NanSanTiao is a fantastical commercial wonderland. Located near the main city centre on ZhongShan Lu it is a collection of, at last count, eight warehouses. (However this is a guesstimate, I still have no idea how deep the rabbit hole actually goes). It is well known by the locals and foreigners as being the place to go for the cheaper side of China.
From the outside it all looks rather inconspicuous. There are many small stores lining the exteriors, most selling drink tumblers, the rest selling cleaning equipment. The street that dominates NanSanTiao is forever packed with cars, tuk-tuks and people. Sometimes the crowd can be overwhelming, but you can navigate yourself around if you follow the one golden rule that is never stop moving.
The main entrances to the warehouses are covered by plastic air shields that distinguish these tunnels from the myriad of shops around them. There are some warehouse signs such as ‘Make-up hall’ and ‘Gift hall’ atop the buildings. These give you more a sense of direction, rather than an indication to what’s inside.
Heed the warning: Enter these warehouses at your own peril. Many wallets have entered armed and prepared for battle (haggle), and left the arena spent.
The Game of NanSanTiao has two rules you must obey if you are to be successful*
NanSanTiao has everything you thought you’d never want (and maybe some things you actually want). Considering a fake iPad? Done. Maybe a large golden statue of Mao? Step right in. Discovered that you must have a large glass Chinese cabbage put in your display cabinet? You have come to the right place my friend.
You will never find what you actually need. Ever.
*success is a lie. So is the cake.
Types of warehouses/shops/items you find in NanSanTiao –
Three storeys of shops filled handbags, purses, wallets, travel bags.
An outside market for bedding, blankets and foam.
A shop dedicated to selling tinsel for those all year round purposes.
Wedding bouquets to make your eyes bleed.
Two floors of stationery stocked with so many pens you could have one for every day of the year.
Derpy dog statues, along with derpy Buddha statues.
A store for fruit sealed in glass bottles, complete with wraparound mirror display cabinets for that added WTF.
However tucked within the chaos you will find some beautiful little treasures. There are one or two decent art shops that sell paint, charcoals and paper. I bought my latest handbag, a green giraffe inspired design, from the depths of the bag warehouse (after many, many trips). And again, thanks to Ollie (my favourite coffee enthusiast), I have found a remarkable little shop called Otai that sells Kopi Luwak coffee aka catshit coffee. It is the most delicious little blend and I will be sure to buy it all out before coming home so you folks in New Zealand can experience it.
NanSanTiao is exactly what you expect commercial China to feel like. A maze filled with sensory overloaded visuals, pulling you in sideways, slantways, longways and backways. I wish I had the words to describe it more, but I cannot do it justice. There is just so much time and so little to do there.
Wait a minute.
Strike that. Reverse it.