5 THINGS TO SHOP FOR IN ASIA
Asian tourists often fly to the United States to visit our outlet shopping malls and buy the kinds of luxury items that we don’t want. I like to fly to Asia and buy the kind of stuff they don’t want.
Here’s five things I’m always on the hunt for:
Asia is a fast-changing place and the fashion (and often flimsy materials) reflects this. Each season, shoppers are out chasing the latest trends and designs. Unlike in the west, vintage, second-hand, clothing and accessories have not yet come around in Asia. Without the demand for these old treasures, there are many great finds waiting on dusty shelves throughout the continent.
Without much effort or money, I have purchased over a dozen unique pairs of eyeglasses in the little shops of Asian cities. Generally, the more modern, upscale eyeglass shops will only offer newer, more expensive frames. Avoid these if you’re looking for something unique. Also, avoid the shopping malls and plazas. Hit the older backstreets and find the dirty old ‘mom and pop’ eye stores for cool vintage frames.
I find that you can bargain down the price about 30%. Name your price, then stick to it with a smile. This may result in you walking out of the store empty handed; but, of course, you can always go back the next day. Most likely, those frames have been sitting there for months or years, anyway. I’ve paid anywhere from $4 (Burma) to $50 (Taiwan) for a well-built pair that I like. In California, I’d be paying at least six times this price.
So far, my best purchases have been in Yangon, Burma (just west of the Sule Pagoda, on the sidewalks of Maha Bandoola Street), Georgetown, Malaysia and Bukittingi, Indonesia- seems the whole downtown streets and markets of Bukit are gold mines for vintage frames.
While you’re here, you can also get lenses put into the frames for a fraction of the cost back home (with no prescription from a doctor needed).
I need my ions on Sunday morning. I don’t know what they are or what they do, but I need them apparently. Pocari is the favorite sports drink of Asia. No fluorescent color, no running man on the bottle making me feel lazy, and no ridiculous performance claims. Apparently, Pocari has something called ‘stevia’ in it, which seems appropriate for me.
The scarf: romantic, noticeable, unique, and glamorous. Additionally, easy to pack and carry and inexpensive to mail abroad.
Scarves make great gifts. Unlike clothing, which really no longer reflect the place they’ve been made, scarves tend to retain and reflect the geographic character from which they come from. I’ve found great silk scarves in China, lovely printed scarves in Indonesia, colorful ones from Vietnam and intricate and elegant bands from Japan.
Generally, you can bargain hard for these and buy them cheaper the more you walk away with. At fabric markets, you can also buy material by the yard and have the scarves cut up to the size and shape of your liking by a nearby tailor.
Be prepared, picky and patient; or be ready for disappointment. In addition to clothes, I’ve had an amazing pair of handmade boots from Bangkok that are still bangin. I’ve found Thailand to be great for leather goods and Vietnam to be good for clothing (but beware in Hoi An).
All of those medicines you need to see the doctor for back home; you can get over-the-counter here (with the exception of China, Korea and Japan). Even modern places like Taipei and Hong Kong have very accessible counters. Fake medicine does not seem to be a problem as long as you ask around for the most reliable pharmacy in town. Most pharmacies will stock familiar Western-made medicines + a cheaper, locally made alternative.
Be cautious when crossing borders with drugs bought over-the-counter. The US has strict rules for everything, and this includes laws against bringing prescription medications across its borders (Rush Limbaugh and Big Boi have both embarrassingly been caught with Viagra). If you do bring Asian-bought medications back with you, be sure to put them in your prescription bottle from your home doctor. Otherwise, it’s not worth it. Countries such as South Korea and Japan also have rules against bringing over-the-counter drugs across its borders. Be particularly cautious flying into Dubai, Malaysia, Singapore and the US.