I Know Where Underpants Come From
Trip Start Feb 03, 2010
56Trip End Jul 09, 2010
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Just as I saw hours and hours of factories from my train window – in Guangzhou, I saw the world coming to one city, to buy all of these things. Truly mind blowing and amazing: the scale of purchasing that goes on in this city. The whole world was there – in the street, in the massive buildings, in the metro, on the waterfront, everywhere, everywhere to buy and export. Fascinating to someone who sees shopping as a sport. This was my Olympics, my Stanley Cup, my Wimbledon. I got to come and play in the big leagues. I came for a couple of days and stayed a full week. It was that good. Just like many things in my travels, I wish I could describe the beauty, or the vastness, or the smells or the ambience and I find myself coming up short for the truly remarkable. Guangzhou – shopping – unable to describe the quantity of products available
Back to the handbags. The biker drives me away from the watch neighborhood – about 20 minutes away, through other neighborhoods, lingerie etc – full town sized areas just selling one type of product
He drops me at a massive mall and I assume the 6 places are part of the 500 stall mall. I ask the first guy I see where the first address might be. He points to the floor – this building id the first address. Each line is a different 10 storey building – each selling just a different level of handbag. I could go on and on (even more) but hopefully you can get the idea of the vastness of the places in Guangzhou. On the street are hundreds of Africans and Arabs and South Americans – all in their native garb, all with Chinese agents and porters to haul the massive shipments to the street. Other, higher end types are just walking around, ordering a 1000 of these, a 10,000 of those. Wal-Mart, The Bay and those types I would guess are the ones just cruising – the smaller guys, and I met a number of Africans who do this, fly in every few weeks and actually fly out with their haul. This is where all those fake handbags and watches that end up on the streets in NY and Rome and Bangkok – all the same stuff – come from. And underpants.
A couple of years ago I read a fascinating book called "Where do Underpants Come From?" It is written by a New Zealander who buys a pack of three whitey tighteys and wonders how three pairs of underwear can cost so little
What did I buy? To tell you the truth – it was all so overwhelming that I bought very little. And when you see how much things actually cost – it takes the joy of radical consumerism out of the thrill of the hunt. I saw North Face and Eddie Bauer shirts at $4 each wholesale. Lots of places didn't want o sell just one of anything, but the nicer folks would make exceptions. Things were so so cheap but behind all of that low price is also the images of those factories I saw just out of town. You know how much those workers are making when a nicely sewn, good fabric shirt is selling for $4. It reminded me of the first time I went to a silk farm in Thailland nearly 30 years ago. After I saw hundreds of girls weaving te thread from the silk cocoon, I couldn’t even buy any fabric. It just made me very sad.
Guangzhou just made me very amazed. Not sad this time because this is the new world rality and China is definitely at the forefront
From Guangzhou, I made my way by high speed train to Shenzhen. This City is also massive..7 million??? And sits just across the border from Hong Kong. It is where Hong Konger’s come to seek bargains and they are set up to cater to the western tourist versus the wholesalers. What that means is that some places actually sell sizes bigger than size 6!!! In Asian terms – small is size 2, medium, size 4 and large – size 6. I was taking men’s medium in pants (perfect length) and needed XXXL in some shirts…..
The train to Snzhen took about 1 hour, travels at 200 km/ hour and is so quiet and nice. In that short one hour span, it goes through 4 other major Chinese cities – all multiple million populations. This is a really really crowded area of the country!!!!