Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Guide to Bargaining

Nei ho, all!

Yesterday was my second time visiting the city of Zhuhai, which is directly north of Macau. It is very easy to reach the Macau-Zhuhai Border Gate (a ten-minute ride either by bus or taxi) and you can literally walk through the Immigrations building and step out on the other side in Mainland China!

You do need a visa, however, to enter Zhuhai, since you are officially entering China. The first time I went was on a group visa with four other exchange students, but this time I had entered with my own multi-entry visa. The group visa had cost me 30 MOP (about $3.75 USD). My multi-entry visa cost me 1,290 MOP (about $160 USD).

Why did it cost me so much? Well, it all has to do with politics. All the other exchange students paid exactly half of what I had to pay. For Americans, it costs so much to get a China visa because Chinese have to pay a lot of money for a US visa. It’s tit-for-tat.

I would have just kept going on a group visa, since it’s cheaper, but I need my multi-entry visa for my visit to Beijing and my trip to Chengdu with my dad. I can’t obtain group visas for those since I’m only going with one other person. I could have obtained single entries for my two trips, but I think they are also quite expensive. Plus, I would need to go apply each time I wanted to visit mainland China, which is a week-long process where I have to surrender my passport. Plus, with as often as we go to Zhuhai, it seemed to make sense for the sake of convenience to pay the price for a three-month, multi-entry visa.

Anyway, I’ll make up the money I paid for the visa with the money I’ll save in Zhuhai! Directly on the other side of the Border Gate is a giant underground mall! I mean, it makes our malls in the US seem baby-sized. I think the Zhuhai mall might be about the same size as an average American mall, but because of the layout of the mall (many “corridors” that branch off of the main entrance area) the mall just seems incredibly large. It’s very easy to get lost in, and in fact it feels like a labyrinth of shops. They even have arrows on the floors that direct you back toward the main entrance. There are no large department stores, but instead there are hundreds of extremely tiny stores that are packed tightly together.

It is also incredibly easy to get lost in this mall because it has high traffic from the Border Gate. Actually, many local Macanese people cross the border to Zhuhai for the sole purpose of shopping, since the prices are much better there than in Macau. But it is actually sometimes uncomfortable with all the people packed so closely together, especially in the tiny shops where you can sometimes only fit three or four people before getting too tight. I couldn’t imagine losing a small child in this place, because I don’t know if I could ever find them again.

But on the bright side, you can find anything in this mall! There’s lots of food (like a KFC, which has some really strange stuff…), but mainly the shops in the mall are clothing stores. They also have many accessory stores (including my favorite: knock-off designer bags) and “cute” stores, where all they sell are cute Asian stuffed animals and other small trinkets that are basically useless, but are so much fun to have! They also have quite a few electronics stores, but Zhuhai is known for having poor-quality products. One of my roommates bought an extremely cheap mp3 player for only a couple of dollars, but when she came back to Macau it wouldn’t sync up to her computer. So unless she wants to listen to the default song “Barbie Girl” over and over, the mp3 player is useless.

Another interesting feature of the mall is their perfume and cologne counters. They’re everywhere, and they even have knock-off designer perfumes! They actually mix them right there at their kiosk and put them in the bottles, which looks exactly like the originals. I think they may buy the bottles after they’ve been used an emptied, and then they refill them with their own mixture, but it’s only a guess.

When you go to Zhuhai, it is essential to bargain the price. To Americans and Europeans this can be a very strange custom, and at first it made me feel guilty to bargain the price. Why ask for a cheaper price when it is already so great? I also feel bad since many of these shop employees earn their livelihoods by selling their wares, and I know some of them barely live on enough to support themselves and their families.

However, I also realize that when a Westerner travels to a foreign country, not just China, they will automatically quote you a higher price than a local. They see the pale skin and the light hair and eyes and think “Ka-ching!” As long as you remember that they are probably quoting you up to twice the price they’re charging other people, you’ll already start off as a good bargainer.

Now, I’m not claiming that I’m a great bargainer. I still need lots of practice, and each transaction is different from the last. Sometimes I can bargain 50% off of the original price, and sometimes I can only get them to budge a few cents. But I’ve put together my “Guide to Bargaining.” Hopefully you can remember these tips the next time you travel to a country where bargaining is the norm.

• The most important thing is to be confident! Know that they are quoting you a much higher price than they will actually accept, and don’t stand for it! It’s better if the store has price tags on their items since price tags don’t discriminate, but if not just realize they are trying to quote you a higher price than the locals.

• Even if you don’t speak the language, you and the shopkeeper can use a calculator to communicate price. They’ll type in a price and show it to you, and from there you can type in a lower price and keep going back and forth until you agree on a price.

• Although it’s not necessary, you can find out the local word for “cheaper.” In Cantonese, it is “Peng di laaaa!”

• If they refuse to give you a lower price, don’t just accept their offer. Show with your expression and body language that you are not interested in paying their price, and turn around and walk away! Usually, they will call after you (or even chase you down) and at last begrudgingly accept your price.

• If they still don’t accept your price, don’t be discouraged! There are hundreds of other stores that sell EXACTLY the same thing. Try to bargain with a couple of other vendors to figure out the cheapest price you can get for the item.

• Have fun with it! Many Chinese (especially women) see bargaining as a game, and it can actually be fun if you get past the feelings of guilt. It’s a bit manipulative, but it’s fun to push people and see if you can get your way.

I think my most successful purchase was a pair of New Balance tennis shoes that had a price tag of 198 CNY ($29 USD), but I bargained them down to 150 CNY ($22 USD). I think 25% off was a pretty successful bargain, especially since it had the price tag already on it (which is for the locals). It was hard to find the size I needed, since Asians and Europeans have such small feet compared to us Americans. My size is pretty normal in the US, size 9, but every time I’ve told a European or Asian my shoe size they exclaim, “Wow, that’s so big!”

I also bought a pair of nice black footless tights for $3.66 USD. They were originally 30 CNY, which I tried to bargain down to 20, but she gave me 25. I didn’t try too hard on that one, although if I pushed a bit more I probably could have gotten my way.

My bargain failure was when I purchased a pair of jeans. I tried them on (it’s very rare to find a store here in China that will let you try things on first, let alone carry my “fat American” size, haha), and they were great! I asked about the price, expecting to have to bargain down to 100 CNY, but they were only 83 CNY ($12.00 USD) each! I just got so excited at bought two pairs at the price, forgetting to bargain. Looking back, I should have asked for three pairs at 200 CNY, which is what I had left. Oh, well, I’m sure I’ll be returning to Zhuhai soon. : )

I think the highlight of my day was when a little boy was with his mother, and he turned and saw me walking behind them. I was by myself and looking for my friends, so I was in a bit of a hurry. He turned back to his mom and was pointing at his eyes, and then back at me. I realized he was telling his mother to look at my blue eyes. Finally, the little boy said “Hello” in English to me. I replied, “Hello, how are you?” His mother told him how to say “I am fine.” He asked me where I was from, and I could tell he was fascinated when I told him I was from the USA. I have a feeling that the foreigners they actually do see in Zhuhai are European or Australian, but they probably don’t have too many Americans. It was exciting to make his day. : )

Overall, it was a very successful shopping trip. I look forward to returning soon for cheaper things that are around 15 CNY ($1.00 USD!!!). I got the walking shoes I needed for Beijing (the Great Wall is quite a hike, I’ve heard), and some jeans that actually fit me, not the ones I’ve outgrown from the US. A diet of rice will make you skinny fast. : )

Look out for my Beijing blog, which should be coming to you in the next couple weeks.

See you in Beijing!

This is the mall entrance, which you can directly access by escalator as soon as you exit the Border Gate complex. It looks deceivingly small, but all around the perimeter there are small exits that branch off from the main area here. They stretch on for a long time, and they go even deeper underground.


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