This was the day we would depart Shanghai to return to Singapore. Breakfast was the usual affair, so underwhelming and not worth reporting. The good thing was we didn’t have to get up very early to have breakfast before 7 am.
Our departure flight out of Shanghai was 4.25 pm so we had plenty of time to slack during the morning. So we spent more time resting a while longer in our room watching TV. The view outside our window was so uninspiring like a war zone around us so we kept the curtains drawn for a better TV viewing experience even though the programs on TV were mostly Chinese.
After 9 am, we made our way slowly to the hotel lobby. We had already left our luggage outside our room for the porters to transfer to the bus. At the lobby, tour members mingled and chatted while Jackie was busy at front desk with check out procedures. When he was done, he came over to gather us to board the bus.
Finally, it was time to leave the hotel. It was a good day and the sky was clear and sunny this winter morning. The bus moved off once everyone had boarded and our bus driver tried to put on his best behaviour, smiled and greeted us as he had been rude and reckless at times during the past seven days and incurred a fine for driving into a no entry road in Hangzhou. The left over cigarette smell on the bus left much to be desired as well. This good behaviour was understandable as he probably hoped for some goodwill tips for providing us an extra shopping stop at the Asia Pacific Tourist Market the day before.
Before heading for the airport, we still had one last official shopping stop near the airport. We would be visiting a Jewelry Factory in Shanghai. As this factory was located nearer to the airport, that was probably why we had not gone to this place the day before where our itinerary was quite light. In about an hour, we arrived at an industrial area and soon our bus stopped and parked along the road outside a factory building.
We alighted and were led into the building. There were some shops in the main hall near the lift lobby. Other than that, the whole building looked deserted. We went into the lift and went up to the Jewelry Factory. We were then warmly welcomed into the factory showroom. The main hall was quite impressive with a wide variety of jewelry on display. No pictures were allowed and a representative ushered us into a room for sales presentation.
Chinese tea was served and a young lady addressed us and talked about pearl products. We were no stranger to pearls after an earlier presentation at Wuxi a few days back. This lady tried to be friendly and put us at ease while doing her presentation about pearls and products derived from pearls. It was more or less the same as that from Wuxi giving sales talk on pearl creams and jewelry wear as well.
A short while later, the door opened. A young man showed up and asked if she was through with her presentation. She looked nervous and nodded and left the room. So this young man took over and he took up two jade bangles from the table and looked at them without saying much. He was also rubbing the jade bangles and remained silent for a short while looking nervous.
When he finally started to talk, he asked why we were there talking very slowly. We told him this was part of our tour itinerary to visit this factory. He told us he was from Beijing and his mother who owned this factory sent him to work at the factory. He also said that he too would be very unhappy if he had to attend such sales talk during a vacation. He suggested we visit Beijing the next time and he would show us around and bring us to visit nice places for our next vacation.
However, the way that he spoke gave the impression he was a bad speaker. There were no eye contacts at all. He kept his head low looking at the jade bangles he was holding while talking and mumbling as well. He pleaded with us to bear with him and spent time with him in this room because he was working here and his mother was monitoring him. Then he began to tell us how to differentiate between good and inferior jade. The way he spoke was a real pain to listen to as he spoke intermittently and the exact opposite of the eloquence required of a sales person. It was so bad that one tour member remarked that he was speaking like a retard.
Notwithstanding, he managed to win sympathy from some tour members and some even gave him a round of applause from time to time. So we managed to help him fulfill his task of spending the minimum required time in the room for this sales talk. Of course he appeared grateful and thankful too.
Eventually, it was time to look at jewelry products outside the room. Once outside, he told us to follow him to learn more of the good stuff in a private room. There were a few female staff assisting him. In the room was more jade jewelry on display. He began to show us some pieces here and there and explained how they were carved. All the jewelry pieces came with certificates and QR codes which could be checked online and the authenticity of these items was quite convincing. He even asked whether these certificates could be fake. Of course they could be fake, he explained. He then questioned whether anyone would be willing to take the legal liability for such fraudulent practice.
Next he took out some jade pendants carved with different animals based on the Chinese horoscopes to show us and explained the features to us. One look at the price tags at all jade pieces on display will deter anyone from buying. Of course this man knew what we were thinking and since there was rapport between him and us, he emphatically told us that he couldn’t make a loss but he could sell these jewelry at cost price because he regarded us as his friends for being so nice to him earlier.
Some of us noted he became more eloquent now after his earlier indoor presentation. He also spoke with authority to the female staff there instructing them to get stuff for him. He was no fool after all. One member was listening intently and exhibited interest in buying a piece of this Chinese animal horoscope jade pendant. Another member went up to show him he had also bought a piece of the same design from another place in China at a lower price. When he tried to verify the price in Singapore, he was told it was too expensive and he had paid too much for the jade pendant.
Anyway, this elderly tour member was still keen to go ahead with the purchase. He then revealed he had other children as well and so he was brought to another VIP room to see other jade jewelry items. So this elderly man had been warned and yet undeterred from buying. Those with certain beliefs systems for objects that could bring prosperity and offer protection would be more susceptible to such sales pitch.
We then left the room and went out to the main hall where many jewelry items were on display. The price tags here were more reasonable even without the discounts given. So some members went for their last shopping exercise while we hanged around waiting to leave this factory. Outside the room, I found Jackie alone and I went up to him to give him extra tips for the tour which was not part of the compulsory tips required under the tour package which were already given to him the previous night. This tips were meant for him as we thought he was doing quite a good job even though he tried to say a lot of good things about the driver which we would disagree.
When most of us were done, we took the lift back to the ground floor and the driver was also with us. We walked back out to the road where the bus was parked and the driver opened the door for us to go up and rest in the bus while waiting for the rest to return. Soon, most of us were back on the bus except that elderly gentleman and his young daughter. They might be trying to bargain and settle payment for the jewelry they were buying, so we thought.
While resting in the bus with the front door open, the driver was outside smoking with two other locals so the cigarette smoke wafted into the bus. We could not take the smell and we all left the bus and waited outside the factory building. This was the last most inconsiderate act of the bus driver and it was going to cost him his tips.
We waited and waited and it was close to noon. It was getting cold and we were getting hungry and angry as we would rather spend time at the airport to do our own shopping and have an early lunch. When some of us was about to walk back into the factory to find these two tour members, they appeared and walked towards us apologetically for keeping us waiting.
Back on the bus, we found out that they were brought into another VIP room to purchase some other jade jewelry and they were at least $5000 SGD poorer. Then they started to regret as they sat at the back of the bus talking with fellow tour members. Jackie returned and apparently looked happy with his biggest sales turnover on the last day of the tour. The bus then moved off towards the airport.
I supposed everyone felt sorry for them for buying the jewelry at the factory. He was a retiree and we thought $5000 was no small amount for him. In about 25 minutes, we arrived at the airport. We left the bus and the driver was there diligently unloading all our luggage from the storage smiling from ear to ear probably hoping for tips to come. Unfortunately, except the elderly gentleman gave him a tip, the rest simply walked off into the airport departure hall. His performance was so subpar. He was the worst driver we ever came across during several China tours.
Once inside the departure hall, Jackie bade us good bye and a safe flight home and then left. We went over to the Singapore Airlines counter to wait for the check in counter to open. We queued accordingly at the group check in counter and another tour guide who brought in another Singapore tour group asked if we needed help to check in. We told him we were fine. It was strange he helped his group all the way to check in at the airport while Jackie simply waved us good bye and then left.
While the rest were queuing at the check in counter, I made a quick round to survey the departure hall. I was approached by two young ladies asking for money to buy them a meal, specifically, western fast food meal. This was rather strange. There were so many people at the airport and I wondered why I was targeted. Two years back while my wife and I were shopping at a mall in Nanjing Road, an elderly couple also approached us for money for dinner. They were quite well dressed and the man was carrying a business briefcase. He told us his money was stolen and we offered to walk him out to make a police report but he declined and walked away. It wasn’t very safe for man to be alone and I was also approached by different women two days ago at Nanjing Road for massage services.
There wasn’t much at the departure hall and I returned to the check in counter. We were very hungry now and some members bought snacks to munch while waiting to check in their bags. Soon, the counter opened and we dropped our bags, got our boarding passes and then went to clear immigration. However, all our seats were jumbled because we belonged to a tour group so we would have to exchange seats with one another while in the plane.
After clearing immigration, we went to look for lunch. Having checked a few restaurants, we settled down at a food court style café on the second floor. We ordered set meals and got our lunches done. Then it was time to explore the airport. We didn’t find anything of interest and worth buying. The elderly man enquired about the price of the jewelry at some shops in the airport but none could give him any definite value for those items.
Actually, when we were back in Singapore, we found the domain name of this company was only created in August 2014. The registration was in Xiamen and not Beijing. Although the young man at the factory did give out name cards which we didn’t take one, there was no official address from the website on this domain name. No information was available as to who were the owners of this factory.
In the past, the trick was a sales man or woman would be giving sales talk and then suddenly, a man would show up and the sales persons became very nervous and quickly introduced this person to the tour group to be some big shot of the company. He would then take over and tried to speak our lingo and throw names of our local politicians to break the ice and win our trust. Then he would slashed the prices of the jewelry items many folds to make sales.
So while in the room of the factory, we were preparing to see what kind our antics would be revealed but we got a slow speaking sales person who talked like a retard but he could close sales of over $5000 in the end. He was not so stupid after all. Check the internet and youtube for such scams where those who appeared authoritative were actually employees and some of such outfits were busted by the police.
This however, does not suggest the jewelry factory was selling fake products. As to the value of those items purchased, it remained questionable, especially the company website doesn’t have an address and no owners are mentioned as well. One astute member bought some jewelry on display at the main hall of the factory. He remarked that we should not buy stuff they do recommend but we should buy those items they don’t recommend. There is some wisdom in this piece of advice but you need to have a good pair of eyes and experience to know what you are buying are genuine and value for money.
After hanging out at the airport for a while, we were soon boarding our flight home. While in the plane, we looked out for tour members and exchanged seats accordingly so that each family could sit together. Our plane took off and we landed in our familiar Changi Airport without incident after five hours.
For this short 8 days 7 nights Jiangnan Tour, the more memorable itinerary would be the Yi Ou Lai Suzhou Village designed and built like an European Outlet Village where we had lunch, the Confucius Temple and Qinhuai River shopping at night was nice, the lake cruise and stroll at Hangzhou Westlake was very pleasant, the visit to Mr. Iron Robots Transformers Theme Park was interesting and the night cruise on Shanghai Bund was great.
However, as for the Largest Shopping Aircraft Carrier in Eastern China we were supposed to visit in Suzhou, we had no idea what and where it was. We did visit Yuanrong Times Square on the first night where this Aircraft Carrier was supposed to be located, but we didn’t have the foggiest idea about this vessel and how it looked like.
As for shopping, the silk products at Suzhou was worth buying, the pearl cream at Wuxi was good as well and then the green tea products at Meijiawu in Hangzhou would be ideal for tea drinkers too. So for compulsory shopping stops, think very carefully before making your purchases. There is no point regretting after handing over your hard earned money. Ignore rude and aggressive sales staff. They can’t rob you if you don’t want to buy their useless products.
The local five-star hotels were not always up to expectation. Some were pretty good and others we would never consider if we travel on our own. So by and large, the tour was quite good and value for money. It also depends on who the tour guide is and hopefully, a more responsible and considerate driver is part of the team. So another of our Jiangnan Tour came to a happy ending. We might take up another packaged tour some time in the future if the itineraries are not exactly the same. Till then, we will continue with our DIY free and easy travel.