“Fair play doesn’t pertain in bargaining. What matters there is leverage.” – Alan Rosenberg
The Silk Street Pearl Market
In 2011, my travels brought me to Beijing, China. I’ve always loved anything of the epic and grand nature. Beijing’s Forbidden City and the Great Wall surely was that and lived up to all my expectations and then some. From my research, The Silk Street Pearl Market was the shopping equivalent of The Great Wall in Beijing.
The one thing that I love about Asia, is the great value for your money. Great shopping and deals abound. In China, bargaining is common place and expected. I had been travelling throughout Southeast Asia for the past 3 years prior and felt ready to tackle Beijing’s markets.
While in Beijing, I made it a point to visit the famous Silk Street Pearl Market near the Metro Line 2, Jianguomen Station. Sometimes, the market goes by the name “Silk Street” or “Silk Street Market” as well.
I’m always a bit giddy as I enter these large multi stall markets in Asia. I’m a bit of a sneaker freak and my senses heightened as I see a cluster of running shoe stalls directly ahead. With hawkers shouting their deals and peddling their wares, everything seemed to move at a torrid pace. At these markets, I generally just nod as I walk by and leisurely look for what I want.
However, I didn’t get this luxury at Silk Street.
As I entered the first aisle, hawkers were literally blocking my path and physically grabbing me by the arm to enter their store stall. Being the stereotypical “nice” Canadian, I obliged. I quickly had to adapt to a scan and move type of shopping methodology to avoid being trapped into a stall.
My new elusive shopping style was soon countered with fake designer wallets and purses being stuffed into my armpits or the palm of my hands. It was clear, that the onus of saying “no” to a purchase was now put back on me. Having to say “no” repeatedly was surprisingly exhausting. I had no choice, otherwise all my friends and family were going to get fake Louis Vuitton purses and wallets for Christmas.
I reckoned the sales floor looked to be at least 15,000 square feet in size. I soon realized that there was another 5 floors like this in the market each with their own themes such electronics, jewellery, clothing, etc. I spent the next 2 to 3 hours trudging stall to stall; floor to floor. Opening prices for most items tended to be more than double of that back home in Canada but prices would tumble as soon as the haggling started. Steady bargaining and haggling was starting to take its toll on me as exhaustion and hunger began to set in.
As I reached the upper sales floors, I soon had a new found respect for these vendors at this market (and many others like it). The realization that these vendors, spend perhaps 10-12 hours a day…everyday, hammering tourists for every dollar and RMB they can possibly squeeze was rather humbling.
The next day, I visited the shopping district of Wangfujing Street. The gauntlet of street food vendors here is what caught my eye. The food options here are dizzying. Despite being known for it’s exotic choices such as scorpions, lizard and starfish, I had a hankering for a bowl of spicy noodle soup. Spice and heat is an Achilles heel for me. At roughly just under $2 USD, it was easy on the wallet.
As the woman prepared my spicy noodles, she simply went ahead and added some dumplings to my bowl…and then asked if I wanted them? As I paused to think at what just happened, she added some barbeque meat skewers and then ask if wanted them after the fact as well.
My answer was some sort of confused stutter.
While still in thought, she added another kind of dumpling. As my brain finally caught up with the events of the moment, I was finally able finally motion and blurt out “stop” to her. I was now looking at a tiny little meat sculpture rather than a bowl of noodles. What was supposed to be a cheap bowl of $2 noodles was closer to $10.
My next thought was… “Well played lady, well played…”
And I just smiled, both on the outside and the inside.
And by the way, the food was delicious.
The bargaining and shopping perils of Beijing left me with 5 lessons to take away:
1) It’s OK to just say “no”. Don’t feel bad about saying it. The vendors expect it and come to the market everyday ready to fight for every dollar. In some of my cases, the speed of how quickly I was able to say “no” was just as important as well.
2) There’s no need to grind the vendors down to a rock bottom price leaving them with paper thin margins. Nowadays, I’m happy as long as the price I’m paying is cheaper than what I’d be paying back home. A dollar goes a long way in China. Even 1 RMB gets a you a ride on the metro in Beijing. Make it a win-win for everyone if possible.
3) Don’t get too picky with comparing prices from vendor to vendor to get the best possible price. The amount of choice is seemingly endless at these types of markets and a lot of the vendors tend carry the same items. My excitement for a good bargain tends to quickly turn to exhaustion. If I like an item and it’s a good deal (cheaper than back home in Canada), I lean to just buying it rather than search out another vendor for an extra 10% savings.
4) Have fun with the shopping and bargaining. It’s part of the culture in this part of the world. Partake and experience it.
5) Know that you’ll get clipped for an extra few dollars here and there. Accept this fact. This is what I’ve come to realize from my years of travelling. Do your research to minimize losing too much when travelling and shopping. There’s always a better deal around the corner it seems, and you just can’t get them all.
What fun and interesting shopping and bargaining experiences have you had on your travels?
“You must never try to make all the money that’s in a deal. Let the other fellow make some money too, because if you have a reputation for always making all the money, you won’t have many deals.” – J. Paul Getty