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 price...you 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.