March 2006


I had intended to go to Beijing during this extended visit to China, but a few days before we were to go, both my daughters got sick. Quite sick. One to the point that we had to take her to the hospital, where the doctor she saw recommended getting her on an I.V. rehydration plan for three days. Nyet, we decided on that, so I stayed “home” in Anhai to nurse the girls back to health (they’re fine now, by the way) while my Wife and her Younger Sister instead made the trip to Beijing. If I had been along, the following story probably woudn’t have been possible.

It’s no secret that “foreigners” often get “overcharged” when souvenier-shopping in China, but how to know how much one is getting overcharged?

Well, thanks to my (native Chinese) Wife’s astute undercover reporting recent shopping spree in Beijing, I have some some anecdotes and numbers to report.

The first small snippet: while bargaining with one seller for an even lower price on an item, the seller used the following statement as part of her bargaining technique: “You apparently don’t trust me. I’m offering you a great price already. Why should I go lower when I could sell this same thing to the next foreigner who comes in here for ten times what I’m asking from you.”

Whoa. We might guess that “ten times” could be an exaggeration, part of her haggling technique, but still. Whoa.

But then during another leg of this shopping spree, my Wife and her Younger Sister visited what we’ll call a “Jade Emporium.” It includes a sales showroom, an artisan workshop, and a “training center” to train other Chinese in the art of jade carving. I have names and addresses, but they’re really not important to this story, since what I’m about to describe isn’t an isolated phenomenon. It’s just the best of several examples I have….

Here, as told to me by my Wife, is her experience at this “Emporium.”

This Jade Emporium is included as a stop on a number of tour group itineraries. Visitors get off their buses, check out the showroom, maybe see a demonstration of some sort if they’re lucky, and–the whole point of being taken there in the first place–buy lots of jade stuff (if the tour operators are lucky, that is, since they get a commission on all purchases).

My Wife and her Younger Sister were asked by one of the shop girls where they were from, and they replied “Fujian Province,” and the girl said, “Oh, our general manager is from Fujian Province. Let me go get him…”.

A bit later, said general manager arrived, dressed in his best spiffies, and greeted his fellow Fujianese in a way that didn’t exactly make them feel he was their long lost cousin–too much stereotypical “used car salesman” stuff.

Anyway, to the point–and if you plan on shopping in Beijing (or anywhere in China) around the 2008 Olympics, pay attention. This post’s for you–they got around to talking prices with this fellow on a piece that had a price tag for 6000 RMB attached to it. My wife said she was interested in the piece, but 6000 RMB seemed high.

And again, if you think you might be inclinced to pay sticker price on some nice looking thing just because “You like it,” or because “Well, it’s worth that to me,” then perk up!

He just gave a little smile, picked up the piece, and whispered to them, “Follow me.”

He took them away to an area where the rest of the tour group–other travelers from all over China–couldn’t hear them talk, and told them something like this:

“Look, of course 6000 RMB is too high for this, that’s just fishing for big dumb fish with a small worm. We get a lot of tourists here from Japan and Korea, and we’ll let them haggle the price down 50% on this sort of piece, to 3000 RMB. They think they’re getting a great half-price deal, but even that is ‘killing them down to the last drop of blood’. How much do you think this piece costs me? No idea? Would you pay 2000RMB for it? Would you feel that’s a good deal? Look, because we’re from the same province, I’m going to level with you. You can take it at just over my cost. For 350 RMB, it’s yours. But I want you to do three things for me: First, live a good life. Second, don’t hesitate to share this jade piece with others [Note: He had also explained the “curative powers of jade” to them.]; and third, tell anyone back in Fujian Province that if they’re looking to learn the jade craft to come up here. We can give them the training they need.”

He also explained that this sort of pricing–for example, putting a sticker price equal to $750 US for a piece that cost the seller less than $40.00–is going to be the norm for sellers around Beijing during the 2008 Olympic period, and many sellers are already warming up with tour groups, which are typically more “captive” buyers.

Phenomenal.

And me, I feel torn between (1) trying to warn tourists going to Beijing for the 2008 Olympics and (2) opening a shop in Beijing to sell Chinese arts and crafts to tourists coming to Beijing for the 2008 Olympics. 😉

In Anhai’s Architectural Face-Off: Old vs. New, I shared a few photos illustrating the revolution underway in the town’s home designs, from stone shacks to mini-palaces.

Here are shots of a few more residences I spotted that effuse modernity. Even their own garages in a few cases, and though you can’t see it well (I peeked over the wall but didn’t cop a photo), the courtyard in the fourth photo below includes a large goldfish pond, some rock sculptures and carved statues, a nifty stone pathway, bonsai trees, and more.

In other words, this is not your Grandfather’s China!

(Well, unless your grandfather happens to own a factory or stone quarry around Anhai, that is.)

I wrote a post back in January about a tragic death in Anhai that could have been avoided (with better safety practices and “common sense”) when a couple was trying to rig up their own home-grown helium balloon-filling machine. (And I’ve learned that there is a thriving market for them here: when school lets out each day, several helium balloon vendors, toy vendors, snack vendors, and so on are waiting to catch the kids’ attention with hopes that the adult picking them up will give in to the youngsters requests, squeals, whines, tantrums, or whatever.)

But here’s the latest fatality in the unbelievable cause department that we heard through the Anhai Local Grapevine News Network:

A little boy here had become sick and was prescribed a liquid medication to drink.

His parents left the boy and the medicine with his grandma with instructions to give him a spoonful at a certain time. He didn’t like taking it, and she wasn’t too adept at helping the medicine go down. He resisted, so she sort of pinned him down (gently, of course), pinched his nose–which still seems common practice here for medicines that uniformly taste horrible–but also forced his head back, and poured the spoonful down his throat.

He choked to death on it.

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