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Lesson Number Five: Always Be Ready to Bargain

MALAYSIA | Sunday, 17 August 2008 | Views [389]

Petaling Street market

Petaling Street market

Two things I love about Kuala Lumpur are the outdoor food stalls and the open-air markets. The hawker stalls have some of the cheapest and most authentic Malay, Chinese and Mamak (Indian Muslim) food in the city. It's a good idea to ask the locals first in order to find the best version of the dish you're looking for. You have to be ready to rough it a little while sitting on plastic stools by the side of the road, but it's an experience not to be missed. Also, remember to bring cash and your own napkins.

The markets are another interesting adventure for visitors. You can find many treasures there: all kinds of souvenirs, toys, shoes, hats, t-shirts, watches, sunglasses, bags and purses (most are knock-offs), as well as a variety of food items. I tested out my bargaining skills on Petaling Street the other night. Here's a sampling of what went down at one of the tiny stalls:

Me: How much is this batik skirt?

Vendor: 40 Ringgit (about $12 USD).

Me: Hmm... I can give you 20.

Vendor: (Looks at his wife/business partner) Nah, 35.

Me: (Shaking head, turning to walk away) Too high, too high.

Vendor: OK, OK, 30 then.

Me: (Pretending to be confident) 25 is the most I'm willing to pay.

Vendor: Alright (puts skirt into bag, while his wife/business partner glares at him from the back of the stall).

Me: Terima kasih (Thank you)!

I pay and walk away feeling good about myself, but I don't know if I'm getting a good deal, or if they hiked up the prices to begin with because I'm a foreigner, but at least I made the effort. Because I don't speak much Malay and no Chinese, I feel a bit handicapped when it comes to bargaining. But since I'm not 100% caucasian I think it confuses them a little. Malaysian currency isn't nearly as big as Singapore's or Australia's though, so I can buy more here and not feel the pinch as much.

I have felt pretty safe in Malaysia (with a good measure of care and caution), but even so, the best piece of advice is to always hold onto your belongings and never let them out of your sight! Otherwise, you may end up "spending" a lot more than you bargained for.

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