Adventures in Xujahui, Shanghai Part 1

Category: Techtoday

As a penniless fan of computers and electronics, I've spent countless hours just walking around in places like BestBuy and Future Shop (Canada). As nice as Newegg, Fry's, and Amazon are for browsing products online, there's nothing like touching and smelling the silicon, plastic, and metal parts of newly unpackaged products. You can't accuse me of "showrooming"  though since I buy online only twice a year (hey, that's why i said 'penniless'). I've also traversed flea market electronic malls such as Manila's Greenhills, Singapore's Sim Lim Square, and Bangkok's Petchaburi road. So, it was with utter confidence that I once again visited Shanghai's electronics and computer mecca, Xujiahui.

I've been to Xujahui's digital paradise a few times before but not solely to walk around and window shop. It was a Sunday and I wanted to relax amongst boxed digital devices. I came prepared for the inevitable assault of salespeople. I brought my iPod Touch so I had an excuse for not hearing their loud calls to visit their storefront and I dressed like I had no money (which is true enough anyway). Unfortunately, I had to wear my glasses to see their products better, which generally trigger "geek" alarms. I also wore a baseball cap to hide my utter surprise at the price and availability of products - probably a mistake since wearing a cap screams "foreigner" since no one wears a baseball cap in China (other than the occasional Shanghai hip hop fan).  

Entrance to the Lion's Den

Once you alight on to the Line 1 Xujiahui station platform, understand that you are already Indiana Jones at the entrance of a Peruvian temple - choose your exit carefully or you'll have a pack of Hovitos . . . ahem, salespeople on your tail the moment you get off the escalator.

You have two choices: enter through the building entrance or climb any escalator directly into either Metro City or Pacific Digital Plaza. If you want to enter the traditional way (from the front of the building), use any of the exits that lead you to any one of the three other malls. If you find yourself in a department store, just get to the door and make your way to the Metro City or Pacific Digital building (you really can't miss it because the first looks like the Death Star while the other has Lenovo or Nikon posters all over it). If you're ready to start your electronics adventure from the train station, take exit 10 and hang a left to an escalator.

Pacific Digital Plaza and Windows 8

I took the escalator to Pacific Digital Plaza and immediately came across dozens of stalls which should be familiar to anyone who has ever been to an Asian electronics market. The square glass displays, the young and/or bespectacled storekeeps, the mish-mash of parts and boxed electronics products and the loud signs screaming Lenovo, Acer, ASUS, Philips, Nikon, Canon, Panasonic, Samsung, Toshiba, Apple and Sony are all there. If you've ever wondered where the majority of the Shanghai population are, it's here at Pacific Digital Plaza behind the counter or in front of their store.

I was already prepared to tell the overeager sales people a product I knew they wouldn't have just in case I needed them to get off my back: a Lacie 2big 2-Bay Raid NAS or a Synology Disk Station (which is actually available in 360Buy but was a backup option anyway). You can also quote most high-end HP or Dell products. Both companies surprisingly didn't have much presence in Xujiahui though there is an Alienware store in Metro City and the odd HP printer.

A young lady gave me a flier and immediately asked me what I wanted in Mandarin. In fact, when people start calling out to you, they're actually asking what you're looking for. I walked around, checking out portable hard drive prices and available Dr. Dre Beats headphones. I avoided the smartphone areas and tried not to look at the sleek new Thinkpads, ASUS Transformers, and hybrid Acer laptops. Soon, an old lady started plucking my sleeve to get me to enter her store and even a guy on lunch break asked me on the elevator what I wanted to buy (he was carrying his food but his store ID was hanging around his neck). I was soon flustered by the many shouts and prods and took out my iPod just to avoid eye contact (when in reality I was just switching from BBC podcasts to Louie Armstrong).

There is no argument that China loves Apple and despite the multitude of brands in Pacific Digital, you will see a second-hand iPad or iPod Touch propped on one side and boxes of Apple accessories on the other. Almost all of the stores also offer iTunes "services" for apps and mods. You can get great Apple accessories here and there are tons of options, too. Of course, I would still recommend the nice Apple Store in Pudong or Nanjing Road for purchasing an Apple product unless you're looking for something "unofficial."

After five floors of dizzying stalls and a scant 25 minutes, I headed to the ground floor where the OEM and brand stalls were located.

Windows 8 products were out in full force and I looked enviously at the new Lenovo and Samsung machines on display. The place was crowded with uniformed staff and curious buyers, so I couldn't get close enough to take a peek at the demonstrations. Moreover, touching any of the unattended devices meant a come on to any available staff - it was like flies on dung. I did get a peek though. The Lenovo Ideapad Yoga looked gorgeous and the Acer Aspire S7 looked fantastic. I had been working on Windows 8 for the last few months but seeing the OS on machines like the Acer Iconia W7, ASUS Zenbook, and Samsung Series 9 Ultrabook was enough to make me want to chuck out my 2-year old laptop and float a loan. I really didn't expect much fanfare for Windows 8 (it's still too early), but believe me when I tell you that if you see them on display, it's a totally different experience from running it on VirtualBox or on your old laptop.

Before I left using the building entrance, a tanned, bearded guy from California (you could tell) walked in with a hesitant look on his face. He made a sign language with his hands, imitating the motion of taking a picture with a camera. Instantly, the clueless tourist was inundated with half a dozen sales staff ready to rip his dollars from his Levi's. Mao would be so proud.

Adventures in Xujahui, Shanghai Part 2: Metro City and Kpop stars


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