Posted by: fireweaver | December 16, 2009

the art of bargaining

since we both had more chinese money burning holes in our wallets, and we just hadn’t gotten enough of it, Jacques and i headed out (with another patient and wonderful guide!) for round 2 with the silk market.

i spent most of my time on the floor of jewelry sellers.  yes, there is an entire floor dedicated to jewelry in a building where the square footage of each floor is about the size of your average walmart.  my goal was to acquire a particular strand of pearls i had seen last time.  the color was magnificent, but bargaining last round had gone all to hell when another american couple walked up just as the opening salvos of the game had been fired.  the seller wanted 350, i came back with a “meh” look on my face and a hand wave of  30, in the way these things are done.  the american woman threw back her head and laughed, “oh, you’re crazy, you’ll never get them for that little!”  negotiations having been screwed, i ventured on to the innumerable other pearl sellers, but nobody else had strands of this particular color combination.    today, there was no extraneous bozo queering the game, and we settled on what i think was a fair price.  i wanted the strands knotted in between each pearl (that’s the traditional way of stringing them, pearls being precious enough that if the strand breaks, you won’t loose all of them.  cinematic mugger moments in back alleys of ‘batman’ movies notwithstanding), so they made up the strand while i waited.

it’s amazing how quickly their fingers blur through the piles of gems and twisted thread.  it was easy to burn off a good chunk of my RMB in the jewelry stalls, so i called a halt to that and moved on to other realms.  it’s more than a little overwhelming to just walk through the market, and pretending to be deaf or completely oblivious helps:  every seller in every stall tries to catch you in (“hey lady!  you want watch?  you want pearls, lady?”), with some even grabbing at coat sleeves to physically drag you to their wares.  eventually, i managed to pick up gifts for my family, but a handbag and a pair of bronze uggs i had my eye on were each shot down.  it’s odd how differently some merchants responded to the bargaining process.  most sellers would toss out a crazy high price, then wail with mock injury when you came back with a crazy low one.  there’s a lot of “oh, come on, what’s the no joking price?!” and “no, i have to make some profit!” but eventually you can come to an agreement.  other sellers acted more than mock injured –  the one took the handbag right out of my hands, replaced it on the shelf, and told me to leave when i lowballed her.  the uggs i can live without, but i do regret that purse.

we met up by the door afterwards and regrouped before heading out to catch a taxi.  Jacques and i looked up from our quick purchase recap to a pair of young women inches from his face.  the nearest one said, in a tremulously fascinated voice, “Obama?”  clearly, he’s not just the only black man in china, but a VIP to boot.

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