Saturday, September 29, 2012

Commissioned 'Factory Shopping Tours' in China - My Take as Part of Hong Thai [康泰旅行社] 8D Beijing/Tianjin/Chengde Tour Package

As far as the country China is concerned, factory shopping is a definite add-on for any tour package unless you prefer to pay a much higher price (per person).

The travel agent in Singapore had actually notified me that there would be roughly four of such agent-commissioned 'shopping' tours and i was expecting to visit a few in my recent trip to Beijing.

A 'better' deal was given though; i counted no less than six and a few other 'pleasant' surprises that should otherwise be counted as time wasting visits for you to spend more Renminbi (RMB) [5 RMB is roughly equivalent to S$1].

Do read below for the list i compiled, from this tour package purchased from Hong Thai Travel Agency.

Jade Products (玉器)
Chinese craftwork is prevalent in many jade products and as usual, the assigned employee would run through with you the history of jade, the making and especially on its purported health benefits. After which, you would be brought to a huge showroom for you to make your purchases.

Tong Ren Tang (同仁堂)
Once again, a supposedly senior professor of Chinese medicine would tell you the advantages of taking Chinese medicine to prevent any health ailment. To enhance the experience, a few physicians were on duty to take your pulse and advise you on the Chinese prescription you need.

All the required medications are available in their main medicinal hall. That's how convenient it was! Just be prepared to have cash or credit card in your wallet.

Bao Shu Tang (宝树堂)
We were pleased to pay this a visit. Like Tong Ren Tang, Bao Shu Tang was famous for some of its herbal products, specifically Bao Fu Ling, a marvel cream to be used on the skin (we bought 4 bottles on behalf of friends and relatives).

A salesperson was on hand to promote some of its notable products and it wasn't hard to see that she was concentrating on this particular mineral rich stone that was made into mugs, combs etc; items that you would use on a daily basis.

Silk (丝绸) Products 
Having travelled to mainland China as a member of a tour package three times, i have listened to the same story on how silk came about.

As many of us in the tour had been to China countless times, no one was buying despite the irritating hard selling by many of the sales people. Sales must be bad as the final price for a silk quilt, cover and two pillow cases, originally quoted at 3800 RMB, was eventually reduced to 1200 RMB!

No wonder there was a newspaper article a while ago featuring Singaporeans as one of the most gullible country-specific visitors in China.

Jade and Pearl Shop
The first promoter shared some interesting information on pearls (like a freshwater oyster can produce over 20 pearls etc) while the second one would enlighten us on jade. 

However, it was the son of the big boss who would eventually turn up; on the excuse that all the jade experts were busy sharing their expertise (we didn't see many people along the long hallway by the way).

An old school sales tactic to make you feel important and the second one i experienced in China (the first was in Hunan when the wife of the boss came to 'help' out). 

Always keep in mind that as the son or wife of the boss, massive discounts were in place to entice you to buy a piece or two at still astronomical prices.

Tea Products
My family loves to drink tea although i wasn't that keen to spend 500 RMB for a cake of pu-er tea. Eventually, the bargaining bitch in me managed to secure three types of tea that initially cost over 1500 RMB for only 600 RMB.

Frankly, i could have bargained for a lower price if not for our poor tour mates who were waiting for us in the bus to complete our purchase!

The above were the official 'shopping tours' listed on the itinerary, except for Bao Shu Tang. Following are others that should have made the list, regardless of whether the tour guide is getting commission or not.

I was deliberating whether to include this as it was fun picking dates (limited to twenty) fresh from the trees and this was included in our packed itinerary.

'Shopping' was obvious when you can buy other fruits, including dried dates, for a seemingly higher local price right outside the farm even though they were still significantly lower than Singapore prices.

Free Foot Massage
That's what i read from the itinerary! And free it was even though the tour guide did mention that we could give 20 RMB (roughly S$4) to our masseur if we are happy with his/her service.

But it didn't take long for the masseurs to comment that the base of my feet was too thick and recommend i take up a 10-minute scrapping service that cost 60 RMB. From what i heard, the whole group had the same thick calluses on their feet! Such a coincidence!

To top it all, one of the tour members passed only 10 RMB to her masseur and was immediately retorted that the minimum is 20 RMB. So was 20 RMB a tip or was it not?

Deer Antler / Drum Crystal Products
This was in Chengde and we were 'helpfully advised' (you can't blame me for my skepticism) by the local agent that the antlers (鹿茸), used for traditional Chinese medicine, were fresh as it was the right season and that the salesperson would likely give us a high price (duhz) for the drum crystal and you should settle it at a specified amount with a free necklace thrown in. 

Mum bought the drum crystal, which was honestly, quite pretty. The antlers? No way! 

Pi Xiu (貔貅)
Given the ancient outlook, i was expecting a deluge of historical facts and information about this tower. In the beginning, it indeed was until the narrator started to delve more and more about fengshui and the importance of this mystical Chinese animal (known as pi xiu) that supposedly has the powers to ward off evil. 

My parents bought a few when they were in Taiwan and we were absolutely not interested to listen further! Time could be better spent taking pictures outside the gallery! 

Temple Praying
Despite being Buddhist, i am not really religious and solely believe that you reap what you sow and retribution is definite whenever you perform a bad deed. But what i take issue is when unscrupulous people take advantage of religion for profit making purposes. 

The tour guide highlighted an event organised every 600 years that was held outside Tibet for the very first time in Chengde and that the high priest from Tibet (obviously) blessed some prayer beads so that worshippers can purchase for the repair of the Mini Potala palace in Chengde. 

We were asked to pray to the nine Buddha statues in a room and make a nominal donation. For donation above 300 RMB, you would get a bracelet of blessed prayer beads and immense blessings for your family! 

From my calculation, the high priest must have blessed quite a few thousands of these prayer beads! I would share more bullocks in another blog posting

Local Food Street
We were brought to a street alright; albeit a street that was alike to the air conditioned streets in Bugis Junction. 

That would not be too bad if not for the local Tianjin guide who pulled us directly into one shop to make our local food stuff purchases!

Add in a grouchy looking salesperson who made no effort to smile or answer our questions and you would have a group who was simply put, not that eager to buy more! 

I was going to explore the rest of the street to make happier purchases when the guide told us we have to leave. Time spent in the local food street? 

Less than 10 minutes! 


  1. Commissioned sales are normal for tour packages. I just hope that if no one buy, the tour guide will not show a black face.

  2. i agree it is normal but this is way too excessive!

    He did not show a black face; just generally moody and do small little actions that caused loads of unhappiness and frustration.

  3. How were your SA Tour China packages? How much "shopping" did you do? I'm considering their Yunnan tour.

    1. Oh! i totally enjoyed the Yunnan tour package i signed up with SA Tours! I remembered the tour guide is called Xiao Mao and he was easily one of the best guides i ever have!

      There were some shopping visits like jade, tea, silk, silver and chlorella and i have to admit the silver factory we were brought to has really good quality silver!

      Having said that, it's best to check with the tour agency on the number of shopping trips; some agencies are even kind enough to indicate such "trips" in their itineraries!

    2. Omg, that's still quite a bit of shopping!
      I hope the other people in my tour group love those kind of stuff!
      Thanks! I shall read your Yunnan entries in detail. (Though I think Yunnan has become far more touristy by now.)

    3. Hahaha, i think it is inevitable in China and some places in Asia; however, i understand that there was this travel agency that offered itineraries with no commissioned shopping! Cannot quite remember which one it is though....

      By the way, i am afraid i didn't blog much on Yunnan even though it was the best out of the three trips i made to mainland China! Oh no, sure hope it is not as touristy as the rest of the middle kingdom! I am thinking of revisiting in the near future!! :(

  4. Hahaha, and retiring there in the far future!
    If I ever do decide to blog about it I'll let you know.
    (But you must know, my blog has not been updated in the past decade or something.)

    1. Time to start updating! It can be quite fun reading what you read a few years down the road. In my case, it was an enjoyment to see how horrendous my english was (it's not perfect now but better than before)! Hahahaha


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