With its winding paths and crowded shops, Jinli Street’s 550 meters seem never-ending. The marketplace in Chengdu is adjacent to the Wuhou Temple, with buildings in the Qing Dynasty style. The first thing that hit me was the smell—a combination of cigarette fumes and pungent spices assault the nose the moment one passes under the stone arches. The sea of tourists and natives alike swept us deep into a world of unhindered indulgence.
We moved from shop to shop, bargaining for the best deals with stingy business owners who did their best to take advantage of our lack of experience with the negotiating culture. In America, prices are set—a suggestion for 50% off a product would warrant strange looks. However, store owners in China expect the battle. In fact, it was likely that wherever we didn’t try to bargain we were being ripped off, as most vendors raise the price in anticipation of it. A member of our group haggled a pair of chopsticks from 360 to 80 yuan.
Unlike most American malls and shopping centers, Jinli was made up of family-owned shops and artisan stores, with only one chain brand (Starbucks) among the hundreds of stores. Most owners created their own goods, anything from silk scarves to painted glass eggs. (217)
Around 300 meters past the entrance, the mood of Jinli began to change. The loud shouts of the merchants advertising their cheap prices and unique products was replaced by a much calmer environment. The street opened up into more of a courtyard, and restaurants and artists appeared. I nearly had my portrait done, but it was getting close to our meeting time and I knew it would take a long time to push through the crowded path to where I had come from.
Knowing no Chinese past the basic “thank you”, the black lettering on the red signs having from the storefronts did me no good. I decided which stores I would enter based solely off of what I saw walking by, drawn in by colorful objects or interesting gadgets. I avoided food vendors on the recommendations of our guide, as the ingredients and sanitation of street food are both unknown.
In total we spent only an hour on Jinli street. I personally bought very little, saving my RMB’s for the Muslim market that we were visiting the next night, but others splurged on gifts for families, friends, and themselves. Although I had expected the market to be different from American shopping centers, I could never have imagined the seemingly-different universe of Jinli.