Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The New China

Our directions were simple ones-- instead of crossing the border into the PRC at Lowu as is my custom all these years past, I was to take the train to Lok Ma Chau, the new station at the port of Futian. As dumpy and ugly and dirty as Lowu is, this station is modern and clean and inviting.

Before you get off the train, you have a chance to look out across the river at all the highrises and towers of Shenzhen and to remember this is the star city of The New China.

Shoppers have been heading to Shenzhen for years, mostly to the Lowu commercial centre- a giant mall packed to the gills with fake goods of every kind. Over the years, the merch has gotten more and more ratty since there have been serious crackdowns on fakes. It takes a lot of time and energy to find a decent fake, then some serious bargaining and then the lingering doubt that follows you for days afterwards that perhaps you were cheated. It's hard to call the pot black but you begin to feel like a chump and wonder what's real, what's fake and what day it is.

Mere tourists do Lowu as a day trip from Hong Kong and never see more than the mall or the fake bits. I have been to SZ-- as it is written-- for a long weekend at the InterContinental Shenzhen Resort when it opened about two years ago and got hooked on the other parts of the city, the Non-Lowu Experiences, if you will.

Sarah Lahey, BTS Editorial Director, and I chose the brand new Ritz Carlton Shenzhen for our stay. It is directly across from the new Exhibition Centre and closer to the new border crossing, so we didn't even have to enter China through Lowu. How now, Lowu!

As we rose up to the 25th floor and our glorious junior suite, we knew we were in the fanciest and most lush hotel in town. Yes, a Four Seasons is coming; true, a Hyatt is also being built...but this hotel is not only glam slam, but the service has touches I have never seen elsewhere. On the desk were two photos, one from San Francisco (Sarah's hometown) and one from Vaison (my home in France) with a nice note hoping we were not homesick!

The information sheet about the TV channels was printed on a bamboo scroll in the Chinese fashion (but in English) and the Club Lounge was so high into the neon that we could almost reach out to touch the extravagant colors of the other towers around us. There was HBO on the TV; the room service menu was varied and the wifi was free!

True to our old habits, we went straight to Lowu Commercial Center, but this time not for a fake Bottega. Instead, we had brought garments from home for the tailors to copy and we had brought with our own Shanghai tailor, Peter Chan, to guide us to the best in show. We had great success in Hanoi last winter, so wanted to be able to test the tailors in Shenzhen so readers of the next edition of Born to Shop can know what to do.

We chose three different tailors and handed out three different types of work. Tailor Number One was recommended by our friend Muffy, an Old China Hand. She sent with a pair of trousers with a zipper, a button closure, a drawstring, side and back pockets; I chose linen for six more pairs and then left town with the promise that all would be ready in 36 hours at a cost of $8 per pair (without fabric). No money was collected until the work was done. While the trousers were made, pressed and gorgeous at the right pick-up time, they lacked button we had to wait 90 minutes more. Still, Muffy is gonna be one chic little lady.

Tailor Number Two is named Mei, she comes to us from my most trusted sources in Hong Kong and Peter went with Sarah to vet the entire experience. He reported that her women's clothing on display was well made but the men's was not. Sarah brought with a somewhat complicated jacket that she wanted made in a lightweight wool. She chose the fabric from the swatch book and prepaid a total of $70 for fabric and jacket in advance.

The jacket was finished on time; it was copied perfectly. The stitching had many puckers. We asked Peter's opinion of the finished product and he sort of laughed, but announced it decent value for money. He explained that his tailor shop uses Italian fabrics and that the Chinese fabrics are of inferior quality. His shop would have charged $500 USD for the same project.

There were several problems with stitching; Mei agreed to the problems (no fighting, at least) and said she would fix them...if we had time. We did not. Sarah can put a Chanel camellia over the worst of the stitching and no one will notice, but we are all dissapointed in this resource.

Tailor Number Three, a few sewing machines past Mei, made trousers for me for $8 a pair and added in pockets since the sample I gave him had no pockets. He did an excellent job, but the fabric is heavy and bunchy-- my fault, not his. I would use him again, but the job was so simple that it's hard to consider it much of a test.

In the end, we say Tailor Number One is the winner. And then we ate a big fat duck and lived happily ever after.

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