Wednesday 5/21 Zhewei and I set off on a shopping trip at 8.10am. We walked to Changqing Road and caught the Walmart bus (because it's free, and goes non-stop after leaving our area) to go downtown.
We went into Walmart looking for a couple shirts for Skyler. There wasn't a good selection, but we found a couple good candidates on the third floor and bought them, then headed up to the fourth floor to look around. The fourth floor is not Walmart, but instead a bunch of independent vendors of appliances and electronics spread out across the floor.
I was looking for a wireless router. I had seen one for sale in a local shop near our home, a TP-LINK, for about 230Y, but was hoping to get one for cheaper if we found the right place. The brand TP-LINK is the most widely used and available brand in China right now. Even in our apartment, I can pick up a wireless network from a TP-LINK router (because the owner never changed the name of the access point). I didn't think Walmart would be the right place, but wanted to get an idea of the price for comparison. We approached one promising computer vendor and asked, and yes, they had some not on display. 280Y. Yeesh. Certainly hagglable, but still.
We left the Walmart and went into a Chinese department store (called something like Great Ocean). It looks and feels just like a JC Penney or Macy's. Baby clothes were on the 6th floor. The selection of clothes was larger, but more expensive. We didn't get any. Near the escalators, Zhewei asked a store employee about electronics. He said there was a small area on another floor, but probably we wanted to go to the digital market, a building a few blocks away with lots of computer vendors. Zhewei didn't quite get the directions, but we got the street name at least. Sure enough, the department store had a very small electronics counter that was mostly cell phones, pocket PCs, and MP3 players. We wandered through a toys area on the way back to the escalators, passing imported Legos and lots of complicated motorized plastic war toys.
We crossed the street and headed towards the computer market. We walked passed a store of baby clothes, then stopped and went in. Lots of clothes for little kids, made for export, and very cheap! Zhewei picked out 2 or 3 more items for Skyler. Then we went around the corner and headed a few blocks west, past tiny restaurants, vendors of various things (I saw one selling mops), a video arcade, a real estate broker with apartment listings written on a whiteboard out front, a mender of zippers. Yes, a zipper-mender. In China, there are still stores and workers with very high specialization that you just don't see in retail in the US. I regret that I didn't take a picture of the zipper-mender, but I do have a picture of a shop that sells sump pumps. Maybe that shop has other kinds of pumps, but I'm not altogether sure.
We asked for directions once more. We found a building full of little vendors of electromechanical items and electronic components, and closed circuit video equipment. The next building had a mixture of this with electronics and computer components. Some vendors sold just cable. Some sold just MP3 players. A few sold just DVD blanks (another item I was looking for). We walked through, Zhewei stopped at one to ask the price on a TP-LINK router as I walked past, then climbed the stairs. When we are shopping, it's better for me not to be standing nearby while Zhewei negotiates a price. Zhewei got a price of 175Y from the vendor without haggling. But I wanted to look some more.
Upstairs were several shops that build computers and sell components like motherboards, dvd-drives, peripherals. Zhewei asked at one shop whether they had routers. He had none on display, although there were at least a dozen in the building that did, but sure, he had one. He pulled out a Kingnet wireless router made in Shenzhen. It had the same features but was cheaper than the TP-LINKs, he said. He unpacked it and plugged it in, hooking up a computer to it so we could see the setup interface, all in chinese, of course. It seemed okay. Zhewei negotiated a price of 150Y, but expressed her concerns about whether it was going to work once we got home, he gave her a business card and said to call if there was any trouble. He also offered to come set it up for us, for a fee. We also asked why he didn't sell the TP-LINK like the other vendors -- oh, he could sell that too, he said, he just didn't have one at the moment. We also asked about DVD blanks since I was interested in that, even though there was a vendor right next to him selling nothing but DVD blanks. We bought 10 DVD+R blanks for 20Y. We also got a recommendation for a restaurant for lunch, just down the block.
We headed out for lunch. The restaurant was good, relatively clean, the beer was cold. We had a spicy chicken dish and a fish soup. An adjacent table had four men who had just bought a complete computer system. The waiter people at the restaurant were all men, a plus really, except they had recently hired one younger woman. If a restaurant has all pretty young women as service people, you wonder if they are compensating for lower food quality or something.
We walked back to the Walmart, but the bus schedule was unfavorable -- we'd have to wait 90 minutes for a free ride home. We called home to ask about catching the 721 bus, yeye told us to walk south to the river and catch it there. We weren't sure about south, but discovered we were only a block or two from the pedestrian zone, which immediately told us which way to walk. We stopped in a bakery and bought a few rather bland cookies just to try.
We walked down the pedestrian street, where i was repeatedly approached and offered "watch", "shoes", "shirt" from various men, which I refused. Near the south end of the street, I noticed a younger guy walking towards us carrying a badminton racket who looked familiar. I didn't place him immediately but somehow knew him and smiled at him and waved. I think he was having the same reaction, then realized and called me by name. Zhewei was not immediately next to me but came walking over and started talking to him. He was the husband of one of Zhewei's cousins (Zhehong) -- the couple have a toddler boy (coincidentally also called Tiantian) who is about 2 and a half, and we'd seen them at both big recent family events, the wedding and the banquet. This husband works as an IT person for a bank downtown, and uses his lunch break (2 hours) to go exercise. After chatting a few minutes we let him go and walked down to catch the bus. Zhewei wished for an air-conditioned bus, and she was lucky that the 721 which came by was in fact air-conditioned.
We got home around 4, and I tried hooking up the router. It was sort of challenging because I only had one ethernet cable. With the router about half a meter away, the signal strength was 4/5 bars. Not a good sign. I was able to set up the router to connect to the DSL modem okay, and had network connection. But connecting wirelessly, the signal kept dropping. It was unusable. Zhewei groaned. She called the guy and he seemed relatively sorry and said we could swap for a TP-LINK, it would cost 20Y more. They closed at 5.30p though and it was late, so we said we'd come the next morning.
The Walmart bus only comes to our neighborhood on MWF. So after breakfast, we took the 721 downtown. It was already warm, walking to the bus stop, and on the bus, all the seats were full. It was an air-conditioned bus, but the driver didn't have the AC turned on. Since the AC busses cost more to ride, everyone had paid extra to ride on this AC bus, but the driver was saving gas money by leaving it off as long as he could. At one point, an older guy called out to the driver to turn on the AC, and he relented. It was just after 9am.
We headed straight back to the little shop. After we arrived, the guy went off the "acquire" the TP-LINK. I wandered through the second-floor of the building looking at other vendors. Many had TP-LINKs for sale. After he got back, he only asked for 10Y instead of 20Y. I think Zhewei made him feel bad -- he may very well have known the first router was bad. I told him in mandarin - "restaurant good, this (router) bad", smiling. We left and walked around the block.
The next building was the "real" computer market - two stories of computer vendors all around. As I walked through, about four of them whispered to me asking if I was looking for DVDs or "discs". I was, but the fact that they were hidden and it was surreptitious sales made me nervous, so I waved them all off. Most vendors also had DVD blanks for sale, sitting on counter tops. On the second floor of this building we actually found an Apple vendor. MacBook Air for 17000Y ($2400)! It's an odd building -- superficially the stores all look good, but go to the third floor where a dog is barking (indoors), or peer between vendors to see the back alleys or the bathroom, and it's dirty and rough.
I remembered about the ethernet cable and we went back to our same vendor to ask. They cut us about 3m of cable and put ends on it for 4Y. They tested it too, before selling it to us.
I hadn't had breakfast, and Z had only had some crackers, so we looked for a place to grab a bite before heading back. It was well past breakfast time, and still too early for lunch, so several street restaurants were in transition and wouldn't have anything fresh. But Z had seen a muslim noodle shop... and we found it. We ordered two bowls of beef noodle (there isn't much beef, it's mostly noodle) for 10Y. The noodles however are made when you order them. The guy pulls them right there in front of your eyes, then throws the bundle into a boiling wok on the sidewalk. It was good. There was a little girl 17mos old, daughter of the shop owner couple. She sat on a stool and ate noodles using chopsticks and her hands. She was very cute. And no one had to hold her still! They had a little white kitten too which the girl played with.
After eating, I ducked into the video arcade I had seen just to look. It was all driving games, and some weird ones that look like gambling. I didn't understand those. On our walk back down the pedestrian zone, we grabbed ice cream (on a stick - like probably 95% of ice cream sold in China). It was 10.45 but humid and quite hot. The ice cream melted fast. Zhewei stopped to look in several shoe stores, but was equally interested in their air conditioning. I was approached again half a dozen times about watches, etc. I wonder how that scam would go. We caught an air-conditioned bus home before noon. It's about 40 minutes to ride to our stop, then a 12 minute walk back to the apartment.
I hooked up the router when we got home, Zhewei put Skyler down for a nap. I couldn't read the configuration pages, so I had to wait til after nap-time. With Z's help translating, it wasn't hard to set up and it works like a charm.
So, somehow we found a vendor who didn't have DVD blanks, routers, or cable on display, unlike many of his competitors, and we bought all of those things from him. And he didn't even HAVE the router we bought, he had to go buy it from a wholesaler just to sell to us! Wireless router: 160Y ($23), firmware was dated April 14 of this year, only 5 weeks ago! Wow. I wonder if this thing runs embedded linux. Going to try to find out.
I'm thinking about going back to the computer market again, for earphones, or a cheap MP3 player, or just maybe I'll try looking at DVDs too. I would like to go somewhere where there's less attention being paid, and the DVDs are out on display, but that also means less competition and higher prices. A local shop sells some for 4Y per disc for movies/TV, and 5Y/disc for software. But today is even hotter than yesterday, and tomorrow is supposed to be worse, so we're probably not going anywhere.