Saturday, April 10, 2010

Taiwanese Ladies Flock to Bangkok

Admittedly, I got suckered into it. I spent almost a week of my 20 days in Thailand in Bangkok - shopping!

Westerners typically think of Thailand as a beach resort destination (think Phuket and Phi Phi Island) for fun in the sun and sea, not to mention getting a tan. It soon became clear for me that there was only so much sand, sun and sea that my Taiwanese wife could take. You see, Taiwan's upwardly mobile city girls mostly aspire to have lily white skin (there is a reason for this since having a tan, historically, meant that you came from a poor, working class background, much like having a farmer's tan, hence the Chinese expression that stems from this: 一百遮十丑 yi bai zhe shi chou (one white covers up ten uglinesses)).

If you didn't know already, however, THE hot destination for young Taiwanese ladies is Bangkok. It's due mainly to the impact of one book:
女王i曼谷 ("i" as in 愛) - The Queen Loves Bangkok

Who is the Queen (her nickname) you say? Well it's a young lady named Chen Yi-li. She is a celebrity among the single ladies crowd. Read this interesting WSJ article to find out more:
It turns out she is an icon of single Taiwanese ladies. The article covers the single lady phenomena and also talks about the low birth rate and, of course, Yi-li herself and the success of her books.

On a side note, all this breaking the female market into categories stuff reminds me of a cartoon I saw in TIME magazine years ago:
Accordingly, the single Taiwanese girls described in the article seem to be a blend, kind of like career girl with little princess mixed in and the troubled with men and passion aspect of desperate housewife and bad girl thrown in.

Back to the shopping in Bangkok part. What I didn't know before the trip was that Taiwanese girls were reading Yi-li's book like a bible, much as Westerners hang on to their Lonely Planets when traveling, except that Yi-li's book is focused on (clean) fashionable hotel accommodation, sometimes fancy eating joints and all the shopping you can shake a stick at. It even has advice on how to soothe those sore shop-a-holic legs and feet with creams, stretches and prodigious Thai massage.

Well, the secret is out. The book has inspired scores of Taiwanese girls (and the girl's shopping bag touting boy-toy suckers, if any) to flock to Bangkok. There is ample evidence for this based on the cheap flights to Bangkok (our AirAsia flight was NT$6000/person round trip Taipei-Bangkok), hotels in Yi-li's book full of chatty Taiwanese and the shopping malls and markets where Mandarin speaking is definitely on the rise (to be fair, the cat is out of the bag for other Chinese in the Chinese speaking world as well like Hong Kong, Singapore and Mainland China). Many shoppers openly carry Yi-li's book while shopping.

They are also cutting out the middle (wo)men. While visiting the markets, especially the wholesale goods market near Siam Center (Taipei has one called Wu Fen Pu but I have to say that Bangkok's blow that one out of the water!), it became clear that Taiwanese merchants were buying up stuff in Bangkok by the truck loads. Now that I'm back in Taiwan, I recognize the styles and patterns of many of the items I saw in the Bangkok markets. Of course, the prices of the same items in Taipei are several times the price in Bangkok. As the ladies travel there in large numbers, 3 or more of many items nets you a wholesale price at a fraction of the Taiwanese cost.

One super popular non-wholesale destination is the largest NaRaYa store. NaRaYa cloth handbags etc. are sold in locations in Taiwan as well at a considerable markup. In the Bangkok store, Taiwanese were snatching them up at really cheap prices like there was no tomorrow. The shop was swarming (see pic)!

We'll see how the political situation in Bangkok impacts on this Taiwanese lady travel shopping trend but from the looks of it, girls have continued to travel there right through this current school break. With the protests recently taking a turn to the violent (AirAsia has even offered to convert tickets to go to other destinations as a result), Bangkok's good shopping thing may have some rough days ahead.

BTW, we had a great trip in the end, thank you! Enjoy the pics:
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