

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