Frea Market

Shopping in Beijing can be an exhilarating experience – if you know where to shop. Central Beijing is filled with upscale stores and shopping malls, much like those found in any big city. Shoppers who are looking for a truly unique and adventuresome experience shouldn’t miss Panjiayuan, Beijing’s famous flea market.

Panjiayuan is famous for antiques as well as arts and crafts. It’s also a good place to pick up souvenirs for the folks back home. Antique shops selling such things as furniture, ceramics and clothing, are open seven days a week. On Saturday and Sunday, Panjiayuan turns into a sea of humanity when more than 3,000 vendors set up stalls to sell everything Chinese under the sun. This is a good place to find baubles made all around China; some vendors even wear ethnic costumes, which add to the colorful nature of the market.

These stalls are generally arranged by goods sold. For example, paintings are at one end, while ceramics are in another section, and jewelry in still another. Scroll and peasant paintings, as well as old posters, are popular items. The jewelry section includes silver necklaces and belts; watches, including those with pictures of Mao Zedong on the face, and beaded and pearl necklaces. Ceramic items include pottery dishes, statues, clay teapots in unusual shapes, and small replicas of Xi’an's Terra Cotta Warriors. It’s a good idea to spend time just walking around to see what’s available, then go back later to buy things. If a person can’t find what he’s looking for at Panjiayuan, chances are very good the item hasn’t been made yet.

Buying antiques from one of the stalls can be iffy here. The Chinese are very good at making something made just five minutes ago look like it’s been around for hundreds of years. Look for a red seal; this is needed to take true antiques out of the country.

Much of the fun shopping at Panjiayuan lies in the bargaining process. Haggling is expected; shoppers should never pay the vendor’s inflated asking price. Shoppers’ first offers should be between 10 percent and 20 percent of that, and they should slowly work up from there. Try to pay no more than 50 percent of the initial price. Walk away if there’s no agreement; another vendor may be more willing to meet your price. Most vendors know enough English to bargain, but if not, they’ll use pocket calculators with Arabic numbers.

Panjiayuan is located on southeast Third Ring Road. The side street it is located on is narrow and filled with cars, bicycles and motor scooters. It’s easiest to get there by bus or subway and walk from there. Get off at Jinsong for bus Nos. 28, 34, 674 or 802. The Line 10 subway stop also is Jinsong.