As a tour operator to China for 20 years, I get many comments from clients that say, “NO FACTORY STORES”. Unfortunately they get a bad rap and sometimes well deserved. However there are many excellent ones where you can see talented handicraft workers too. As a Tour Operator who has personally travelled China myself for 21 years, I have seen the worst and the best. Group Tour guides and some private tour guides go a bit overboard to take you shopping where they get commissions from the stores or the Travel Service may require them to take you to some stores where they get kick backs. As a Custom Private Tour Operator, I do not allow this. I do however often recommend and put in my tours Workshops that are honest and worth seeing. Just to name a few is the Cloisonne Workshop in Beijing, Rug workshops in Shanghai and other cities where they actually make them, Jade Carving workshop in Xian, Silk Factory in Suzhou and many others. Rugs are freehand made from a pattern on a piece of paper so no two are exactly alike. The woman above is painting a divider with gold leaf and enamel paint by free hand and no pattern other than a photo. You should visit some of these workshops where you can actually see things being made rather than just a retail store selling over priced goods. You do not have to buy of course but enjoy seeing the processes.
Many clients when I ask about their interest in shopping will tell me “No Factory Stores” but I beg to differ with them. In some countries or tours they are masks for retail stores; but in China there are what I call craft stores where you can actually see the products being made by hand. Cloisonne pieces are one of them as you can see above where you see the actual 12 steps it goes through by hand to the final product. You don’t need to buy but to see the products being made gives you a better appreciation for them. There are many “factories” or “work shops” as the Chinese call them in China that are worth visiting. You can see Rugs, silk, embroidery, jade carving, paintings, etc. etc. being made by artists all hand made. I have shoes hand made and have taken a photo of the person who made them to better appreciate them. I have a painting from a man who paints with his toes as he was born without arms and a photo too. I have learned a real appreciation for Jade after visiting a Jade carving workshop and have a piece in mind that I saw last trip but failed to buy and hope it is still there this fall when I go. I took a photo of it but I didn’t pay attention to what I always tell clients. “If you like it; buy it because you may not see it elsewhere in China”. For more hints on shopping, please contact me through my web site at www.interlakechinatours.com Tours to China is my business but China history and culture are my passion.