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China Sprout

 

She Learns to Bargain in Beijing

 

Eileen Reagan, from Brooklyn, New York has had the wonderful opportunity of actually living in Beijing for an extended period of time. That meant she has had to learn the ground rules for shopping in a country that has elevated the act of bargaining to an absolute art. Eileen writes...


I've spent the better part of the last two years in Beijing, a city that is changing by the moment. Last week I came home in the evening walking past a half mile of tin-shelter shops, markets and businesses. This morning, I went there for eggs and the entire area was leveled. These quick transitions give new meaning to the adage, “if you see something you like, buy it now.” However in China, it should be “ buy it right now but bargain a lot first.”

Shopping in Beijing and most of China is great fun if you are prepared to bargain and haggle for everything, even in some of the local department stores. Forget the international shops, their prices are fixed and they are only for the really, really rich.

Learn your numbers in Chinese...

Chinese numbersTo begin, even though a fair amount of English is spoken in the big cities, not knowing the Chinese words for numbers and prices will cost you a lot of extra money. Before you leave home, learn your numbers in Chinese. When I go to the market, I try to listen carefully to the vendor’s first price. Then I counter with, “ Too expensive for me.” Then the seller will say something like "You say" which means...make me an offer. I, then, compliment the article again, say it is much too expensive and begin walking away. The Chinese bargaining system has now begun.


Bargaining brings success....

Too much!As a foreigner never, ever offer more than 25% of the originally stated amount. Don't be afraid to insult anyone, Chinese merchants expect you to bargain but they don't think that you know how much you can reduce the price. (They have no idea that you are a savvy Journeywoman) Let them make the next move.

Expect to be quoted at least three or four times the amount that a Chinese person would be told, but never, ever end up actually paying more than half. If the seller won't bargain then try another stall. Many of the markets have venders selling the exact material for totally different amounts. In the final analysis, feeling satisfied that the price suits you is all that matters.

For example, I was quite happy to bring the "first" price of 195Y(Chinese dollars) down to 55Y and buy myself a very pretty watch. Then my neighbor came over with the same watch that she had bought for 20Y. However, I didn’t fret because I paid only 200Y for my North Face jacket, while my roommate paid 375Y for hers. That’s what makes shopping fun.

P.S. from Jane L. in Beijing: Feel free to bring some U.S. $1's or $5's as a way to get a lower price when shopping in markets. If you've bargained hard and still can't get what you want, offer the $5.00 bill and then walk away holding the money. Merchants will generally call after you to come back. They will want the hard currency.

Happy bargaining, ladies!


Chinese Money Matters...

  • calculatorIn Beijing, stores are open daily from 8:00 am to 6:00 and sometimes 7:00 pm. Markets tend to open the same time but have more flexible closing hours.

  • Need more cash? Banks in China are open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday to Saturday. They close from noon to 2:00 pm for lunch

  • In department stores where you are able to use a credit card, be sure to put the local currency sign (yuen) before the total credit card amount so it won’t be mistaken for dollars.

  • Pack a pocket battery calculator which should come in handy when
    bargaining. For faster approximate calculations make up your own mini
    card with current exchange rates. i.e. One U.S. $ = ? yuen Ten U.S. $ = ? yuen

  • Keep your valuables well protected. Expect hoards of people to share sidewalk space with you -- under these conditions, a fanny pack is a perfect invitation to pickpockets.

  • theifAs in any large city one must watch their valuables and never display large amounts of money openly. Use a neck-style or other secure bag for passports and excess money. Then, just carry a small amount of money in a concealed change purse. This way you lessen the risk of being the victim of pickpockets or "snatchers" prevalent in the Beijing streetmarkets, and (very important)... the vendor doesn't see a lot of money which helps your bargaining power even more.

(From Journeywoman files,Dr. Jane Liedtke, and The Treasures and Pleasures of China, Impact Guides.)


Be a Smart Shopper...

Remember to pack an extra piece of foldable luggage and a tiny lock to
bring home all of your shopping treasures.
On shopping sprees, be sure to wear a comfortable pair of shoes with thick soles. If your feet are sore your bargaining power will definitely be diminished
It’s easy to lose your way in Beijing especially if you get excited about all the good stuff you’re buying. Remember to pop a business card from your hotel into your pocket. Show this card to a student (many speak English), a nearby hotel concierge or a taxi driver. They can generally point you in the right direction.
Carry bottled water. The tap water in China is undrinkable and will make you ill.

From home, bring along a packet of bubble wrap, tape, scissors and cord so your Chinese breakables will survive the plane trip back.

 

 

 

 

 

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