As my time here in Beijing winds down, I've been going to a lot of the different markets to get gifts and souvenirs for everyone at home. It's been fun to go back to the Pearl Market, which was the market I visited during the beginning of my time here. My perception of it has changed quite a bit; it seemed a lot less intimidating and aggressive than last time I was there. Going back to places that I visited much earlier in my time here has also shown me how much my Chinese has improved. I'm so much more willing to interact with the sellers, and rather than just naming a price, I might launch into a longer explanation of why my price is so low. (I'm just a poor student, I have to eat, too!" )
An important thing to note is that you have to bargain at the markets here - if you don't, you'll probably spend 500% more money than you would otherwise. I bought a pair of boots for 100rmb (roughly 15usd), but the seller had started at 680rmb. While most of the stuff I've bought is Christmas presents (and as such, the items and their prices must remain confidential until after December 25th!), I also bought a "Tiffany" bracelet for 45rmb, down from 250. Oh, I also bought a pair of "pearl" earrings for 20rmb and a "cashmere" scarf for 20, too (roughly 3 USD each). Bargaining can be a ton of fun, but also a bit exhausting. Look for my guide to bargaining later in the week, in case your planning a trip to China anytime soon. I also try to write a post on my shady Louis Vuitton experience. :)
As far as the markets themselves go, there's three that I think are the main ones in Beijing: the Pearl, Silk, and Zoo markets. The Pearl and Silk markets are both very similar in that they tend to be oriented towards foreigners (although I've seen Chinese shoppers there, too) and have a lot more kitschy items (ie, Mao's little read book of sayings) and designer knock offs ("Hello Lady, you want to buy a Prada bag? How about Louis Vuitton, okay?). However, I like the Pearl Market better, because the price they start bargaining at tends to be a bit lower, and they just seemed more friendly. The Silk Market is a bit bigger, so has something of a better selection. The Zoo market isn't really a tourist market, and when I went, I didn't see any other foreigners. The Zoo markets sell mainly clothes and daily necessities, so it's usually packed. Not many designer knock offs (except for Uggs), but dirt cheap prices, but so insanely packed, it isn't much fun. Overall, I think the Pearl Market is my favorite, but the Zoo market is great for getting clothes and shoes.