Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"When in doubt, go shopping!"

Post by: Beth

Luckily for me, no matter where we go in our new city, there’s one thing we are guaranteed to see: shops. And just as most activities in India boast a huge range, so do the shops here. Literally every street here is flanked on both sides by shops ranging from tiny to massive; dark, cramped spaces to sprawling, brightly-lit retailers. If you need it, chances are a number of these varying shops have it, and the only trick is discerning which shops sell what. Many of the store-front names are scrawled in Hindi, but some do boast the larger-than-life English fonts that I’m used to from home. On any given street, you can find a miniscule hole-in-the-wall store selling leather goods for prices unfathomably cheap compared to U.S. prices, multiple boutiques displaying towering high heels and shiny handbags, stalls brimming with elaborate hand-sewn silk bedcovers and curtains, and a tiny shop selling pre-paid cell phone minutes for a small token. They even have tiny copy shops on the streets, which is really just a window with store clerks hurriedly copying customers’ projects on 1 huge machine… It’s a far cry from FedEX/Kinkos, for sure.

The vendors manning most of the smaller street stores and stalls generally don’t list prices on any items for sale. Raja and I had read of this odd set-up before moving here, and understood beforehand that we would be prime targets for severe price gouging… carried out with a “trustworthy” smile, of course. Sure enough, it only took a couple of days before we were treated to the extortion practices by our new neighbors. I’d seen pictures of a particular street in Bandra known as “Linking Road,” and was excited to see it in real life. It features stall after stall of clothing and shoes, each booth brimming with goods and teeming with potential customers after a bargain. It’s loud, crowded, chaotic, and completely disorderly. I start off tentatively… picking up one sandal and carefully inspecting it, turning it over in my hands and looking closely to see if it’s going to fall apart as soon as I put it on my foot. My timid demeanor didn’t stand a chance in this frenzied environment, as the stall vendors began flocking to my sides, associating my blond hair and blue eyes with a rare chance to overcharge to the point of ridiculousness without being questioned. They had no idea who they would be dealing with when it came to an actual transaction… I quickly came to realize this when Raja hissed in my ear “If you see something you like, don’t tell them… tell me.” The challenge was on, and he stood back and observed sales being made between regular customers and the merchants. Since the majority of the sales were taking place in Hindi, I had no idea what was being said, but Raja apparently listened closely to gauge a fair price point. It wasn’t long before I found a sandal I liked, so I elbowed Raja and held it up for inspection. He grabbed said shoe and waved it around in the air, asking in Hindi, “How much??” I found out later that the initial asking price was 7 times more than what the regular customers were paying, and of course Raja was having none of it. Four minutes of animated quarreling ensued, and we finally walked away with my sandals, paying only 25 rupees (50 cents) more than the majority of sales being made between long-time residents and the shopkeepers. Definitely an experience…

After the stall-shopping on Linking Road, the malls here come as a welcome change of pace. There are actually prices listed on the items, and each customer seems to pay the same amount regardless of skin color, accent, or status. The malls are splendid in their appearance, and such a change from the streets of India. The shopping centers are huge, shiny, incredibly clean, and some are even nicer than what you commonly find in the States. It’s a remarkable contrast to the dusty roads you travel to get to these malls, and it’s another experience where it’s actually possible to forget you’re in a place as different as India.

Whether it’s “American-style Chips” we’re after, bargain sandals, or a handbag that’s just unusual enough to be fun, here’s obviously no shortage of shopping available here in Bombay!

Here's an example of some of the stalls on Linking Road:

This photo is sort of dark, but if you look closely, you can see that there are hundreds of pairs of sandals hanging in each stall.

Handbags... I haven't yet looked at the handbags in these stalls, so not sure as to if I'd like many of them, but they're pretty abundant so I'm sure I'll take a look at some point. You can see the tiny ballet slippers hanging up here, and just below, the sandals that line the stalls. Each stall has 3 sides that are covered in shoes, and of course the 4th side is the opening, so you just step up and look at all of the shoes. They put a small nail just in the bottom of each sole and hang that nail on a metal grid that serves as the wall.

These clothing stalls go on for blocks and blocks. It's amazing to me, but there are ALWAYS plenty of people at every single stall, even in the middle of the day. At night, these stalls are ridiculously crowded, so much so that it's even difficult to walk up close enough to see the items, so you have to jump in when there's an opening.
And in complete contrast, the pictures below show some of the shopping malls in Bombay. They're always spotlessly clean, and the store attendants are so happy to try to help you find what you're looking for.
This is an outdoor mall called "High Phoenix Mills"... It's about 15-20 minutes away from our home on a day when traffic isn't too heavy.
Many of the malls have 5-6 levels, and are impossible to cover in a day.


Jenny said...

Wow looks like my idea of paradise! The malls...not the stalls. I'm so glad Raja speaks the language. Sounds like you're both enjoying yourselves. I'm loving the blogs so keep them coming!

Wishful Thinking said...

I'm not one for shopping, but those malls do look fab!

Rhonda Walker said...

Goodness it's as though you have died and gone to heaven. Shoppers heaven that is. Hope you have a good day. I love ya!

The Freeman Family said...

5-6 levels conquered in a day. Sounds like a challenge to me. You can do it!

Big Cuz said...

Okay... everyone else seems to be very interested in the mall but I am more interested in the stalls!! Is that weird? I want something from one of them! It sorta reminds me of the "stalls" we shopped at in Cozumel with jody, corey and erin. We got Alex an outfit there and erin got some earrings... we bartered with the guys there and got "good deals" (although I dont know if any deal is as good as the deal that jody got on the amoxicillin at some random shop OTC!!! as he walked back to the ship) Anyway I really think that those stalls look awesome and fun to shop at!