Friday, July 16, 2010

Shopping and Bargaining

On Saturday I visited the Silk Market, which is a five story building full of little shops that cater especially to foreigners. The market, which sells shoes, bags, clothes, pearls, and more, can be a tourist trap if you are not prepared to bargain. The extremely aggressive and skillful shopkeepers will stop at nothing to make a sale.

For example, a nice bag caught my eye in one of the myriad of shops. The shopkeeper immediately noticed. This conversation ensued.

Shopkeeper: This is a really nice bag. It comes in many colors.

Me: Hmmm.

Shopkeeper: Here, let me take it down for you. Try it on, look in that mirror. This bag is really popular with girls your age right now.

Me: Oh, that’s nice. How much is it?

Shopkeeper: Well, since you are a student and because you are an early morning shopper, I will give you a discount. I normally sell this bag at 520 Yuan or 400 Yuan. But for you, I will make it 220 Yuan.

Me: I think that’s too much.

Shopkeeper: No! That’s already a bargain! For foreigners I would show them this price: 480 Yuan. But since you are a student, I will give you a discount.

Me: No, that’s too expensive. I think I will look around some more.

Shopkeeper: Okay, okay. What’s your price?

At this point, I should have chosen a ridiculously low price such as 50 Yuan. That is one of the tricks of the trade: Never set your bottom price too high. You can’t bargain down once you do. However, I was na├»ve and wasn’t sure exactly how much the bag was worth.

Me: 100 Yuan.

Shopkeeper: Haha, that is ridiculous. Look, this is real leather. I will sell it for 200 Yuan. How’s that?

Me: No, no. I think I would rather look around some more. Maybe I will come back.

Shopkeeper: Everyone sells it for this amount. You won’t find it cheaper. Okay, how about 180 Yuan?

Me: No, no, I do not want it.

Shopkeeper: Fine, what’s your price?

Me: I told you, 100 Yuan.

Shopkeeper: Don’t be crazy! Fine, how about 170 Yuan? That’s already really low! How about it?

This goes on for awhile until finally she hits 130 Yuan.

Shopkeeper: 130 Yuan! That’s only 30 Yuan from your price. Just give it to me, all right? Only 30 Yuan.

Me: Fine, okay, okay.

I probably could have gotten the price down lower, but I was still satisfied. The bag was cheaper than it would have been in the states, and besides I was tired of arguing with the same person over a difference that amounted to less than $5. The funny thing is that there really are no native Chinese that shop in the area. I saw many Europeans and Americans though. The shopkeepers know that almost everyone is a foreigner, so they even called out to me in English. They seemed taken aback when I spoke Chinese back to them.

The Silk Market did get overwhelming after awhile. First of all, the enormous amounts of tiny shops filled with glittering fares and narrow aisles really did start to look alike after awhile. Also, the shopkeepers stand out in the aisles to call out to you, “LV wallet! Do you want a LV wallet? How about Coach?” and practically jump on you if you look at an item for more than a second. Still, it was a really fun experience to bargain and I bought two nice bags for less than $40. I even saw another friend from Yale in the crowd that I didn’t even know was in Beijing.

So if you are in Beijing, definitely visit the Silk Market. Just remember that if you want a bargain, you have to bargain ruthlessly. And remember that most of the name brands are fake.

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