Sunday, August 5, 2007

Centre of Attention

When tourists or foreigners go to Panjiayuan, the antique flea market to bargain, they have to bear in mind everyone will be watching them.

The locals are curious to see what trinkets the lao wai or foreigners like to buy. But what really draws a crowd is watching them bargain.

My American friend knows she'll be the centre of attention and hams it up for the crowd.

She spied a pair of black rectangular cut stones with dragons carved on them. They're used as paper weights for calligraphers or painters. And she wants to use them to hold down her cookbooks.

"Duo shao qian?" she asked the older man in a singlet with a few front teeth missing.

"Wu bai [500RMB or US$66]" he replied.

She immediately put her hand on her chest and had an over dramatic look of shock on her face.

He smiled and handed her the calculator, telling her to punch in her price.


He violently shook his head and waved his hand downwards, saying it was too low. And he handed back the calculator to her.

A crowd had gathered around her as she again punched in 50. They laughed and wondered if this was going to go anywhere.

She continued to stand her ground as the calculator was passed back and forth and he kept waving his hand and complaining she was asking too low a price.

But the old man played along and eventually lowered the price to 300, 280 and then 200. She also complied by raising her suggested price to 75 and then 90.

Finally they came to an agreement of 150RMB (US$19.82).

The audience was impressed by her skills and there were a few shouts of approval.

She gave him two-one hundred bills and then asked about a pair of long narrow bars made of silver with the animal zodiac on each of them. They are also used as paper weights.

The bargaining continued again. She knew he wouldn't give her change back so she managed to bargain to 50RMB and gave him the opportunity to punch that final number in the calculator.

In the end she thanked him profusely and he smiled a wide grin with his one upper front tooth showing.

The dramatic comedy was probably the highlight of his day.

1 comment:

ks said...

bargaining with little people who try to make a living is a big waste of tourist time. we pay thousands of dollars in order to spend quality time in a foreign land to absorb their culture why spend time and energy on just few dollars. it is a crime to skim that little bit of profit from the livelihood of these people. but of course it can be argued that bargaining is part of their culture. in fact bargaining can even be a world culture.