I’m Enormous, except at The Gap
I love shopping (see Bargaining post). I also love that China and Chengdu in particular, seem to have no shortage of mega-mega-shopping areas. It would seem that the Chinese also love their shopping, with the nearby New Century Global Center, the stones-throw-away Chunxi Street, and my new favorite mall at Raffles City and our very own Galleria.
I have also found that I’m not quite able to find clothes that fit me here because apparently, I am an enormous American. Not “I guess I have to buy the Med/Large rather than the Small/Medium”. Oh, no. It’s more “All the Chinese women giggle when I realize I don’t fit into anything in their stores”.
The first blow to my self-esteem happened in Beijing.
Walking along a particularly scenic area at Houhai Lake, we stumbled onto the Houhai market street, an intricate network of skinny streets stuffed with cute shops selling everything from leather goods to gorgeous tea sets. I saw a very pretty silk dress in a store for 149RMB ($25USD) and decided I’d like to perhaps try it on. The dress on the rack looks small. I pick it up and it’s labeled as a Large. It’s tiny. Like Teeny teeny teeny tiny. Like I-couldn’t-fit-this-over-one-leg kind of tiny. I ask the woman working there for a larger size (I do this only in gestures, as I’m worthless at speaking Mandarin-see #1 here). She progressively gets larger and larger sizes, ending up with the XXXL. It’s not big enough. Devastating. The Extra Extra Extra Large is still too small. Ugh.
So I wait a few weeks for my esteem to heal and get bored one day after work in Chengdu. I walk by myself over to the Chunxi Road district – knowing that there are some familiar brands and hopeful I can find something at an H&M or other similar store. In one store, I get onto a packed elevator with (I counted) 9 other adults- 4 men and 5 women. In my 2-inch boot heels, I stand a towering 5’6″ tall, and I am the tallest in the elevator. A blonde, American giant was clothes-hunting on Chunxi.
When in China, you do as the Chinese do, and I’ve noticed that the itty-bitty skirt+leggings+boots is THE look for any woman aged 15-30 years here, so that’s what I begin looking for – you know, so I can blend in.
On Chunxi Road that day, I score some leggings and a hot peach miniskirt (sized medium!!) in The Gap, and I’m grateful that the prices are as reasonable as they are in the US. Now, to complete my look it’s time to add a pair of comfy black shoes to the checklist.
Shoe shopping is a different type of problem in China. There are loads of shoe stores, most of which you’ve never heard of, but the sizing is entirely based on from which country the shoes were imported. So my size 9 feet are also a ~39.5/40 in EU sizes, a 6 in British sizes
I ask a woman for a pair of boots in a size “si shi” or 40, to which she giggles and gets the point across that they definitely do not carry a 40. She brings out the largest size – a 39 – and I try them on. They are a smidge too small. They fit, sorta, but I’d be angry within 5 minutes of wearing these suckers. So I pass.
Somehow, somehow, I convince Bruce to go out shopping with me the next day.
We head for the reliable and comfy Clarks store- after getting over the initial sticker shock that these are 2x to 3x more expensive over here than they are in the US (I assume most of this is due to import taxes), I swallow my hesitation, find some classy looking boots and ask for my size – this is easy in Mandarin – I just say “Liu” like “Leeu”. I supplement my single word of Mandarin with hand gestures and saying “da” which means “big”.
The man comes back from the stock room empty handed. But he gives me the impression that he wants me to wait and he’ll go bring out what he actually has for my giant feet. Out he comes with the latest in a fashion rewind – boots that look straight out of the 90’s Grunge era. Just one pair. Not my style. I politely smile, Bruce says “Wo bu xi huan” and we’re outta there.
Bruce and I walk around TWO MALLS for FIVE HOURS searching for any pair of shoes that will fit my Hobbit feet.
Finally, fuzzy-boot success is found at a place where the shoes apparently run a little larger than normal. I nearly cry with joy. I have one shoe store in China! And at a modest 199RMB ($35USD), my wallet, my feet, and my husband are thankfully done with the epic shopping day.