World ? Asia ? China

China: The Best Buys

  • Chen Lu (Shanxi): Seventeen small factories turn out different styles of pottery, and their showrooms have starting prices so low you'll volunteer to pay more. You can also buy original works in the houses of individual artisans.

  • Ba Xian An (Xi'an): There are fakes aplenty, as everywhere else, but this bustling antiques market, fed by continuous new discoveries in the surrounding plain, is too atmospheric to miss.

  • Jatson School (Lhasa): High-quality Tibetan handicrafts, including traditional Tibetan clothing, paper, incense, mandala thangkas, yak-hide boots, ceramic dolls, door hangings, bags, and cowboy hats, are all made on-site and sold at very fair prices. Your money goes to support Tibetan poor, orphaned, and children with disabilities.

  • Fake Name-Brand Clothing and Accessories: Adequate to near-perfect imitations of items by North Face, Louis Vuitton, Prada, and just about any other expensive label you can think of can be had for a song at several markets in China, especially at Beijing's Silk Street and Hongqiao markets, Shanghai's Xiangyang Lu market, and Shenzhen's Luo Hu Commercial City (not quite as cheaply).

  • Factory 798 (Beijing): We were sure that an ad hoc gathering of designers, painters, and sculptors selling avant-garde art in a former military complex wasn't something the regime would tolerate for long. We were wrong. Market rents are now charged, so don't expect to pick up a bargain, but the Dashanzi art district makes for a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon of gallery- and cafe-hopping.

  • Khawachen Carpet and Wool Handicraft Co. Ltd (Lhasa): This U.S.-Tibetan factory's carpets have rich but tasteful shades woven into delightful traditional patterns. Carpets can also be made to order. You'll pay much less here than in New York or even Beijing.

  • Qipao: Tailors in Beijing and Shanghai will cut a custom-fit qipao, the tight-fitting traditional dress better known by its Cantonese name cheongsam, sometimes for hundreds of dollars less than in Hong Kong and the West. A quality tailored dress, lined with silk and finished with handmade buttons, typically costs between $100 and $200. Slightly less fancy versions go for as little as $50.

  • Bamboo: The ecologically minded will be impressed and amazed at the versatility of this wondrous plant. Apart from the usual carvings, look for bamboo fiber that has been made into everything from socks to bath towels and the delicious Anji Science Bamboo Beer.

  • Minority Fabrics and Costumes (Yunnan and Guizhou): While all of the popular tourist destinations have shops selling silver Miao headdresses, those will to venture out to the lands of the more obscure ethnic minorities will be justly rewarded. A traditional Bouyi jacket from a weekly market near Luoping now holds pride of place in my own girlfriends' wardrobe, while the World Vision charity in Yuanyang supports local embroidery cooperatives that produces a range of designs from a world almost forgotten in the new millennium.

    Note: Pearls, antiques, jade, jewelry in general, and objets d'art are fakes or are not worth the asking price (usually both). Unless you are an expert or are happy to have a fake, do not buy these things.

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