These events took place a few months ago…

In some ways, sitting on the Shun De to Hong Kong ferry, I feel lucky to have survived a 2 day furniture shopping trip to mainland China. I mean this both metaphorically (it was not as bad as I thought it might be) and literally (we managed to avoid dying on China’s roads).

The trip, conceived by my wife, was a means for us to furnish our new home on a budget. Departing Hong Kong we had only a vague idea of where to go and what to expect, derived from a few sketchy firsthand and blog accounts.

Arriving in Shun De from HK, we took a 90 minute taxi ride to reach Foshan city: China’s number one furniture manufacturing and distribution centre. Basing ourselves at the Swissotel (superb 5 Star value), we proceed to investigate a range of furniture and lighting shops and centers in the Le Cong district. Although the names seem somewhat interchangeable and variable, these included the Le Cong International Furniture Exhibition Centre (aka The Lourve), Sunlink Furniture Centre, Sunlink Lighting and Kitchen Centre, Empire Furniture, and an enormous complex of buildings adjacent to The Louvre. Most of these outlets focus on ready made products for both retail and wholesale, and are supplied by the nearby Long Jiang factory district (which we did not have time to visit).

Despite its focus on gaudy, classical European furniture, we spent the majority of our time at The Louvre, the scale of which is hard to describe. Initially we were looking for companies who could tailor make particular items for us. After a frustrating first day we changed approach, and managed to find enough pieces to make our trip worth while. Dealing right up until the last minute, we managed to purchase a sofa, a custom ottoman, a dining table, a side table and too stools, all reasonably close in design and quality to what we wanted. Despite being terrible at negotiation, we managed all this within a total of around HKD$16,000, which included all goods, shipping, transportation, visas, accommodation and food. I suspect that it would be possible to squeeze this figure down considerably, given greater time, skill and patience than was at our disposal.

Interestingly, despite a proliferation of different shops and brands, The Lourve is dominated by a small number of companies, each of which has multiple outlets, each stocking a variety of different lines. In the end we purchased from both an individual shop (Cairo) and a group (Life Master), both of which offered patient staff who could communicate well in English. Cairo definitely stood out though, in terms of willingness to try and help us at every turn.

In completing each transaction, we signed a contract for future delivery, and paid a deposit. Seemingly , these payments should be processed through the mall’s cashier network, although they often go through the individual outlet. With all contracts in hand, we were able to negotiate with a shipping agent (referred by the mall) to have the delivered to Hong Kong. Some language difficulties in dealing with the mall were smoothed over by the attentive assistants at Cairo (in particular a Avery helpful lady named Amanda).

Whilst the final verdict will have to wait for the delivery of our new furniture, cruising homewards through under the dim light of an incredibly polluted Pearl River Delta sunset, we feel that the trip was a success, and well worth the effort.

On a philosophical note, we were dismayed by the extremely flexible approach two of our Foshan taxi drivers displayed to the rules of the road. One gentleman drove the wrong way down a crowded one way street (acceptable, it seemed, as he was more than 50% on the pavement), whilst the other found that he could drive through red lights by sticking to the green-lighted right-turn lane, until careening at the last minute, through the restricted junction, festooned as it was with cars traveling in a myriad directions. This alarmed us partly in relation to our own mortality, but more greatly when considering a world whose future is largely in the hands of a people to whom rules seem somewhat optional.

Never in all my years living in Hong Kong did I anticipate returning to her shores with the expectation of finding relative calm, order, peace and quiet, but today that day hs come.

China flag thumbnail by Herr_Bert on Flickr.