Beijing

Shopping is an integral part of any trip to Beijing. Between the hutongs, the markets, the malls, and the shopping streets, it sometimes seems like you can buy anything here.

Large markets and malls are the lifeblood of Beijing, and they're generally open from 9 am to 9 pm, though hours vary from shop to shop. If a stall looks closed (perhaps the lights are out or the owner is resting), don't give up. Many merchants conserve electricity or take catnaps when business is slack. Just knock or offer the greeting "ni hao" and, more often than not, the lights will flip on and you'll be invited to come in. Shops in malls have more regular hours and will only be closed on a few occasions throughout the year, such as Chunjie (Chinese New Year) and October’s National Day Golden Week.

Major credit cards are accepted in pricier venues but cash is the driving force here. ATMs abound, however it’s worth noting that before accepting any Mao-faced Y100 notes, most vendors will hold them up to the light, tug at the corners, and rub their fingers along the surface. Counterfeiting is becoming increasingly sophisticated in China, and banks are reluctant to accept responsibility for ATMs that dispense fake notes.

The official currency unit of China is the yuan or renminbi (literally, "the people's currency"). Informally, though, the main unit of currency is called kuai (using "kuai" is the equivalent of saying a "buck" in the United States). On price tags, renminbi is usually written in its abbreviated form, RMB, and yuan is abbreviated as ¥. 1 RMB = 1 Renminbi = 1 Yuan = 1 Kuai = 10 Jiao = 10 Mao = 100 Fen

If you're looking to bargain, head to the markets; Western-style shops generally go by the price tags. Stalls frequented by foreigners often have at least one employee with some degree of fluency in English. In many situations—whether or not there’s a common tongue—the shop assistant will whip out a calculator, look at you to see what they think you'll cough up, then type in a starting price. You're then expected to punch in your offer (start at one third of their valuation). The clerk will usually come down a surprisingly large amount, and so on and so on. A good tip to note is that there's a common superstition in Chinese markets that if you don't make a sale with your first customer of the day, the rest of the day will go badly—so set out early, and if you know you're the first customer of the day, bargain relentlessly.

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