My phone light was blinking red and nearly dead as I showed the proprietors of the Pashmina scarves and knockoff bags an address in Chinese characters on my phone. After three of them motioned "down" with their hands, we headed for the basement of the giant building.
In our quest to find a nose piercing parlor, we accidentally found ourselves in a large indoor market with scarves, bags, hats and jewelry on the top floor and boots and fake nails in the basement. Kiosk after kiosk of gaudy red table cloths displayed their manicure sets in clear plastic boxes. Apparently they were bridal nail sets with 3-D appliques of gems, lace, and fake roses. Given that brides would have a full half-inch faux nail attached to their hands with flowers and lace glued on top, I feel like their hands would be rendered useless. Not to mention, they would snag on everything -- especially a wedding gown. Of course, all of the stores were showcasing how "lovely" and "beautiful" the nails would be... perhaps I should consider bringing a set back for the brides I know who are getting married this summer. No doubt they would be a cherished gift. (ha!)
After meandering through the labyrinth of nails and floor to ceiling stalls of boots, we still couldn't find a piercing shop. We showed the address to a few more people before my phone was dead for good and we were pointed to a manicure place in the corner.
Jenn and Alex began the arduous task of trying to explain what they wanted to the girls working. Noses and ears were pointed to and before long, one of the girls brought out her piercing gun and a box of earrings. I stood in the background exchanging looks with the boot seller next door -- she thought my friends were crazy and I was showing my gratitude for not being a part of the multi-lingual hot mess.
With some help from other shoppers, they finally deduced that the girls wanted to pierce their noses with a gun and large earring. After three days, the large earring could be replaced with a smaller one. Completely illogical. I don't know really anything about nose rings, but I know you wouldn't stick something for your ear into your nose and you wouldn't make a big hole and put a small earring in it.
In the end they decided it would be best to wait or find a different place. After a number of phone calls, Alex and Jenn have found out two more options to check out: a hospital or another (albeit cleaner) department store.
Once the nose rings were figured out, I was excited to explore the boot market. Though my feet are on the larger end of most Chinese (size 7), I'm well within the range of being able to shop for shoes almost wherever I please here. Shoes in China are eclectic, strange, and usually really uncomfortable looking.
A lot of sneakers or heels here have huge furry accents or are decked out in bejeweled teddy bears or have cutesy buttons and bows on them. The high heeled boots and pumps are shaped in an unnatural and unforgiving way so that you have to mangle your feet to make them fit inside and the manmade material doesn't stretch or move with you, so there's not way avoiding hobbling. Apparently that look is quite attractive here, I've seen too many girls try to pretend like they're not in pain.
I was after another pair of good, flat boots. The lady by the piercing shop had some nice ones, so I went to her first to try some on. Though my feet fit, my calves did not. The seller kept scolding me for having wool socks on (it's cold here!) and kept trying to hawk uglier, but larger, boots my way. I finally gave up and left.
About 10 stalls later, I found some gems. Knee-high, flat boots with a chain around the ankle and available in three colors. I started trying them on and quickly attracted a crowd. Jenn and Alex were off looking at different shoes, so I was the lone circus lion entertaining the audience. Interesting looks were exchanged regarding my wool socks and jeans pulled up above my knee. There were certainly some horrified looks when they saw my long scar on my lumpy knee (never have I ever received so many repulsed looks about my scar until I came here. Weird).
I decided on the camel colored boots and wanted to find the perfect size. Of course, one size fit one foot and a size larger fit the other foot (the shoes in this market were super high quality...though they were all "leather" the place had no trace of the leather smell).
I finally got my pair right. "So beautiful!" "So lovely!" Then I began negotiating the price. 275 -- way too expensive.
"Ha! No! 250."
"Tai gui le!" (too expensive) "120."
"No. 200. Final offer."
Ugh. I gave in. I liked the boots too much and they seemed to be made well-ish. Plus, they were much less expensive than a fake leather pair would run in the US.
I left with my box and sought out Alex and Jenn, in my search I ended up back at the piercing corner where the original boot lady was quick to get up in my face about the boots I bought.
She asked to see them, so I pulled them out.
"Bu hao! Bu hao! (No good, no good!) These ones are much nicer!"
She poked and prodded at the seams on my boots and reached on her shelf to a pair of very plain, brown, cheap looking boots that she assured me were the best quality. I told her I didn't like her them and that I didn't have any more money. She asked how much I spent on my boots, I told her 150 (even when you think you got a good deal in China, you inevitably feel like you got ripped off).
"150?! For these? Oh please... bu hao!"
I told her I'd come back another day to look at her awesome, high quality shoes and waved her goodbye. She amicably slapped me on the back when I walked away.
The day wasn't an overall failure. Though noses remained unpierced, I got some great boots and my friends got some good hats at the strange and incredible indoor market.