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China - Haggling (with an adjunct on eating for cheap and the 2 MUSTS to bring to China)

USA | Tuesday, 26 May 2009 | Views [835]

OK so the secret to haggling is – you can’t want it.

If you don’t want it, you hold all the cards. The best deals I got were when I didn’t give a flying F if they sold it to me or not.

Here are some examples:
I walked into a scroll shop on HaFeng Street in Hangzhou and I didn’t want to buy anything. But the sales lady was good. She had my number down, as a matter of fact I found out later that this exact sales woman said the exact same thing to many of my other friends and sold them all scrolls too. She was persistent. She followed me around the shop. I told her I didn't want to buy anything and she said, “that’s fine but if you did, what would you want to buy?” So me, with the untimely good taste, pointed to the most expensive scroll hanging on the wall and I said, “that one”. She raised her eyebrows and exclaimed that I had very good taste and that that scroll was one of a kind painted by a very famous artist. I said I understood and didn’t really want it but that it was the prettiest one there, in my opinion. She asked me how much I would pay for it. The price was $300+. I said that I could not offer a fair price and so I would rather not offer anything at all. But she insisted, she pushed, she cajoled, she was seasoned! I thought about it and decided that really all I could afford was $30 and even that was pushing it on my proposed budget. Plus, I DIDN’T EVEN WANT THE DARN SCROLL!  So she laughed and said, “Oh nooooo, it is worth much more than that. And you are so beautiful, you should have that scroll. Can’t you offer a little bit more?” Yes she really did use the beautiful line and afterwards she proceeded to use it again and again and again. Plus she used the exact same line/s on my other friends who entered her shop on different days. She asked if I could pay $200. I told her I was sure the scroll was worth it (boy was I wrong and trusting) but that I could not afford to pay that much. I tried to walk out but she grabbed me by the arm. “Please make me an offer I can work with!”, she begged. Then she added more compliments. She was buttering me up but it was only my 1st week in China so I had no idea what was going on and I believed her. I kept trying to leave and she kept grabbing my arm and begging me to come up with another price. The truth was that I could barely justify spending $30 so I was definitely not going to go higher than that and so I just kept saying $30. I told her I understood that it was worth more and that I was sorry but I didn’t really want it. She kept going down in price. $150, 100, 50… Finally I laughed, shook my head and walked out of the store and she came chasing me down the street. “OK, OK, for you only I will sell it for $30 but please do not tell anyone else. This is our secret. A secret, you understand?” I said I understood. She asked me to please send my friends into her shop but asked me to promise not to tell them how much I paid for the scroll. She kept saying, “I believe you” which is the moment I realized – I’d been had…

Much later in the trip I was talking to some fellow students and one of them told me that she bought a scroll at a shop on HaFeng and got a very good deal but she couldn’t tell me what the deal was. I started to laugh and said, “you’re so beautiful, it’s our secret, I believe you.” And she turned white (whiter than she already was) and then we laughed together because we’d both been had. And I did end up walking by that shop again, since I stayed in Hangzhou for a month, and I did see the exact “one of a kind” scroll that I had bought hanging up on the wall again with a $300+ price tag.

But for awhile I had actually thought I had gotten a great deal! This was before 2 of our classmates went to a little town near Shanghai called Tongli (http://destpic.ctrip.com/Resources/China/tongli/image/briefintro.jpg) – which sounds like a place that EVERYONE should visit!! So my friends were in a scroll shop and one of them bargained a scroll down to $4. YES, that’s correct – FOUR DOLLARS. I grilled my friends. What did it look like? What size was it, etc. And it was one of the scrolls I had wanted to buy as a gift for a friend.

So a few weeks later I found myself in Yangshuo, in the GuangXi provence, outside of Guilin. I was on West Street (http://www.yangshuoren.com/webcam.html), which I highly recommend and I wandered into a scroll shop. I see the scroll that I want to buy for a friend only I realize that I don’t really like it as much as I had previously. I ask if there are any others with a similar theme. I can’t remember the asking price, maybe $30 or $50. I tell her I’m only willing to pay $6. She says “no way” but doesn’t stop helping me. She searches and searches for something unique and finally she finds it. It’s a scroll I have never seen before and unfortunately (for me) I want it for my friend and I am willing to pay for it. It is obviously hand painted and it is completely unique and I have no doubt that if there are others, they are few and far between. It is not fancy but it is exactly what I want for this person, it is perfectly right in so many ways. I offer her the $6 but now she knows I want it. She says she will “ask her father” which is something the other lady at the other scroll shop did too – it’s a tactic (good cop/bad cop). Of course her father says no (though I doubt she even asked him). “He says it’s too valuable”, she says. She tells me she cannot sell it for less than (whatever price here) and it’s more than I want to pay so I thank her and leave. Then I go into the scroll shop next door and I see the first scroll and the lady comes up to me and asks me how much I will pay for it. I tell her I don’t want it, that I’m just looking. She says, “you are in China, we bargain here, it’s part of what we do, offer something!” So I offer her $6. She laughs and says, “that’s not bargaining!” I explain to her that I’ve been in China for over a month now and that I don’t really want this scroll and that I have learned a thing or two. She thinks I’m funny and she haggles and haggles and I refuse to go any higher because I don’t really want it. I start to leave and she chases after me and says “fine, fine, I’ll sell it to you for $6.” I go back to the first place and buy the more expensive one as well. There’s something to be learned here…

So this is how I made my way through China. When I went to visit my friends in Shanghai I said, “well what does it matter if I pay $5 or $1 for a shiny bauble? If I can afford the $5?” And it was explained to me that I was being completely had. The bauble cost them .10 cents and so even a dollar is a huge profit. And if I pay $5 then the next foreigner will be overcharged too and that’s how it keeps going and it’s not fair. I am doing other foreigner’s a disservice by overpaying and not bargaining. And so that’s what I did. I bargained. I bargained a pair of socks down from .43 cents a pair to .23 cents a pair! It took close to an hour but I saved .20 cents. At first bargaining was fun and new and then it became tiring. I would want something and then I would start to bargain and I would get tired and not want it anymore. I began shopping at department stores where things were on sale (for cheap) and I couldn’t bargain. I bought coats (wool, velvet) for $10 each. I bought gorgeous dresses for $5 each and the list goes on.

My friend and I had a little game we would play. When we saw something we loved we would scowl and shake our heads no so they wouldn’t know we wanted it. I can’t say for sure that this worked. All I can say is that when they see that you really really want something they have you. But if you tell yourself at first that you don’t really care about anything and it’s all just material stuff anyway and understand and believe that having it will not change you in any way then you can bargain for things and you will have a better chance.

In the end I bought a huge new suitcase there – for $30. And I filled it up with all the shiny baubles, clothes and acupuncture equipment I could get my hands on. I came back with a new wardrobe, shoes that smell so badly like chemicals that I have to keep them outside, and tons of gifts and tea for friends. And for all that “stuff” - in the end, I didn’t spend much money after-all.

An adjunct – eating for cheap –
I ate off the carts on the sidewalks. I ate from the holes in the walls. People say not to but I did and it was cheap and it was good. Though I did get my Hep A and B vaccines before I went. A huge meal cost .75 cents and filled me up for an entire day. Towards the end though, nothing tasted good anymore and the MSG headache was almost too much to bear. When I went out for a super fancy meal at a nice restaurant I spent $10 and that was a lot of money to spend on a meal there!!!

****Oh and just in case I hadn’t mentioned this before the 2 most important things to pack for China are travel packets of tissues and hand sanitizer. And these are the 2 more important things to carry on you at all times as well. They have no toilet paper or soap in the bathrooms.

---- yes, yes, yes - I'm adding the video of me eating a scorpion here because well, why not?!

Tags: china, eating for cheap, food, friends, hafeng, haggling, hangzhou, scorpion eating, travel, yangshuo

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