Monday, December 28, 2009

A Holiday Shopping Story

Just before Christmas, I was doing a bit of last minute shopping at the Toy Market, a two-storied wonder tucked behind the Pearl Market, across from the Temple of Heaven. Jen and I spent the morning haggling with vendors, a sport I've not learned to love.

"How much for the Barbie?," I'd ask, pointing at the cheap plastic knockoff on the shelf.

"500 kuai," the vendor would answer - about $75.

"Tai gui le," I'd gasp - too expensive - and then give my counteroffer of 40 kuai - a bit over $5.

At that point, they'd tell me how that was below their cost price, they couldn't make a living if they sold it for that, and on and on and on.

Now, a truly good bargainer wouldn't let up, and she'd probably walk with that Barbie for 40 kuai - or less. But I hate it. Can't stand it. Get really bored of it after a while. I got the Barbie for 70 kuai - $10. In fact, I bought 5 Barbies for Toys for Tots, and 2 for my daughters. It seemed like a good deal, until the girls opened their Barbie boxes on Christmas and I saw just how flimsy those Barbies were. I should've offered 30 kuai.

Whatever. The point is that you go from vendor to vendor, haggling and shouting and complaining and shrugging and it's just exhausting. Sometimes I get great deals and come away happy. Always I need a shower and a nap after spending a day roaming a market.

Usually, there's at least one point during the day where I offer 75 kuai for something, and the vendor comes down to 80, and I refuse to budge. I'm just so irritated with the whole process, with the lack of price tags, with the back-and-forthing, in English and Chinese, that requires 30 minutes just to buy a silly doll. So I dig in my heels. The vendor, exasperated, exclaims "Why you fight me over 5 kuai? It's just 5 kuai." To which I respond, "exactly. It's just 5 kuai. So why do YOU care?" That usually causes them to throw up their hands and stuff the item in a bag, probably just to be rid of me.

After a couple of hours of haggling, we were pretty much spent and starting to get grouchy, so we decided to head across the street to Lao Beijing, one of our most favorite restaurants in this whole huge city of ours. On the way across the overpass, I snapped these photos looking down into the hutong. It was a cold, dreary (did I mention cold?) day, and these little houses weren't doing much to protect their occupants from the elements. My van was full of Barbies and baubles and scooters and videogames. I was on my way to one of my favorite restaurants with a good friend. I had nothing at all to complain about.

A little holiday reminder of how very, very lucky I am. Even on the days when I feel most grumpy and out-of-my-element. I am blessed.


Rachel said... [Reply]

I read your blog, but rarely comment. I love to read about your life in Beijing. We adopted our daughter from China in 2008 and I hated bargaining for everything. I couldn't imagine having to do it on a regular basis!

The hutong is very different from the one they show on the tour. Not quite as romantic as they make it out to be!

carol said... [Reply]

Wow, those pictures really do add perspective. I know that the majority of the world doesn't live like we do but I think it's good to have reminders so that we are continually grateful. Thankyou

CanCan (Mom Most Traveled) said... [Reply]

THERE IS A TOY MARKET?? I lived in Beijing in 2002-03 and never knew this! I was a frequent Pearl Marketer though. You should just see my bargain skills. I gave a guy heck over a pair of toenail clippers once. Woohoo 3 kuai!

globalgal said... [Reply]

I know exactly what you mean. Can I just say ditto? :)

Donna said... [Reply]

@ CanCan - I can't believe you missed the toy market - more Made in China toys than you can shoot a fake nerf gun at! If you ever come back to Beijing, just walk behind the Pearl Market and there's a whole other building back there. And please don't tell me you never lunched at Lao Beijing after the Pearl Market. That would be a sin.

Connie said... [Reply]

I have to be in a mood to barter - if I am, I'm good at it and can have fun shopping, but in general, I have a hard time even putting shopping and fun in the same sentence - much less barter. I do have my moments though.

Jenn D said... [Reply]

I am blessed as well my friend. I am already missing you--off in Jordan next year. What will I do without you everyday?? should have mentioned that snot-rocket you stepped in on the way to Lao Beijing when your mom was in town. Classic. Love you!!!

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