Having Mainland Chinese relatives and Mainland Chinese international students at school has given me an interesting window into their consumer psyche.

For one thing their psyche is very different from even my Hong Kong relatives. When I took my Mainland cousin Candy to the Galleria, she stayed there for five hours. After that she still had to do a three-hour romp through the outlets in Folsom before calling it a day and driving off to San Francisco for another marathon shopping session.

I always thought my cousin was crazy.

Junior Manson Tung will be teaching at Hong Kong Summerbridge from June 21-August 15. He will be writing periodic blogs about his experience living, working, and traveling around Asia.

I also rolled my eyes when I discovered that some of my Country Day school friends packed entire suitcases filled with luxury products to bring back to the Mainland.

You could imagine my incredulous face when my cousin Vicky got into the same business. I can’t look at her Wexin—Think Facebook Messenger but with a lot more users and all in Chinese—page without getting an eyeful of Louis Vuitton and Juicy Couture.

But I now have to apologize to all those aforementioned people. Why? I have seen why they were shopping in America.

Welcome to the People’s Republic of China, where the tax on imported luxury goods is likely around 100 percent.

My first shock came at Armani Exchange. In San Francisco, I almost picked up five graphic T-shirts for about $30 USD each. But the friend with whom I was shopping with said, “Think about it. Buy it when you’re in China if you still want it,”  because I already was loaded with shopping bags.

When I went to the International Finance Center mall in Shanghai and saw an Armani Exchange, I knew that I still wanted those shirts, mainly because I had taken “pack light” to an all new level. Turns out that in Asia, people air dry their clothes, so laundry takes a day or two instead of two hours. So my five days worth of clothes had suddenly became three.

Gucci is surrounded by velvet ropes to prevent the common people from interacting with their big shot clients. Unlike in the US, when people in Asia buy luxury goods, it isn’t by the item, but by suites of products. (Photo Courtesy of Tung)

Gucci is surrounded by velvet ropes to prevent the common people from interacting with their big shot clients. Unlike in the US, when people in Asia buy luxury goods, it isn’t by the item, but by suites of products. (Photo by Manson Tung)

But the same T-shirt, the exact same bloody T-shirt, was now the equivalent of $89 USD.

I might as well buy Emporio Armani, instead of Exchange.

Everything is expensive here in China: the clothes, the food, the suitcases, the electricity, the movie tickets, even the water.

If you think that movie tickets in the States are expensive, get ready to get action-star punched in the face by the prices here. An ordinary movie will set you back around 150 yuan (approx. $25 USD) without a student discount, and that is for a normal movie, no IMAX, no 3D.

The only thing that is cheap is labor. But my guess is that the massive population (1.35 billion officially) is what causes all the other goods to be expensive. With limited national resources besides labor, the government has had little choice but to facilitate the importation of massive amounts of goods. From the purchase of the U.S. pork supplier Smithfield to three-fold increases in New Zealand dairy exports, it seems that China’s insatiable desire for things has facilitated high prices.

So for the record, I understand your troubles now, Mainlander. I truly do.

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