Itâ€™s hard to admit, but when I travel now I do my fair share of shopping. In the very beginning it never really occurred to me. But after watching my shopping/traveling sensei buddy Moz always come back with cool stuff, or have something really unique shipped back, it always had me envious of him. To this day he still ends up purchasing either more or higher ticket items than I do. These are usually very nice carpets or his other passions, furniture and art. Iâ€™ve gotten more adventurous and have gotten a much better eye for quality. And usually thatâ€™s what I do, have an idea what I want from the start, or see something unique and try to get the best quality version I can afford. And as far as Iâ€™m concerned this must ALWAYS come with a fair amount of haggling. After you come to the conclusion that youâ€™ll never get a â€œFantasticâ€ deal and all you can hope for is a relatively good one ( that vendor is always going to go home and say â€œMan did I hose some tourists today!â€) and with that in mind youâ€™ll have a much better chance of walking away from a bad deal. Never the less itâ€™s never a big deal for me to walk away from a local vendor knowing I paid maybe a bit more than I had to if in the long run it helps them get by.
One does have to be clever though, and patient. Iâ€™ve seen Moz haggle for something he didnâ€™t want only to act exasperated at the same time as the vendor, then idly pick up the item he really wanted and say, â€œIâ€™ll give you such and such for this.â€ and get it on the spot. My other friend Mars always said she hated the vendors and haggling. But now after a few trips together sheâ€™s become enamored of the whole process.
â€œSteve can you believe he wants 50,000 rupiah for this!!â€
â€œRelax its only 5 bucks, heâ€™ll come down.â€
Minutes later with a huge grin on her face â€œI got it for 25,000!â€
Itâ€™s actually pretty fun once you can effectively tune out the constant â€œMeeester come look no problem just lookee.
China was a bit different than some places Iâ€™ve been. Mostly due to the â€œTourâ€ thing. Many of these people either had loads of disposable income, or are considerably less wealthy now. Or maybe they were just getting a jump on their holiday shopping. Regardless, their wallets and purses were hammered every which way, everywhere. It started innocently enough with knockoff Rolex watches and designer handbags.
Can you believe this was only ten dollars!â€? Not to mention all the other crap along the way that was only â€œFive dollah, one dollah!â€ Then these people started getting nailed with bogus change. Theyâ€™d hand the hawker a large yuan note and get counterfeit change back and this was right after the guide warned them of this scam. Guess they thought it wouldnâ€™t happen to them. In Xian they started buying these little sets of Terra cotta warriors. Only five dollah. Yeah, at least the guide had the decency to tell them â€œIt is sun baked clay not fire baked, and they use shoe polish.â€ When they crashed to the bus floor and splintered, I couldnâ€™t help but think â€œAt least they were only five dollah.â€ I bought fruit for 2-3 yuan and they looked at me like I was the crazy one! In Shanghai I sent one sales woman into a near epileptic fit. She wouldnâ€™t come down from a 120-yuan price for T-shirts, multiple shirts at that! I told her in a nice loud voice â€œScrew that, I can get these at the airport for 70 each!â€ She had a fit waving her hands frantically to be quiet so no one else around in the shop would hear that. The next shop over sold the same shirts for 60.
I think the most insidious (Outside of the constant, unrelenting exposure) form of shopping was bussing all these folks into not only factories but to the different â€œInstitutesâ€. â€œThe local crafts instituteâ€, â€œThe Jade instituteâ€ â€œThe embroidery instituteâ€ â€œThe green tea cooperativeâ€ And my very favorite â€œThe institute of mineral technologyâ€, yep you guessed it, another Jade and gem factory. There was absolutely no doubt that the stuff was unbelievably gorgeous, but we were talking serious bucks here, not to mention the commissions the guides and sales folks were going to make. I like jade, but not that much. I spent time looking but for the most part just sampled their gratis tasting of rice liquor, another tactic they use to loosen you up. The thing that killed these folks was they werenâ€™t patient enough. â€œSorry sir fixed price, government store.â€ Many dropped money because somehow they thought they wouldnâ€™t get another opportunity. Some Gov. places in fact would bargain, and some wouldnâ€™t. They just needed to persevere. This mentality totally mystified me. One place in particular they herded us into, I was looking at some paintings that were on rice paper and silk. Really nice stuff and I would have loved to own them but they were just too large. The total starting price combined for both was $1000 US. Playing the game still knowing I wasnâ€™t going to buy, I could have walked out of this place with both for $350 US. These two yuppie dorks standing with their purchases, had jaws drop and their eyes went glassy when I told them about this. One said â€œSteve Iâ€™m sending you with my wife from now on.â€
Did we shop. Absolutely, we bought a fair amount of things, tea, fancy chopsticks, other trinkets, gifts and the like. And for the most part paid exactly what I was willing to pay. Did I spend more than I had to, or would have liked? Yeah probably, but in the long run I have a pretty good feeling that I wonâ€™t be looking at my charge card statement or something that looks like it should be in a Chinese restaurant and saying,
Just what the hell was I thinking?