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Thursday, July 4, 2013

Week Two: 讨价还价

I apologize for the lateness of this post. However, classes have been especially busy, and we just returned from Beijing. Hope you are prepared for some our adventures.

Adopting the shopping theme, week two passed by quickly in a flurry of super-malls, underground bargaining markets, and dark night processions. Lin’s use of connecting the Chinese education experience coupled with the everyday activities continues to impress me and excite me for the upcoming lessons. While last week centered on the necessities of the history of Qingdao, transportation around the city, and the bare necessity of food, this week gave us the opportunity to further understand the process of buying and bargaining for items.

The first day of the week, June 10th, we began delving into the incredible super-mall culture within China. These 购物中心 (gou4wu4zhong1xin1 = shopping center) sprout up all over China’s larger metropolises like stalagmites, filling up space vertically as opposed to America’s horizontally stretching monstrosities. After class we departed for our large shopping center en masse.

海信 hai3xin4 = Haixin…a name of the supermarketwas massive. A beautiful chunk of steel and glass jetting out of the lightly colored cement instilled a sense of awe and captivation, as if Howard Roarke had jumped out of fiction in order to summon up this sloping tower. We entered through the first floor, an expansive labyrinth of illustrious companies that I had somehow previously never known. Gucci (Goo-chee, not Goo-key as I consistently mispronounced) clothing and accessories decorated one very leathery store while just across the hall a darkly lighted, “masculine” Armani brandished its wares.

Before hitching a ride to the apex of the building, we descended into the depths of the underground in search of good deals, until we quickly realized that none of the items within reach would be remotely buyable. Once on the second underground level (further underground levels served only as parking garages), we began levitating around the winding aisles of goods, occasionally looking at an ornate jade decoration piece or an exquisite, silk suit, all the while trying to question the different salespeople.

Unfortunately, shortly after each attempt to strike up a conversation, the salesperson would lose interest us. We seemed to exude an inability to really afford any of the merchandise, and the employees acted accordingly. While not able to answer all of the questions tasked for the day, we were able to explore all the floors, from the seventh floor food court to the second floor woman’s dress apparel, to the fifth floor’s men’s shoes, to the sixth floor’s children’s products. During our adventuring and interviewing, I learned about a very interesting tidbit of Chinese shopping culture: the 富二代 (fu4er4dai4).

The term 富二代 refers to the children of the entrepreneurs who became wealthy under the 1980 economic reforms. These children (now comprised of our age group of about 15 years to 23 years) often frequented these expensive malls in order to buy all the clothes to their hearts desire. While not exactly an economic problem, these second generation rather wealthy heirs have developed into a social problem. Often fully depending on their family’s fortune, these youth often don’t seek their own jobs and will need to be watched carefully to see what their future holds for them and for China as a whole.

The second day covered the most interesting (and come Beijing, most useful) section of the textbook up to this point: 讨价还价 (tao2jia4huan2jia4 = to barter for better prices). We learned about how to adequately approach a bartering situation and how to execute properly in order to obtain a deal. While no matter how low the price reached, a serious profit would still be made by the seller, through bargaining we could cut the price by more than fifty percent by utilizing our skills. Besides a host of presents that I am not going to reveal on this blog, I came to China intent on purchasing two items: 象棋 (xiang4qi2 = Chinese chess) and 围棋 (wei2qi2 = the game of Go (as shown in the cinematic masterpiece of A Beautiful Mind)).

That afternoon we traveled by bus to old Qingdao where we came upon a rustic building surrounding an open courtyard. While from the outside the building looked very Asian with curvy roof architecture, red tiles, and detailed parapets, the entirety of the structure appeared slightly underwhelming for the bartering city we were led to expect. However, upon venturing through the narrow front doors, a thriving marketplace of Rolexes, North Face jackets, flashy knives, and jewelry greeted me.

While many classmates departed to ask different shopkeepers questions on their wares’ origins or to inquire on shoppers bargaining secrets, I along with my fellow board game aficionado Matthew and Robb (Matthew and Robb are fraternity brothers, and have a big brother little brother thing going on…I don’t fully understand fraternity culture but they’re really good friends) departed in a desperate search to discover a 象棋 set.

After traversing the entirety of the top two floors and three floors of the basement, our search proved unsuccessful. However, with a bit of luck from Robb’s careful military powers of perception, we discovered a relatively secret alcove leading deeper into the cavern of illegitimate stores. This particular venture brought us past aisles of illegal movies and Chinese tea sets until we came upon an old room with a kind, elderly Chinese lady who sold Chinese tea, pots, chopsticks, and fans. However, huddled in the back corner, we noticed a small collection of 象棋 sets.

Ecstatic, we began searching the rest of the floor, playing a game as if we were uninterested. Upon stumbling upon a pair of perfect 象棋 sets, we started to comment on our interest and asked her for the initial price. One was priced at 360 yuan and the other 280 yuan. We then proceeded to tell her that was too expensive (around 60 dollars for one and 45 dollars for the other) and remarked on the imperfections in each, including the quality of the wood-smithing, the poor color pallets, and the inconvenience of fitting them into our suitcases (which of course was a lie).

Through haggling and bargaining, we eventually got it so that we only had to pay 500 for the two together. While it took much coercing on our parts, we felt that we had just made the best deals of our lives and would be rolling in 象棋 games thereafter. However, after Beijing, I now realize how much money we lost and how poorly we bargained. The storekeeper played us perfectly, and we fell into her Chinese trap. When questioned by 林老师 about the price we paid, she giggled and thought that we overpaid handsomely. Matthew, argumentative as he is, made convincing solutions to our overpaying predicament, and I went along. However, in the back of my head, I began coming up with solutions to the problem, and my bargaining skills increased greatly. As The Who says, I would not get fooled again. (But the 象棋 sets are amazing and we really did get some high quality products for relatively cheap in America…but compared to the deals I pulled in Beijing last weekend (850 kuai down to 90 kuai), we were completely ripped off).

The final day of the activities for the week, included a trip to the night market or 夜市 (ye4shi4). Here we could further our 讨价还价 skills in a market, which served as a source of living for most of the 老百姓 (lao3bai3xing4 = the commoners; the lower middle class and below). The 夜市 offers everything from needles and thread, to pots and pans, to blankets and quilts. While not as full of knock off products and apparel, the 夜市 offers a lot of interesting products for much cheaper than the bargaining market we visited on Tuesday. Whereas the previous day, prices dealt in the 100 kuai range and jumped up and down by tens, the 夜市 dealt mainly in the lower forties, and prices varied a lot differently.

We began the trip by rambunctiously piling onto a packed public bus and heading west. With the host of Americans and the approaching evening, we became increasingly hyperactive and began breaking out into song aboard the bus along with striking up unique conversations with locals. Once we departed the bus, we emerged in a previously unexplored section of the city. The streets were filled to the brim with stands and tents, each supporting one another’s weight, similarly to the pushing and shoving used by the shoppers.

We dove into the sea of people, and soon our group of fifteen split into two groups of seven and eight, and then disintegrated into even smaller groups of threes, fours, and sixes. We continued flowing down the river of people, stumbling past hilarious “English” shirts and stands selling funny cellphone covers looking for a place to buy some food. Soon my group was just Ben, Matthew, Robb, Maddi, and I, having lost Evan and Lizzy somewhere in the multitude of people swarming behind us. Famished, Robb began searching for a place to purchase food. I was saving the majority of my shopping money for Beijing; however, I desperately wanted to find something to barter for here, where I could at least take off fifty percent.

While searching for a worthy destination, we stumbled upon a most beautiful stand selling a most interesting culinary specimen: live scorpions…well at least alive when first purchased. These arachnid creatures varied in size from that of four love-bugs, to the size of a cockroach with a stinger. I had previously expressed wishes to consume scorpions during my stay in Chia; however, staring down at these clawed, stinger-equipped monsters, I began having second thoughts. However, Ben quickly came to the rescue by saying that he would eat some with me. As a result, Ben and I purchased a group of scorpions and then watched as they boiled alive in front of us in a vat of oil. As we listened to the air pockets escape through their exoskeletons in an eerily melodious scream, we awaited the foreign experience to bless our taste buds.

Once the scorpions were complete, the server placed them in a bag and loaded them with an MSG and salt mixture with just a dash of spice. Ben and I stared at the fried, batter-less specimens and with a “bottoms up!” placed the crunchy little creatures within our anticipating mouths. They tasted fantastic. With a perfect blend of crunchy exterior and crispy, meaty interior, I devoured my first scorpion quickly and then the others followed suit. Maddi, Robb, and Matthew then followed our example and each consumed their own little scorpions. Only Robb was lucky enough to acquire a stinger lodged in his tongue, which forced him to have to manually pry it from its place.

We then continued on our way through the market, my classmates occasionally stopping to bargain for a ping pong paddle and ball or look at the interesting pipes offered. However, I broke from the pack upon discovering a most beautiful artifact: a calligraphy practicing set. Consisting of a black felt backdrop covered by a translucent, synthetic rice paper, this roll allows for the practice of calligraphy by using water to seep through the rice paper in order to reveal the backdrop underneath. It allows for unlimited uses for practicing stroke perfection and would serve as great practice for bargaining.

I approached the vendor and began investigating the roll. I asked him lots of questions about how it was made, its uses, and the inner quality. Furthermore, I began looking for other items to supplement the item, and my eyes stumbled across a nice little horse hair brush that in America would sell for around five dollars…I planned on doing better. After talking with the vendor for a while, I asked him the cost of the calligraphy paper and the brush. He said the paper cost thirty kuai and the brush eight. I laughed internally and began the process of bargaining.

“I’ll give you ten for both.” It was his turn to laugh as he believed this prospect ludicrous. He said ten would only suit the calligraphy paper if I gave him an additional two kuai. By this small revelation, I knew I had him. Internally, I would not pay more than fifteen for everything so again I told him firmly ten for both. He told me to forget it and left to another corner of his table. However, I did not budge; instead, I held my ground and just stared at the product, I intended on purchasing. Finally, he returned and said twenty for both, but I relayed I’d only pay ten. He refused a second time, but I maintained my patience. Finally, I pulled out fifteen kuai and put it in his hand. He asked if I had any more, but with a perfectly straight, honest face (although technically I was being quite dishonest) “没有” (mei2you3 = I don’t have). Disgruntled (which means I did the right thing), he gave me the brush and calligraphy paper and I went on my way.

The rest of the evening passed by quickly as we finished up our trek through the market and returned to our dormitories. The next day involved studying, tutoring, and more studying. Also in a moment of necessary procrastination, I finally did my first load of laundry complete with the very enjoyable task of hang-drying. Friday ended with the most difficult test I’ve ever taken in my life and the weekend had begun. 

Just the normal chip flavors of Pork Ribs, Cucumber, Fish flavored Pork, and Meaty Italian

The market on the second day

Above market's interior

My 象棋 set

My first American food experience...and KFC is delicious phenomenally good!

夜市 "English" shirt. As you can read it says:
Which is of course English...

Get in my belly

Exterior for the scorpions

Rob eating his scorpion...picture taken prior to stinger becoming embedded in tongue

A typical meal for Shawn Wesley

My first day of laundry

We visited a book store movie place...and well...this is the King Lion....featuring it appears elder Bambi and strange white poodle mix

Squid fried in a wasabi batter

Our Japanese restaurant meal...some sort of duck.