Before a trip last year to Shanghai and Suzhou I did my usual research to find out where one would find Chinese cashmere at a good price – that sort of thing – only to come up with nothing. There is a Knitters’ Guild in Shanghai listed on the web but it made no response to my emails so perhaps it is defunct. So I gave up on the idea of doing any shopping on my trip.
In fact, however, in Suzhou, I happened to stumble upon two yarns shops only separated by a few minutes’ walk. As far as I could tell they were very similar in character, stocking good quality European yarns at prices I consider normal in Australia. Needles included my favourite Addis. At both shops there was a group of ladies knitting and both shops had made up garments for sale. These were at fair prices: eg a nice Filatura di Crosa cotton shrug at approx. $90 US. Unfortunately everything was too small for me.
336 Shi Quan St Suzhou Yarn Shop
I suspect that it was inappropriate to bargain in these shops, but I’m not sure. Throughout my trip I felt like I was a lousy bargainer. Either I got something and assumed that I’d paid too much or I didn’t get something and then felt irritated that I hadn’t simply paid enough to purchase the abandoned item.
Beauty Wool 476 Shi Quan St Suzhou ph. 65108820
I left the yarn shops empty-handed as I couldn’t see any justification in purchasing yarn at prices no lower than at home.
Still, these yarn shops are worth dropping in on if you are in the neighbourhood. It is an excellent shopping street in general and near one of the famous classical gardens: Master of the Nets. It is close to the centre of the city, easy to get to by taxi.
While I failed to get interesting yarn, it is true that the fabric markets are well worth visiting. In Shanghai at one of the well-known fabric markets I could have purchased a full-length pure cashmere coat made to order for abouth $60US. For that price I could probably have got it delivered to my hotel as well. Wow. I know Chinese cashmere is rather looked down upon, but at that price you couldn’t really go wrong.
Suzhou is the Chinese idea of a small rustic town: only 7 million people and a relatively easy place to navigate. Still, I highly recommend something we did via the hotel: we hired a car and driver for the day. It cost only $60US or so and was such a treat. We didn’t have a word in common but that didn’t matter, the driver was always where we wanted him at the arranged times and he had good advice too (yes, it’s amazing what you can do without sharing language!). I wish we’d done the same thing in Shanghai. It would have cost more, maybe double, but that still would have taken some of the trauma out of the business of getting around.
The only other advice that comes to mind is that unless you are in expensive Western places the toilets are truly disgusting. After seeing the first toilet I was expected to use in a typical Chinese area I planned never to drink before going out, even if it was a full day. I assure you this was well worth it!
Oh, and credit cards don’t work in China – well my Visa card didn’t in small shops like these. You have to use cash.