Shay has been saving and saving to buy this special chip for his Nintendo, a chip that allows players to hold loads of games. He actually had one, courtesy of his parents, but he lost it. So he saved 300 RMB (almost $50), and then asked me to take him to the market to buy one.
Well, I should have taken him to Amy, my electronics lady, down at Hongqiao. She's honest, and she knows me, so I don't have to barter. I just tell her what I want and she gives me her best price.
But last week I had no ayi, as my clever readers will remember. And I didn't want to take all the kids to Hongqiao, which seems so far away. I hired a neighborhood kid to babysit for 3 hours so I could take Shay out, but, not wanting to go all the way to Hongqiao, I decided to try Yashow instead. I figured, since I knew Amy's price, I could barter for the same price at a market that was 15-20 minutes closer.
So Shay and I went to Yashow instead. We brought his friend Jack. Sure enough, we bought a similar chip for 260 RMB - just 10 RMB more than Amy's price. We went to lunch, then drove home, paid the baby sitter and tried out the new chip.
It didn't work. After hours of messing with the thing, it still didn't work. I stormed around the house, cursing the salesman, cursing Yashow and cursing my own idiocy - trying to save 45 minutes was costing me the entire day.
We just couldn't get it to work.
It so happens that another neighbor was going to Hongqiao the next day. She said she'd bring the chip to Amy, just to ask what the problem might be. Amy took one look and said the whole thing was fake - it would never work.
Grrrr. So today, with the boys back in school, I loaded the girls in the car for a return trip to Yashow. There's no return policy - it's all buyer beware. But I was determined to get my son's money back, and by now I was beyond pissed.
We got there right when the store opened, and we rode the escalators all the way up to the 4th floor. I found the guy. "Remember me?" I smiled sweetly, and he nodded and agreed that he did, indeed, remember me.
So I pulled the chip out of my bag and said "This chip doesn't work. I took it to a friend of mine, who works for the Embassy, helping the police to catch and arrest counterfeiters, and he told me this is fake. He wanted to take it straight to the police, but I told him no, that I wanted to give you a chance to give me my money back."
(Here I was just a tad dishonest, as I actually have no friend who assists the police to arrest counterfeiters, but I figured, he wasn't exactly honest with me when he sold me a fake chip, right?)
The guy looked the chip over and told me it wasn't fake. I politely disagreed, and told him I was pretty sure my imaginary friend knows what he's doing, as he helps the police catch all sorts of counterfeiters.
"The police don't care about this stuff," he scoffed.
"Maybe not," I agreed, "but my friend knows them pretty well, and he asked for your card and this chip. I didn't give it to him yet."
So he tried a different tactic. "I think maybe you just don't know how to use this chip," he said, and I went just a wee bit ballistic on him. I explained that I have two sons, both of whom own real chips and real Nintendos. My sons, I said, have friends, and we all tried to get this chip to work. "Why don't you go get a Nintendo and show me how it works, then?" I demanded.
He tried a different line of argument. "I don't have any money," he explained. "The shop just opened. You come back this afternoon, after I make some money, and I'll give your money back." No, I explained, I wouldn't be going home and coming back again. "I'll give you thirty minutes to find the money," I said, and the girls and I left his stall. We wandered around the shops. I bought 3 sweaters for work. I bought new guitar strings. I looked in a tailor shop. Suddenly, it occured to me that in 30 minutes, he might not be there anymore. So I went back to his shop after just 15 minutes.
"I still don't have any money," he said. "You come back at noon."
"Tell you what," I responded. "I'll wait right here until noon, with my kids."
And I crossed my arms and stood there, staring at him.
After a short stalemate, with me staring at him and him staring at the countertop, I switched tactics. There were a few laowai filtering past, checking out the stalls, so every time a foreigner walked by and glanced at his wares, I exclaimed loudly "I really don't know why you won't give me my money back when we both know you sold me a fake chip!" The foreigner would scurry past, not stopping to examine his stall.
After a few of these comments, I said "You know, I think maybe the longer I stand here, the harder it will be for you to make any money from other customers. Maybe you should borrow the money from your friends so you can pay me now and I can leave."
He offered me half of the money, 160 RMB, but I refused. It's my son's money, I explained, and he worked hard to earn it, so I couldn't accept just half. He asked me again to come back later, and again I refused. I'm telling you, I was boiling over with anger.
I smiled down at Kyra, who was hopping around Ainsley and trying to push Ainsley's stroller. I said to Kyra, who was actually being quite good: "Now Kyra, you need to behave. I'm really sorry, but we can't leave here until this man gives us back your brother's money. Remember how long he worked to make that money? So we can't leave until we get it all back, and I think we might be here for a long time, okay sweetie?" Kyra looked at me funny, but she nodded and put her sticky lollipop fingers on his glass display case. (Sometimes, you know, 3-year-olds can come in handy.) Ainsley chose that exact moment to let out a joyous shriek.
I waited a few minutes more, while the guy sullenly rearranged his display case and Kyra ran a toy car over the sticky glass. A few more tourists passed by. "You know," I said, "I don't want to be here any more than you want me to be. If you pay me back, I can get out of your way."
By now it had been about an hour. The guy was still holding half of the money in his hand - the money he'd tried to offer me earlier. He went back in to his cash drawer and emptied it out, scraping the bottom to come up with 190 RMB and 2 $5 bills - exactly the amount he owed me.
I tucked the money in my purse (after checking to make sure it was real), thanked him, and walked back toward the escalators, feeling good.
I really hadn't believed I'd get that money back. The best I thought I could do was get a replacement chip that may or may not be real. But I dug in my heels, and I won.
So, to recap:
Refunded price of chip: 260 RMB - $38.24
Total cost to me:
Friday's babysitter: 240 RMB
Lunch with Shay and Jack: 230 RMB
Tolls and parking fees for 2 trips to Yashow: 35 RMB
3 sweaters, bought today on a whim: 220 RMB
guitar strings, also on a whim: 25 RMB
cocoa and muffins at Starbucks to reward girls for good behavior: 81 RMB
Grand total: 831 RMB - $122.
I spent $122 just to get my money back. I have absolutely nothing to show for these two wasted days. I still have to take Shay to Amy's stall at Hongqiao after all of this.
But I won, dammit. I dug in my heels and I won.