Wu Ai Market
(Written by Leah K)
This past weekend (well actually the past two weekends) Nick and I have been mesmerized by the existence of Wu Ai Market. When you think of Wu Ai, please do not be fooled and think of it as your typical market place. This is no farmer’s market, no grocery store, not even a normal strip mall. When you think of Wu Ai Market, imagine a colossal shopping complex. This thing is an organism. A living creature, structured in such a unique way that I am baffled every time I turn the corner. It is so full of energy that it resembles a city of its own, catering to the consumerist.
I’ve heard rumors that this is the biggest shopping hub in Northeast China. But now that I think of it, it has to be the biggest shopping complex in the world. Let me explain to you the set up of Wu Ai…There are FIVE buildings. Each building has FIVE floors. These buildings are no joke. They are much bigger than any establishment I have been to in the United States. Here is a quick video from the outside to try and sum up what I am describing.
Each building resembles a mall in the US, except for the fact that there are not separate, distinct department stores. It almost resembles a flea market with rows and rows of vendors trying to sell their items to the hundreds of visitors. Some of the floors are hard to walk through because so many people are walking around, gazing at all the junk. And here is the real kicker: each floor sells a specific thing. So there is a floor devoted to selling bags, one selling just shoes, and another with socks. Yep, there is a floor devoted to socks with a couple of bras mixed in. I guess you can’t have too many socks. Check it out!
So as you can see, a person visiting Wu Ai market has quite the selection. So how do you know what to buy? It all comes down to your bargaining skills. You must be aggressive almost to the point of being impolite. When the Chinese see a white girl like me, checking out their valuables amidst all of the clutter, they think they can pull a fast one. They really think they can dupe me, YEAH RIGHT. (honestly though, I probably still pay double what most Chinese people pay even with my slick bargaining skills) Since I can’t speak a lick of Mandarin, the merchant whips out their handy dandy calculator and types in the going price for their tea mug I have my eyes on. This is no ordinary tea mug either. It is a stainless steel thermos. There is a screen at the top to keep all the fresh tea leaves out of my mouth. This is something I really want, but I am not willing to spend anymore than $3 on it. So the man with the calculator will type in 45 yuan (psshhh yeah right that is $7). I’ll type in 10. They will type in 35. I will type in 13. They will type in 30…etc until I hit the golden number: 18 yuan (~$3). If people don’t give me a price that I fancy, I can easily walk right next store to the vendor neighboring them, no problem.
Not only did a get a deal on my tea mug, but I have purchased plenty of other things from Wu Ai at a very low price. I now have a new backpack to carry my school supplies in, candles, a lint sucker, and a cross stitch kit. I will try my hardest to never buy anything in China unless it is from Wu Ai or a hole in the wall shop. I have a Wal-Mart across the street from my apartment complex, but the funny thing is-it’s the most expensive place to shop. Strange, considering they are always rolling back their prices. (apparently not in China.
My favorite floor is the general popularity merchandise floor. (ha, what a name!) The general popularity merchandise floor is where I find most of the things I buy, since I’m not really in the market for extra padded bras or Louis Vuitton mats for the interior of my car. On this floor you can find all the weird trinkets, decorations, and cheap electronics that you would think of when you hear ‘made in China.’ How authentic! Here is some footage of the general popularity merchandise floor.
The food floor is just the same as the rest of the floors, but cafeteria version. The only place I have tried so far is the soup stand. I ate here both times I went to Wu Ai. At the soup stand there are two aisles of fresh veggies, meats, seafood, tofu, and noodles. To make your soup, you simply grab a huge bowl at one end and pile in as many things as you can into it. At the end they weigh it out for you and then soak it into a steaming hot meat broth. (gross) The last time I went my total was 9 yuan. That is quite pricey for that place…I was very hungry.
One strange thing about this market, besides the fact that it is massive and has the same garbage at every vendor, is that the escalators only go up. My theory is that they want consumers to get trapped in there. When you are done shopping and ready to get out of the cluster at Wu Ai your only option is to go up. In order to leave you have to search for the stairs, hidden in the corners. People that do not feel like finding the stairs simply walk down the up escalator.
As you can tell from reading one of my last blog posts, entitled ‘Squatters,’ I am pretty intrigued by the restrooms in China. The bathroom at Wu Ai market is the most extreme accommodation I have seen so far in China to defecate. I had the unfortunate curse of a hangover my first time at Wu Ai and I found myself stumbling into the bathroom to vomit. The bathroom looked like a typical ladies room except for the fact that none of the doors had locks and the toilet was trough style. By trough style I mean one big hole in the ground that was connected under all the stalls so you could see other people’s remains. People had no shame in this bathroom either. I’m not going to go into details on this for the sake of all you readers out there. So as I’m trying to hold the door shut and regurgitate last night’s drinks from my stomach, a woman casually snatches my door open, changes the garbage bag, and walks out. She didn’t seem very fazed by what I was doing or by the fact that she barged in on me. The bathrooms in China are not for the meek.
I think that most people that want to survive in China will toughen up. Walking out of Wu Ai Market and entering the back-alley is a splendor in itself. You have to be resilient when walking around these narrow passageways. In case you did not get enough shopping in at the market, there are hundreds of shops and vendors lining the streets selling who only knows what. Among all of this, there are people loading and unloading goods to restock the market for the next day. There are also cars, bikes and pedestrians all sharing the sidewalks and roads. Nick and I spent over an hour exploring the aftermath of a Saturday morning at Wu Ai. Here are some images/videos.