The Chen Memorial… sort of

Today we shopped. I determined, before ever setting foot on the plane bound for Beijing, that I would not bring home a plethora of cheap souveniers. I made sure to only bring enough to last me the 2 weeks, and a bit extra in case of an incredible find emergency. So far so good, but winding down into this last week, I am going to have to buckle down if I am going to be able to fulfill my ‘to buy for’ list and still have enough money to buy a Starbucks at the LA airport.

Which brings me to my next tip. This is a long one so better have a beverage handy…

Tip #6: Buying in China is easy to do if you have an endless cashflow. But if you are like most adoptive parents, by the time you actually get to China, there isn’t much financial wind left in those sails. We have brought less and less spending money with each adoption, and somehow managed to get by… and I have even been able to find very special momentos for not only my children, but for myself on each trip, with a few unnecessary, cheap souveniers to boot.

My golden rule is: if you see it and you love it, buy it. This does NOT hold true for Shamian Island, where every shop has exactly the same thing for very near the same price. But I have found it to be the case outside of GZ, in the provincial cities I have visited and also in Beijing. On our first trip to China, we visited Nanjing, in Isabelle’s home province of Jiangsu. After a sightseeing trip to the Sun Yat Sen Memorial, we were ushered into a ‘factory’, where we could purchase a momento of our visit. It felt extremely high pressure, even though the quality of the items in the store was very good. And if you know me, you know I hate pressure, so even though there was a stunning tri-color jade bangle that I adored, I figured I’d find one elsewhere. I have yet to see another quite like that. Hence, my golden rule. If you see it, and you love it, make an offer and buy it.

Now to the ‘make an offer’ part of the equation. There are many bargains to be had in China and it is wise to follow your guide’s advice on when/where to make an offer and when to either pay what is being asked, or walk away. Here are some general guidelines when you don’t have a guide to rely on. In departments stores, you pay the price on the tag. In malls, you may be offered, or you can ask for, a ‘discount’ of 20-30% off retail. On Shamian Island and in flea market type situations, you can offer anything you want. In this sitution, you can be sure the seller will not give you their lowest price without a bit of haggling. I try to decide what I would be happy to pay for an item (usually less than the price listed, cuz’ I’m a cheapskate) and then I make an offer. I don’t low ball, and then come up on my offer… that’s just not how I roll. I offer what I would be happy to pay, if it is rejected, I leave. If not, I am a happy camper. No regrets. Today we were at the Chen Memorial and my sister found a lovely snuff bottle that was priced at 380 yuan. Way high in our books, so we were turning to leave. She asked us to make an offer, so we did. My sister got it for 150 and was very happy. We were both surprised a deal was struck, and we were glad we took the time to make the offer.

That being said, I also think it is good to keep in mind that these people are working for a living. Don’t haggle with them over a few yuan, it sort of becomes a game for many, including me until it dawned on me… to me, a few cents isn’t a big deal. To the person busting their butt for a few bucks a day, it just might be a big deal. Confused yet?

My best tips for where to shop would be to ask your guide in your provincial city. Also, before you even leave the US, ask around on the yahoo group of your child’s orphanage. Many parents have gone before you and are a wealth of information. You guys were wonderful in your advice on Nanchang and we didn’t even have time to check out all the places that were recommended. I usually try to buy something special for my child in their provincial city and/or the city where their orphanage is located, if possible. For Isabelle, we purchased a dark tea set, a specialty of Nanjing. For Sophie, we purchased some pearls for her in Guilin. And if you can, get a little bag of dirt, or a rock, from your child’s birthplace or finding spot… it’s something I didn’t do for all my kids and I wished I had. Also, purchase a local newspaper on ‘gotcha’ or adoption day. It will be neat for your child to look back and see what the world was like when they became part of the family.

Okay, back to shopping… the things I love the most from China for myself are the things that just spoke to me. On our trip for Isabelle I bought a snuff bottle with the ‘Four Beauties’ on it. I adore it and now have a little obsession collection. Some of my bottles are antiques, some are new. One is made of bone and is surprisingly beautiful. One is tiny and made of porcelain with miniature flowers adorning it. All of them I adore. On our last trip here I found an antique jewelry box at ‘A Gift From China’ here on the island and I only paid about $40 US. Is it really an antique? I can’t be sure, but it sure looks like one. And I know I love it. But most of all, it has value because it reminds me of the time I was in China for Shepherd. I also found some gorgeous wooden tobacco boxes for my boys, interestingly, on the lower level of the White Swan. This is one place where you might think it’s taboo to bargain, but ‘discounts’ vary and it’s worth it to ask, especially if you are buying more than one item.

In Nanchang, Andrea and I asked our guide to take us to the government antique store. Incredibly beautiful stuff, she and I shopped in the small 2 story building for 2 hours. We finally found our treasures, at least the ones we could afford, hers a wooden box and mine a tin tea pot. Both proudly wearing a wax seal to certify they were over 100 years old. Mine cost 120 yuan, with the 10% discount. During the course of our shopping, we were surprised that the sellers were so brutally honest, even without interrogation. One pointed out to my sister that a pair of snuff bottles she was considering were, in fact, imitations. Beautiful, but only made to look like the original. A ceramic lion was also returned to it’s spot on the dusty shelf, due to the fact that the seller revealed where it’s tail had been broken off and replaced, making the lion look more like a dog. I found it interesting. And somehow comforting.

The local mall here in GZ has some good stores as well. Today we got some DVDs (be sure “DVD 9” is written on the front, or it won’t play in the US), some shoes (MUCH better quality than on the island, in fact, some much nicer than you can get in many stores at home, and significantly cheaper), and some pearls (not for us, but for gifts… the pearl market is across from the ‘mall’ and is wholesale priced, you can ask for and might get a small discount, but don’t expect much). At the pearl market you can find basically any quality you are seeking. Just expect to get what you pay for. If you are wanting to give your mother in law a nice pair of pearl earrings, do not buy them on Shamian Island, buy them at the pearl market. I have also purchased some nice traditional silk outfits for my children at the GZ mall. Not too much more expensive than the island, probably about $15US, but much better quality. If you pay $5US for a silk outfit, don’t expect it to make it through the wash more than a few times without fraying. Sort of logical, but I thought I’d mention it since it surprised me when a few things I bought for Isabelle started falling apart before I even put them over her head.

Can you tell I slept well last night? That was way longer than I had anticipated, but I hope you found it helpful. Thanks for the ideas on future tips, keep them coming. I have a feeling I’m not going to make it to the end without some help!



  1. I am so happy to hear that you slept!!! YEAH!!! I know that feeling of tiredness all too well. I was so dizzy when I was in China due to lack of sleep.
    Great advice on shopping. I love all the pictures. They are bringing back such wonderful memories for me. I spent my entire time at the White friend says I had the luxury trip LOL Maybe so but I was still so tired.
    Hope you sleep well again tonight.

  2. Lisa Cairney says:

    I’m with Colleen..praise God for good sleep for you at long last, Stef….and wow! What tips! Hmmm…interesting that the longest post would be on shopping tips. :) You are doing such a wonderful job on the pictures!!! I can see that your real passion for photography is coming out with each passing day in China! So much great stuff to photograph. We are anxious for you to come home…love to all three of you!

  3. Stephanie – yours was one of the first blogs I started following in 2006 when we were waiting to travel for our daughter. We are waiting to travel very soon for our son who is 10. I don’t know anyone else on the blogs that have adopted an older child and am desperate for some advice. We too carried our daughter everywhere when we first adopted her and I rocked her every night for the first year or more. Since our son is 10 (our second child), I’m not sure how to facilitate the bonding process and would love some advice from someone whose been there. I really value your advice and thought maybe you could point me in the right direction. My email is Thanks

  4. Mom to my China Posse says:

    Stefanie, I have that same collection obsession for the 4 beautiues. I am just sick over my bottle broke on the way home that Andy bought this time. The 4 beauties or 4 Season girls as they are some time called has a special meanign for me because our first 4 daughters from China was born in each season represented. I have a Spring, Summer Fall and Winter. Love readign your blog each day, Kathy

  5. Nicole A. says:

    So helpful and interesting! I think you really might have a side job in your copious “spare time” as a guide and photographer for adoptive families traveling to China! :-) When we eventually get there, I have no idea how I will get through a couple of weeks away from home (I’m not an international traveler at all, and I have three kids already at home). But at least thanks to you and others who take the time to give out great advice, I will be less clueless than I would be otherwise!

    Thanks! All the best,
    Nicole A. in OH

  6. HI Stefanie,
    Wow, I have been enjoying your photographs of this trip, you are so talented! You really need to publish what you took shots of in a book, and I know I’d buy one! Maybe a fundraiser idea?
    Just another idea to keep you from sleeping, okay hope you come home rested and enjoy the rest of your journey with your sister and Cole!

  7. Hi Stefanie!

    Your tips on China are awesome! Thank you so much! I’ve been copying and pasting to a word document on my computer for future use:-).

    Catching up on your trip with your sister has been so enjoyable. You are doing a GREAT job as photographer (no surprise there:-).

    And of course, Cole is SO sweet!

    Enjoy the rest of your stay and may you all have safe passage home.


  8. Awesome tips, Stefanie. BTW, my favorite store on the island was A Gift from China. I love that a portion of their profits go to help the orphans in China and I loved their selection of gifts.

  9. I love your shopping tips. One of my most treasured tems is the strand of pearls I got from a friend’s visit to meet her little girl. She offered to haggle with them over the price since I adore pearls…I am not sure how great they are but it is a memory of Essie’s birthplace. Plus to me they just feel fabulous!

    You can tell you got some sleep and maybe some coffee!

    Thanks for the advice…I hope to use it one day!

  10. heddiluella says:


    I hear that it is not good to eat the fruits and vegetables in China. And, of course, not drink the water. What do you do to make sure you get your 4 healthy food groups. From reading your blog, you seem to be pretty smart about nutrition. Thanks for the advice!!!

  11. Stonefox (otherwise known as Heidi) says:

    Stefanie, you know that I can’t comment on your posts about China because as one who has lived here for many years I think my perspective would burst your balloon (or at least annoy you!). But I am glad that you found some great stuff. And those pictures are gorgeous. Happy 2009!

  12. What great shopping tips! I wish I had done the newspaper thing..such a good idea.

  13. You’re a Pro at the adoption journey and all things travel, and photography. You have such a wonderful eye. It’s curious and has a wonderful flare of laughter to it. I love it.

    You really should write a little tip book…it would be a hit for sure.

    Thanks for taking the time to share your knowledge. I’m with the others…and will use them on our 1st journey to China to get our 1st and probably only child. Thank-you so deeply!

    Lisa A –Iowa

Leave a Reply