If you are looking for quality pearls (and some quality imitation branded goods) in Shanghai, look no further than Hongqiao International Pearl City. I wasn’t, but we still ended up going there twice because the freshwater pearls are so insanely cheap compared to back home that we just had to.
Located at 3721 Hongmei Rd (near Yan’an West Road), Pearl City is actually on the second floor of the fairly large two storey building. The first floor sells predominantly imitation goods, which is hilarious because as soon as you enter there is a large red banner in Chinese that apparently says ‘Sale of Imitation Goods Prohibited’. In fact, imitation goods is pretty much all they sell.
The second floor, huge and arranged like a department store, is filled with different pearl vendors. Most of the vendors know how to communicate in English, which is why Pearl City is such a popular place for expat shoppers. They vendors we dealt with were very courteous and hardworking people, and even gave us free bottles of water (which we sorely needed after a long day out)!
However, if you don’t know your pearls or you don’t know how to bargain, chances are you will end up paying exorbitant prices or end up with poor quality pearls. Honestly though, the prices are so cheap there that you’ll either think you’re getting crap quality (when it’s not) or you’ll think you’re getting a fantastic deal (when you’re not). My wife spent about $50AUD and got 4 pairs of pearl earrings, a pearl necklace and a pearl bracelet. You’d be lucky to get one pair of pearl earrings for that much in Sydney!
The best way to go is to go there with someone local, or someone that knows what they are doing. We did, and we went to the store in the far right corner (from where you come up the escalators). Certain times they wouldn’t budge from their prices or didn’t have exactly what we wanted, but that’s okay — you just go to another place and compare.
One word of advice: sometimes the vendors might try to play the sympathy card and say that they don’t make any money from the pearls or won’t be making any money if they sell it to you at X price. Don’t believe them. As long as they are willing to sell it to you, they are making money. No vendor will sell to you at a loss or zero profit.
For those who think pearls are boring but are forced to go, don’t fear. There are two ‘classic’ Shanghainese DVD stores right next to the building and across the road. These DVD stores miraculously stock wall-to-wall DVDs of all the latest titles, of films currently at the cinema and films not even out yet! And they are all wrapped up nicely like real DVDs. The staff there can speak English and can even give you recommendations, including which DVDs are of good quality (aren’t all DVDs good quality?).
Just be careful bringing them home, that’s all.
PS: There are lots of these DVD stores around in Shanghai. I saw one of the movie The Fighter, which actually says, ‘The Wrestler, but with boxing’! Oh, and there are street vendors selling DVDs in plastic wrap without cases — apparently the quality of these are sometimes questionable, but they are of course cheaper.