Amsterdam Shopping-Boutiques and Books and Vinyl, oh my!

Amsterdam is filled with quaint specialty boutiques in all the alleys and cobblestone streets…a shoppers paradise!  We love to wander in and out and soak up the quirkiness of it all.  So different from the grand, oversized stores in the US, these teeny tiny storefronts are hardly over 100-200 sq. feet–a closet really-but a closet filled with very specialized and focused wares to tempt and delight shoppers. From bead shops to teeth shops to bow ties, they have it all for you in Amsterdam.

The “all things teeth” shop featured every kind of toothbrush, floss, etc. you could imagine with a ferris wheel display in the window.   How cool is that???  Next door, a gorgeous house cat calmly watched over the huge assortment of bow ties in every color and pattern, all tied up and ready to be worn.

Boutiques specialize-bow ties, of course, with a house cat guarding at the shop.
Boutiques specialize-bow ties, of course, with a house cat guarding at the shop.
Toothbrush boutique with a ferris wheel in the window to showcase the goods.
Toothbrush boutique with a ferris wheel in the window to showcase the goods.

Moving on to the Toms Store, which was slightly larger and featured a coffee bar as well, I saw a few items for my Christmas list and Thom’s.  We love their shoes and can feel good buying from them as they give a pair of shoes for every one that is bought.  Great story if you haven’t already read the book that the Toms creator has written about his idea to give back and still run a successful retail business.  Wouldn’t it be great if everyone did this?

American Bookstore had multiple floors and an author signing going on when we visited
American Bookstore had multiple floors and an author signing going on when we visited
Toms...love them and their retail concept.  Give back and provide quality goods.  Sold!
Toms…love them and their retail concept. Give back and provide quality goods. Sold!

Along with the many boutiques, I have never seen so many bookstores–little and big ones–some Dutch only and others, like the American Bookstore, featuring English titles.  Rarely have I seen such an immense and impressive collection of books other than perhaps the Strand in NYC.  Multiple levels with deep stock in each topic, we were lucky enough to happen upon (as we always seem to do) an author event with a writer by the name of Charles Stross, a British writer of science fiction, Lovecraftian (?) horror and fantasy.  He was very articulate and funny–hoping he swings by Elliot Bay Books in Seattle soon!  Alas, the luggage will not accommodate one more item so no books were bought unfortunately.

Books galore at the American Bookstore!
Books galore at the American Bookstore!

Today we visited the vinyl stores in our neighborhood of Jordaan.  There are many in Amsterdam-such a variety that a local magazine had a double spread article detailing the music havens where you can buy vinyl, new and used for $3 to $40 euros.  Quite the large assortment to pick from at places like Second Life Music across from our hotel and VelvetMusic and InDeep’n’Dance both on Rozengracht.  It hurt to watch Thom thumb through the vast crates of music and know he couldn’t buy any to bring home.  Oh well-he has quite collection already so he will live. Harsh but true!

Just make sure you leave enough room in your luggage when you come to Amsterdam so that you can buy some cool jazz or soul vinyl or a stack of books to bring back with you.  Of course, if you are needing a unique toothbrush or bow tie, that doesn’t take up quite as much room so shop away I say!  There is something for everyone here in Amsterdam.

Bargaining Should Be An Olympic Sport

Today we ventured out to the AP “fake” market in Shanghai under the #2 subway line in Pudong.  We have been there many times to buy pearls, sports jerseys, Rolex watches, LV bags, etc.  I see bargaining for the lowest possible price as a sport.  I just wish it was an Olympic sport because I would totally own a Gold Medal.

Our mission was hunting for stylish yet waterproof rain boots for me.  With my commute of 1.3 miles each way to/from work and no taxis in sight when it rains, I am tired of stepping in the lakes that form quickly in the streets resulting from the city planners–shocker ahead–obviously not realizing that it rains heavily in Shanghai many months of the year. Where the hell did they imagine all that water was going to go???

Thom checking out local shirts to get custom made at the AP market
Thom checking out local shirts to get custom made at the AP market

Anyway, we went straight to our “shoe lady” who has sold us many a Converse-like shoe in the past.  She gives us the local price not the laowai inflated price and she has a nice smile.  Today, James found some nice leather sneaks but, after trying on hideous Croc-like rubber boats to keep my feet dry, we had to keep looking.  The popular Hunter boots were everywhere but I’ve had those (Hannah now looks splendid in them) and they’re just too hot and heavy for Shanghai.  Unfortunately, nothing else really else presented itself except a leopard plastic boot that I just couldn’t bring myself to like.  So, after heavy negotiating I got a short version of the Hunter mock lizard which will make my feet sweat like a bitch but perhaps will be waterproof–with the fakes, you never know what quality you’re getting until you wear/wash them.  They may last and they may not.  I told the guy I lived in Shanghai and would be back in his face if my feet got wet wearing his boots that I got for 160RMB.   He just smiled and waved goodbye.  He has no idea what’s in his future if my feet aren’t happy in the next monsoon.  Watch out mister!

Hunter rain boots and turquoise necklace-my bargains from AP market
Hunter rain boots and turquoise necklace-my bargains from AP market

Since my birthday was this past week and I ended up sick instead of celebrating, I decided to treat myself and give Sarah’s Pearls a visit because I just know they miss my bargaining like a mule which makes Thom cringe.  After seeing a long turquoise(like) and silver necklace, I knew it would look super with a simple black dress so into the lovely sequin bag it went for only 100 RMB–she started at 280 RMB.  Like a mule I am!

After negotiating for a brightly patterned pillow cover–I do have a serious pillow fetish for our boring beige couches–we started looking at custom made trench coats to accompany my new rain boots.  I’ll have to do some research on styles but I shopped for pricing and found I could get one for about 600 RMB (down from 2400) custom made in a few days.  SOLD!  Can’t wait to go back and order when my friend Patti visits.  I’m sure she’ll want some custom clothes too and I can get a better deal if we buy multiple items.  I truly do deserve a Gold Medal in bargaining because I save so much money that I can just keep on shopping, shopping, shopping!

Doc Martens, pink fur & plaid-Shanghainista Style!

Never having been to China before I moved here four months ago, I couldn’t have imagined the super trendy Shanghainista scene I have found here…from the coolest shoes (including lots of handmade shoe stores) to fur galore to an obsession with lace/plaid hipster outfits, I am loving all the diversity, even if I can’t pull off wearing every trend I see or agree with where it originated.

Let’s start with the touchy subject of fur-yes, it’s real here and no, you can’t tell from WP_20131228_032WP_20131228_009WP_20131228_010

what animal it came from but probably most are outlawed in the U.S.  From regular brown tones to the wild and crazy pink, purple and you name it, you can find it because the fur is flying everywhere inWP_20131229_042WP_20140103_001 Shanghai.  Once upon a time, I had a full length fur coat because it was the “thing” to wear in NYC and I spent a whole month’s salary to buy one to look cool.  It weighed a ton and smelled nasty when it got wet but I felt like a million bucks wearing it and thankfully never got paint thrown on me by a protestor.  I would never wear one now but I can relate to the status of it (very big here in China) and the warmth of it as well.  You can even buy fur pelts right on the street—name your price, guess your species.  Again, not my cup of tea but it is very common in China to see these street pelt vendors, especially in Beijing.

The scope of fashionable shoes here does surprise me because most people have hefty commutes with lots of walking.  Believe me, there is a reason that foot massages are part of every day life here.  After you walk a mile in stiletto’s, your tootsies are crying out to be rubbed for an hour or so with hot oil.  Looking good here takes precedent over comfort (not for me, of course, but for fashionable people-I keep my heels at the office and wear ugly “pillows of heaven” Uggs for the commute).  Besides the high heels, though, Doc Martens are featured everywhere right now in fabulous bright colors and patterns.  WP_20131223_040I’m tempted to buy a pair to make a statement ANDWP_20131223_033 still be able to walk miles on the streets of Shanghai, as Thom and I love to do on the weekends.  Yes, I’m probably too old to wear them but who cares!  I’m imagining some thick soled, neon patterned or polka dot suckers worn with black tights (yes, going to the gym is paramount to this look) and a black skirt with a bright wool jacket…also needing to be purchased.  The coats here are adorable but not necessarily warm so I haven’t found the right one yet but I will keep on looking.

Then, there is the whole plaid/lace fashionista thing going on with whole stores devoted to this type of outfit.  Let’s face it, you have to be petite and below a size 4 to pull this type of look off and look adorable.  WP_20131223_028WP_20131223_027Thus, the reason you don’t see these stores in the U.S. where the average size is a 12 not a 4.  I find here that I am no longer a size 6/small but have graduated to a size 10/medium if I’m lucky and that’s at a nicer European store like Zara….again, another reason to make you want to go to the gym and stay there for awhile.  That being said, I could never pull off the plaid/lace look but I do appreciate all the styling that goes into it with multiple layers, jewelry, boots, tights, hats, etc.   It’s not easy to be a fashionista and when I see a great outfit styling, I appreciate all the work that went into completing the image.  Who knows—maybe I’ll have to crank up my shopping and styling to keep up with the Shanghainistas but I draw the line at pink fur!

Shanghai Sassy & Stubborn as a Mule

“You stubborn as a mule, Lady!” Really??? My husband later called the stall vendor a shaman for knowing me so well after a short, tough negotiation session for a jade Buddha I wanted. After the mule reference, he turned flirty and called me his girlfriend and told James that he was lucky to have me as his Mom. Then, talking man to man with Thom, he shook his head and said, “You get to go home with her!” and I’m not sure if he was saying that in a good way or a bad way but I think he respected my sassy and firm style of negotiating.  In all fairness to my new friend, many of my ex-bosses have called me stubborn as a bulldog but, again, I always took that in a positive way, probably because a bulldog is cuter than a mule or that could just be me rationalizing but I digress.

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Our Sunday was spent wandering Dongtai Antique Market (or Diagon Alley which is what it looked like to me–I expected to see a wand store at any time), I bargained hard for lots of cool treasures. Thom wanted a large and extremely heavy stone horse statue to celebrate the Year of the Horse coming up in 2014–got it for 150RMB (starting price I think was around 800RMB).   Thom had a moment of panic when we got home and he wiped the grime off the horse and it changed colors…oops!  It changed back when it dried but Thom is now threatening to put it out on the balcony so it can accumulate smog dirtiness and restore it’s antique luster.

James had a hankering for dragons (probably because we just watched The Hobbit Desolation of Smaug at home on DVD and, yes, it is still in the U.S. theaters) so I negotiated for him and got an intricate dragon statue and a dragon pocket watch as well as some beads and figurines for his friends back home. I also started our Beijing Opera mask collection with the goal to get several and hang on our wall.   They are so colorful and full of emotion.  So many treasures, so little time!

In between shopping, we enjoyed a vendor serenading us and watched some serious mah jong being played. Ahhhhhh….Sunday in Shanghai is a treat for the senses.

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Christmas Eve at the Mall, Shanghai Style

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Crazy ass Santa’s running amok in the Mall–Christmas Eve, Shanghai Style! They need to eat some serious carbs to keep those pants up–skinny does not play well with Mrs. Claus, though she was nowhere in sight at Grand Gateway Mall this afternoon when we were doing a little last minute shopping.  The crew of Santa’s were having a good time but were told to “spread out” by their handler when they started to overwhelm the wee ones.

In addition, there were a slew of other crazy holiday characters causing multiple kids to cry in fear and run screaming into the nearest store to take cover. One dancing tree is cool but a whole forest can be intimidating even to adults. WP_20131224_012

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And don’t get me started on the girls wearing cakes for skirts–they epitomized the megabling of a Chinese Christmas. One guy said to Thom, “Christmas is for foreigners, not Chinese” but everyone I saw seemed to be enjoying the shopping and the restaurant buffets all over Town. The decorations were over the top at the Mall–the more megawatts, the better! WP_20131224_006