Saturday, 23 May 2009

Mere blog ki toh ban(ne)d baj gayee...

As many of you already know, my blog has been banned in China and I have not been able to post on it since more than a week now.

As of now, in true Indian style I am trying to do some 'setting' and looking for alternate solutions to it. But, till I find that permanent solution, I will be posting in proxy (i.e. I will have a friend of mine post for me).

So all my dear followers, please bear with me if I take a while to publish comments, reply or put up new posts. Also pardon any grammatical errors that may mistakenly get published on my blog. I will try and keep it as error-free as possible, but if the process of formatting introduces any errors, I apologise for it.

However, that is not to say that those errors must be ignored. If any of you see a problem, please bring it to my notice and I will try to rectify it as soon as I can. Thank you in anticipation.

For now, I don't know when my blog will be unblocked. I don't even know if it ever will. But, please be patient with me. I will try and put up at least one new post every week, but if I do not, it's probably something to do with the proxy me :)

Mere blog ki toh ban(ne)d baj gayee hai...par mein band ab tak baja rahi hoon...So fikar not and keep reading :)

Thanks for all your support and sorry for any inconvenience this whole exercise may cause.

The Yellow Indian :)

Judging a person by their bargaining skills...

I love shopping. But it’s not for the shopping itself.

It is for the process of bargaining – the holistic experience of that heady potpourri of money reluctantly changing hands, power play and subtle drama. All at once, it makes me feel like a hotshot business tycoon, a high-profile politician and a nuanced Bollywood actor.

Last Saturday, I visited Beijing's popular Yashow market. I was to meet a former colleague in the Sanlitun area later that evening, and since I had time to kill and walking gear to buy, I figured I might as well go and pay the cursory visit.

Yashow, can at best be compared to Fashion Street in Bombay – a market with reasonably priced clothes of moderate quality, a spattering of tourists and salespersons literally dragging you into their store. I must state, the frequency and aggression of the last act in Yashow has not been matched at any market I have been to, yet. Fortunately for me, I sauntered through all the chaos around me, without much trouble. I didn't look like a foreigner at first glance, you see... (this was one time, as you can imagine, I was secretly happy that I had small eyes, yellow skin and fit into the stereotypical image of a Chinese!)

At Yashow, they sell everything a shopper would want – chi paos (the traditional dress), shirts, dresses, shoes, cloth, hair and body accessories, sporting gear and even tailors (no they didn't SELL them, they just had them in case you want something custom made!) – and after crossing a couple of rows of stalls, I found what I wanted: track pants and racer tops.

Pointing to a black track pant with bright pink stripes on both seams, I asked the salesgirl, "Chi do cha chhen (What does it cost)?"

"140 yuan," she said. "Where are you from?"

"Hubei," I said.

"Hubei? Ohhhh..." she said.

"Han quai...(it's too expensive)...Sao chhen (make it less)," I told her.

"120 yuan," she said.

My instincts immediately kicked in and I began trying to cut a deal a good businessman would be proud of. "Give me a good price and I'll take two items," I said pointing to a matching pink and black racer top.

"240 yuan for both," she said.

"Haah!" I laughed. "I will not give you more than 80 yuan for both."

"That's too less! Only 80 yuan! No I can't give it," she said.

It was now time to play my part.

I shrugged, turned around, ambled away like I didn't care a damn and nonchalantly said, "Ok...If you don't give it to me, someone else will..."

The trick worked. The salesgirl called me back, "Ok. I give you 160 yuan, both. Only for you."

"No." I said curtly. "I told you, I will not give you more than 80 yuan for both."

She then went further down...140 yuan...120 yuan...100 yuan...

Astutely, I took this opportunity to tell the sales girl, "I will come back to buy track pants from you again...give it to me for 80 yuan…"

"No. No. Last price 100 yuan!" she said.

"Ok," I said, " Let's settle at a price that's neither yours nor mine...90 yuan for both!"

Putting her hand forward and frowning, she said, "Give me money!"

I reached into my purse, pulled out a 100 yuan note and handed it to the salesgirl. But, her gaze was fixed on me.

"I know where you are from...," she unexpectedly said, "You not from Hubei... You from India! Only India people make money so less!"

(Strangely, it was the second time in as many hours, that the topic about Indian bargaining skills was broached. On my way to Yashow, an Australian lady I met was telling me about the perils of shopping at Yashow. "Oh! And you have to bargain or they will cheat you," she had said. When she later got to know that I was Indian, she blithely said, "Oh wow! Then I guess I don't need to even tell you how to bargain. You guys are masters at it!")

I was extremely amused at how my bargaining tactics gave away what I really was. It is something, I, as an Indian, take for granted But, it truly is such an accurate measure of my identity.

Feeling extremely proud of my achievement of having brought down the price of the track pant from 140 yuan to 45 yuan, I said, "Yes, I am Indian. But, my great grandparents were from Hubei."

Now, the salesgirl made her last ditch effort to get my sympathy. She probably hoped it would melt me into letting go of the 10 yuan she had to return.

Holding the bag of clothes in one hand and 100 yuan in the other, the salesgirl looked perplexed as if she was going into loss..."It's too less but because you promise to come again, I'm giving you..." she said.

However, I was distracted by another racer back. I promptly took the shopping bag from the salesgirl, plopped the racer back in and handed an extra 30 yuan to the sales girl.

"But it's 45 yuan each, according to our last settled have given me only 40 yuan for the third item!" she protested.

"I was only taking two items then. Now I'm now taking three..." I said and walked away.

After just a couple of steps, I turned around and said to her, "I told you, I'll come back..."

She shook her head from side to side and laughed. "You Indian people!" she said.

Thoughts as of: May 14th, 2009.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Authenticating my ethnicity...

While most Chinese are trying to figure how I am Indian, some colleagues at work are trying to dissect my Chinese ancestry. They are hell bent on making me prove, that I am indeed of Chinese descent.

“You are Chinese!” exclaimed one colleague, as he started yakking with me in Mandarin, at the speed of 100 words per minute. I, of course, didn’t get a word of what he said.

“ you don’t understand or speak Mandarin, aaahhh?” chuckled my colleague.

I explained, “I do not speak Mandarin, but I can understand a lot of it because my dialect is similar. However, for that you need to talk at half your pace.”

“If you don’t speak Mandarin, what do you speak?”

“I speak Hubei khwa (loosely translated, it means I speak the Hubei dialect)”, I said.

“Ok then, we will find someone from Hubei to converse with you,” he said.

A few days later, I happened to drop by that colleague’s department again, and he promptly called me over. When I went up to him, he called upon a reporter who was doubling up as a copy editor, for that day.

Pointing to the reporter-copy editor, my colleague said, “He is from Hubei, a proper Hubei person from Wuhan (its capital). Now, he can talk to you…”

Turning to him, my colleague insisted, “Say something to her in Hubei khwa.”

Kao Mo Seeh?” the reporter-copy editor said.

“What? Say it again,” I told him. He repeated but I didn’t understand.

“What did you say?” I asked him.

“It meant, ‘What work do you do?’”

I said to him, “But in our language, we say it as ‘Ni chao sung sih?’”

By this time, a few other colleagues had gathered around to get their dose of amusement for the day.

The reporter-copy editor asked me, “Are you from Wuhan or from another county in Hubei? You know, the Hubei dialect in the north and even other parts of the province differ from that in Wuhan.”

I smiled at him and said, “I don’t know which county I come from. I just know that my great grandparents were from the Hubei province.”

The crowd laughed...

By this time, I was tired of their ragging and so I said, “This is the first time I have ever come to China, forget the province and the county I hail from! I am Indian and I just look Chinese!!!”

My colleague who started this whole prattle, laughed and said to me. “Ok, find out which county you are from and we will find a person from your county.”

In retrospect, I should have told him, I speak Indian Chinese.

Now, let me see him getting someone who can speak that dialect!!!

Friday, 1 May 2009

Only in China (or maybe Beijing)

- People in the subways of Beijing will give up their seats to children (some who are almost on the threshold of their teens), but they rarely offer their seats to the aged.
P.S. A little correction here. They may not offer their seats to the Chinese elders, but they almost always offer their seat to elderly foreigners (June 3, 2009)

- Parents will often make a measured slit in their children's pants, strategically placed between the two buns of their bottoms. The Chinese find it convenient for their children to answer nature's second call and to clean up thereafter.

- Saying 'NO' is disrespectful.

- Wearing pyjamas and night suits to go out is considered a sign of wealth and prosperity. In the olden days, the only people who could afford to wear pyjamas and night suits were the rich, and people in China still subscribe to that mentality.

- Vendors at shopping hot spots quote a price 10 times of what they will eventually give it to you at, if you have the good sense and acute skill to bargain.

- Japanese Anime dressing is the perennial style. Everything is worn with stockings, everything is cute to the point of being nauseating and everything has super kiddish designs and motifs. This is especially true of the youngsters.

- People are very friendly and polite. So much so that they are polite to a fault. They will never directly tell you that they have a problem. It will usually be through your friend or a colleague you share a good rapport with. Like they say, "Too much of a good thing is good for nothing".

- You will be stopped by a random stranger on the road (especially if you look like a Westerner), who will offer to take you to coffee or tea, in exchange for helping them practice English.

- Do they have the concept of desserts that are 'steaming hot'. (Actually they probably share this with other Asian countries like Japan and Korea).

- While having a meal with several Chinese people, you eat more entrees, than rice (something that is quite the opposite in India). If you ask for rice at the beginning of the meal or mid-meal, it is considered disrespectful to your hosts. Apparently, only the poor ate rice in ancient China.

- If you look Indian or especially Pakistani, people will hound you for pictures with them.

- A normal conversation, to a foreigner's ear, will sound like a cock fight. It's not the people, it's just the way the language is spoken.

- After first use, you realise that a brand new non-stick wok is everything but 'non-stick'. The wok itself will get burned after 5 minutes on the stove, you will have to use oil like you are deep frying yourself and everything that can possibly get stuck to it (read oil and food) will do just that.
Check out the picture of the KangShuangChuJu non-stick Wok, after one use and overnight soaking in soap water. Now that's what I call 'Made in China'!!!

- After just a week of using the soap cake, you wake up one morning to see that it is split wide open like a sea shell robbed of its oyster. I don't know if it's the water or the soap itself that caused this...but whatever it is, it doesn't speak much for locally made soap cakes!

- If you want plain cold or room temperature water, you will be served steaming hot water and given ice to cool it down. Yes, it's crazy but true!

- Telling a person that they are younger than they really are is considered an insult. Age here is associated with wealth, wisdom and experience.

- The male of a couple will have his girlfriend's handbag casually slung over his shoulder. They do this unhindered and without feeling any embarrassment. I guess it's an essential part of wooing and courtship.

- A boyfriend and girlfriend will wear design-colour coordinated t-shirts. Thankfully, manufacturers take the pains to make the tees boyish (usual baggy style) and girlish (shorter, more shapely and more fitted). Oh! They also wear colour coordinated crocs!

This list is not comprehensive and will be added to as and when I come across more such quirks. Any contributions are welcome. Thanks in advance!