China

Beijing life – a market trip to remember

Usually, a guy will consider himself lucky to have a comely female clutch his forearm tightly and say don’t go.

Except if this happened inside a market stall and the guy doesn’t want to buy anything.
It’s striking that just after posting about amusing female vendor market interactions in Ho Chi Minh City last week, I’d experience something similar one in Beijing, though not so amusing. A few days ago, I was at the Yashow indoor market, a squarish mall actually, in Sanlitun, which sells a lot of clothes, especially replicas, a place recommended by a colleague. Inside, the place was filled with open stalls in all directions which kind of resembled a maze. Each stall was roughly the size of two or three cubicle spaces. There were quite a number of non-Chinese tourists here, even including tour groups.

I was looking for a coat jacket and I stopped at a few stalls to check out the goods and ask the prices, which you don’t accept at all. It seemed straightforward enough. I was looking at a few decent coats at one stall when a lady came up to me and said I could try them on. Sure, I replied, and I did. Where’re you from? Singapore?, she asked. I told her Hong Kong, and she said “oh, well you all look similar” with a laugh. “We’re all Chinese,” I replied. Anyways I asked the price and it was high, but not surprisingly she reduced it. However I decided not to buy and started to leave when the lady placed her hand on my arm.  Come on, she said, clutching a calculator with her other hand. “I’ll give you a better price. And look at this jacket again, it’s good quality,” she said. Well, I said it’s alright and turned to leave again. The lady put her hand on my arm again, except this time she was grasping it as she pulled me back into her stall. Wait, I’ll give you a better price, she said. It’s ok, I replied, “I’ll look around first and maybe come back.” Unbelievably the hand went on my arm again and this time the grasp was tighter. By this time, I was a little stunned and to use a cliche, couldn’t believe this was happening. I had to pull away, with the lady still holding on, but finally I managed to extricate myself. OK, I’ll sell it cheaper, she shouted. 200! 150!

Anyways, I walked away a little shaken but still in the mood to do a little more shopping. And would you believe it, practically the same thing happened again a little later (I never learn, it seems). I was at another stall looking at a jacket and the female attendant urged me to try it on. I did, and then asked about the price. I thought it was a bit high and I didn’t want to buy so I said thanks then walked away. The lady put her hand on my arm and said she’d reduce the price. I said I’d consider it and walked away. Now listen to me, she said and immediately her hand tightened on my arm and the whole drama above repeated itself. This lady was a little more persistent though, at one point when I told her to release my hand (fang shou 放手), she actually said no. I really had to put some effort into getting this one to let go and as she did, she defiantly shouted out a last offer – “150, you hear!”

The shouting part happened with several other vendors when I walked away, since bargaining is an accepted part of buying. Actually it’s mandatory since the real price is always much too high – after all, these are mostly replicas, whether of Adidas or Timberland. While for some people, walking away is just a tactic, for me it’s usually for real since I don’t tend to buy things right away.  I did end up buying a decent coat from a male vendor. I bargained the price down quite a bit though I wonder if I still paid too much since he seemed to agree too easily.

Anyways, when I think back at this, I can’t help laughing a little. But trust me, it was more than a little harrowing when it happened, especially when considering how those helpful friendly female store clerks morphed into tenacious, forceful creatures within a split second. In contrast, the caresses by the female vendors at the Ben Thanh indoor market and the comical pleading and theatrical blocking by the female vendors at the nighttime market at the same place, seem downright gentle.

Sometimes, it seems like living in Beijing is like an adventure. The most basic situations can turn into the unexpected.

Of course, China can be very beautiful, pleasant and relaxing. Take a journey across China in this video of timelapse photos of cities and landscapes.

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