In China, there is no such thing as ‘Mutton Dressed As Lamb’.

I arrived in Hangzhou, mid February, when the winter chill still stubbornly clung  to the air.  March’s spring warmth provided short-lived respite before buckling under the scalding heat of the Shanghai summer.  How to fill a 20kg suitcase to cover all these weather eventualities??  Intense cold, intense heat…and rain, bucket loads of it!  At least, an umbrella seemed a good bet, useful come rain or shine…

I packed what I believed to be life’s essentials, and then had to abandon about half of that.. But why worry…  Surely, I would be able to stock up cheaply in China, the land where most of all our Western clothes are manufactured?  Or certainly used to be!  I soldiered on through the fresher weeks, covering oversized dresses and loose fitting skirt with even more generous jumpers.  Layers keep you warm and cosy in classrooms without heating and with open windows regardless of the plummeting temperatures outside.

With the onset of Spring and the summery weather, my wardrobe deficiencies became blatantly obvious.  My mid-season selection of clothes hardly got an airing as winter effortlessly morphed straight into summer. The three pairs of shoes that accompanied me to China were of the practical variety with gym visits and walking in mind, not open-toed sandals to ensure blister-free feet in a blistering summer.  So, I set off on my first shopping expedition, in search of suitable footwear and clothes that would keep me cool in the classroom and dry in the sudden downpours.

Chinese fashion left me rather uninspired and somehow did not really appeal to my dress sense.  Skirts, shirts, shorts and dresses barely covering knickers worn WITH colourful woolly tights may well be appropriate on chilly days, but the summer look of wearing skirts, shirts, shorts and dresses barely covering knickers WITH NO tights, or just “white-skin” ones under white-skin coloured shorts??


Maybe not…  although admittedly, my hemline has moved up almost in line with the local trend and I have on occasions needed to improvise during my lessons to avoid bending over too much and baring more than intended… Whereas in England this inconvenience mainly affects the younger generation, not so in China..  No matter what age, short shorts and miniskirts are de rigeur as Chinese legs retain their cellulite-free youthfulness forever, and slender Chinese bodies somehow avoid piling on the pounds.  Mutton can indeed get away with dressing as lamb!!  Maybe chewing collagen-rich chicken feet has its benefits after all…


A quick exploration of the local Chinese shops only resulted in me buying some canvas slip-on shoes.  Colourful and reminiscent of the American flag, but definitely pretty useless in the teeming rain.  Even my humble size 5 feet are considered a tad too large here, it seems!!  Unless of course I  follow the Chinese trend and raise myself a few inches off the floor on dizzying stilettos or height-defying platforms.  Not much choice in flats for me…

And what about covering the rest of my body, you may wonder…  I have resorted to look in all too familiar establishments such as Zara and H&M, although I actually also bought a pair of shorts in M&S in Shanghai. Not only are those clothes not quite what I would wear in England, they definitely come with a hefty Western price tag.   For a skirt that in M&S, Zara or H&M in the UK would retail for $15, I pay 150 Rmb in China… which is about £15…  Considering that the average wage of a Chinese worker (or so we are led to believe) is nowhere near Western salaries, this is not exactly cheap…  So, I have made do and only bought essentials when absolutely necessary, or in places such as Walmart, where I can pick up a basic t-shirt for a fiver.  When is Primark coming to China, that’s what I want to know…

Shopping starved and on my way back to the UK at the end of July,  I hit the shops at Hong Kong airport, but as my flight was delayed and I had to cross an entire airport the size of a small town to catch my connection, I merely managed a glimpse at the price tags… Same story, but then this is to be expected at an airport…

It looked like the only way I was going to get my wardrobe replenished was to tackle the shops at home, in the UK… So, I did, and a few ‘mother and daughter’ shopping trips later, I crammed my suitcase to the brim with flimsy beach & glam tops, short skirts, decent short shorts and  short dresses… just maybe about an inch longer than the ones for sale in China.  I think it will see me through the remainder of the balmy summer (without tights) and through  the coming bitter winter (with tights, woolly tight and a pair of boots)…

At times like this I think fondly of India, with its great simplicity in dress code: churidar and flip-flops at affordable prices ad infinitum!!!

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