When Bargaining Won’t Make Them Budge

When Bargaining Won’t Make Them Budge

Brian Toth

Meet ... Brian Toth

China Study Abroad Major: Business Management
Minor: Chinese
Concentration: Human Resources
Location: Beijing, China
Studying: Spending four weeks immersed in the Chinese culture while visiting majestic, historical sites and studying at the prestigious Institute of Chinese as Second Language of Peking University.

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For lunch one afternoon, we went to dining area on campus like any afternoon after class. As we been to these on-campus dining halls multiple times before, we had the system of everything down (ordering, paying, eating etc…).

The way the paying works at Peking University is that the amount of the meal shows up a register machine and we wave our student ID card over top of a sensor. I ordered my meal, the cashier rung up my meal, and I guess she made an error when typing in the price of the meal. I didn’t notice the error, but from what I understand she typed 35 Yuan instead of 3.5 Yuan.

Not noticing the error she made, I began to move my card toward the sensor and what happened next you almost had to be there to realize how funny it was. As I inched my card closer and closer, I was just above the sensor when she slapped the card directly out of my hand. The card slid about 5 feet away from where I was standing and I just stood in awe because I had no idea what she was doing.

Of course everyone in my group that was standing behind me starting laughing hysterically. I told the cashier “nice defense” but I said it in English so I don’t think she got it. I was just caught so off-guard that I wasn’t sure of what happened a few seconds ago. After I picked up my card, everyone explained that she was looking out for my best interest and trying to rip me off so that made things make more sense. We laughed about it the whole lunch and I thanked her on my way out of the cafeteria.

We decided to go shopping at an area we heard about from some locals later in the night. The first store we entered I found something that I liked, but it seemed a bit pricey. I brought it to the register and said, “I like this, but it’s too expensive” in Chinese. The cashier shrugged. I said I wanted it for cheaper. He simply said “no”. I asked if I could get 2 for the price of 1, again another “no”. I wondered why he wasn’t budging whatsoever. Before I could even say my third demand he pointed to a sign that so “No bargaining in this store.”

Well that’s no fun I thought. From that point on, I only went to the stores where I could bargain. Throughout the whole night, I got some pretty good deals. Even saving a dollar or two felt like a victory when bargaining with the shopkeepers. After you realize that the sellers will do almost anything to get the sale, you can get just about anything for cheap; it’s great.

“The Endless Stairmaster”

Mount Tai Marking the halfway point of our trip at Beijing, we went to visit Mount Tai. Mount Tai is one of the tallest mountains in all of China. Our tour guide said that emperors would scale the mountain frequently because when at the top, they believed it was closer to the gods in heaven and therefore easier to talk to.

And so, we started our journey upward. We couldn’t have asked for better weather. It was partly cloudy and cool, and the guide said it was about 9 degrees cooler at the top of the mountain, perfect. The mountain in total was 7,000 steps, but because of time constraints, we took a shuttle bus to the halfway point and walked about 3,000 of the steps. As we exited the bus, we saw dozens of vendors selling walking sticks, some bought them, others didn’t.

The first quarter of the walk was going well, an equal combination of steps and flat ground. Following that was an array of steps that looked steep as well as plentiful. Because of the time of the year, it was more crowded than I imagined it would be. We continued up the mountain, each step feeling longer than the last. The climb was rigorous as well rewarding. Along the way up Mount Tai were vendors selling drinks and memorabilia.

I took this as another opportunity to bargain with the vendors and get some cool stuff. I really enjoyed the ascension up Mount Tai. It was filled with beautiful scenery and scriptures written hundreds of years ago. We got to the point in the mountain where could see the top, but about 1,000 completely vertical steps were in our way. Despite the cooler weather, this was the most difficult part of the climb. Sweating, panting, and at times crawling, I was just looking towards the top. Conquering the last step at the top was extremely gratifying, clocking in at about 2 hours from where we started to the top.

We ate a well-deserved lunch at the top; as I was eating, my stomach felt like a bottomless pit. We ate for a while and rested our legs. After the lunch was over, Dr. Jing Luo had some of the students from the group give presentations at the top of the mountain. It was a great view. Because of the high elevation, we were surrounded by clouds and couldn’t see much of anything in the distance.

The walk down Mount Tai was naturally easier and quicker than on the way up. The only thing was that it took full concentration to not fall during the walk down. The steps were narrow and steep. Buying a walking stick at the beginning of the trip would have added stability for the walk down the mountain. We reached the bottom and were greeted by those who rode the tramcar down. The trip to Mount Tai was an incredible experience; my only was complaint was that we did not have enough time to scale the whole mountain.

Paying Tribute to China’s Most Influential Man

Confucius' Temple Visiting Confucius’ temple, mansion, and cemetery marked the end of our trip to the Shandong Province. Confucius was an ancient philosopher and is seen as god-like to many of the Chinese. I haven’t read much of his writings or analects, but after this trip I am definitely going to look into. From what I have read about him, the one quote that stuck with me was, “If a man is out to seek revenge, he must first dig two graves.”

It basically states that anyone with a vengeance hurt their enemy, but they also hurt themselves. We first visited the temple of Confucius. While there, we saw some original buildings and statues that were in pristine condition and were untouched since the day they were built. It was incredible to see some of these buildings that were built in the 1400’s and are still holding up to this day.

Along with the ancient buildings we saw all different kinds of historical trees. Some of these were over 1000 years old and one was actually planted by Confucius himself. There were areas around this temple to bow and give praise to Confucius for all of the good he has done for the people. There was also an area that people could buy incense and light them while making a wish; this was believed to be a way to make your wishes come true.

Our tour guide also told us some interesting superstitions that the Chinese took part in. Throughout the temple were blocks of wood lining the bottom of every doorway. He said that it was Chinese superstition to always step over these with your left foot first. It wasn’t the craziest superstition I’ve ever heard so I abided by it because I remembered the famous saying, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

We then visited Confucius’ mansion. It was similar to the temples aside from the fact that there were some rooms in the mansion built for emperors with their walls lined with Chinese scrolls. We were told that there are two direct descendants of Confucius still alive; I believe they said that these two were the 83rd generation. While at the cemetery we saw not only the tombstone of Confucius, but also of his earlier direct relatives. There were extravagant tombstones for his son and grandson; both were seen as descendants from a god-like figure.

Seeing the Confucius Tomb was pretty powerful. I say “powerful” because it was breathtaking to see how much the Chinese people respect him even to this day. Seeing the influence Confucius has on the people of China hundreds of years after he died was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I even saw many people bow to his statue out front of the hotel we stayed in the night before. I’m glad we got to see all of the monuments dedicated to Confucius and his family because I learned some fascinating history about him and it got me more interested in his teachings and philosophies.

Troublesome Transportation

I swear sometimes finding a taxi in Beijing is like finding a unicorn, you’re just not going to find it. After shopping the one day, I think we could have walked home by the time we found a taxi, and we were about an hour away from our apartments. Taxis are kind of a hit or miss depending on where you’re at in Beijing. Sometimes you’ll see 5 to 10 taxis in one area; other times you wont see a taxi anywhere in a 5 to 10 mile radius.

And to add to that, when you’re in a heavily populated area, it can turn into all out sprint to be the first one to reach the taxi. It’s all part of the fun though. Sometimes I feel more like a linebacker than a pedestrian on the streets of Beijing. On a different night we went out and ate at one of the many restaurants in the area. After we finished dinner, everyone was tired and ready to go back, except me. I told the group to just go back and I would get a taxi for myself after I had finished shopping. I walked around for a while and bought some things.

After I was all done I searched for a taxi. Surprisingly it didn’t take long to get one; must have been one of those times. I told him where I wanted to go and we were off. When we arrive he showed me the total of what I owed. Because I had been shopping, I forgot how much money I had in my wallet. Apparently I was a couple Yuan short because I was used to splitting taxi fares with other group members, not taking them by myself.

So I told the driver that the money I gave him was all I had. He wasn’t pleased. I even pulled out 10 US dollars and gave that to him, which was more than a sufficient amount to cover the bill when converted to Yuan. He clearly didn’t understand the value of the US dollar. He starting patting me down like I was back at airport security. He was looking for anything valuable that he could take and sell for the difference in the money I owed to him. He didn’t stop at that though. He reached in my pocket left pocket and pulled out everything that was in it to check. I felt a little uncomfortable because he was invading my personal space.

That’s the thing though; personal space and buffer zones don’t exist in China. I didn’t have anything of value for him so after yelling for a while he gave back my belongings and literally pushed me out of the door. In reality I was only a couple Yuan short, probably equating to a dollar or so. I walked to my apartment laughing the whole way home at what I just experienced. I definitely learned my lesson though; bring enough money anywhere you go. I would make sure I abided by what I had just learned the hard way, no more random strangers reaching in my pockets.

I now preferred using the subway over taking a taxi. The subway was not much better than any other form of transportation with respect to personal space. My dad told me before I left that trying to board the subway was like “herding cattle into a ranch”. I’ll tell you what; I couldn’t have come up with a more accurate description of what it’s like. There are so many people trying to squeeze into a tiny doorway that’s it’s an all out rush to get inside. If you are tiny or polite you’re going to be spending a lot of time waiting to board the subway because you have to be aggressive and maneuverable to even get a chance of boarding. It’s always an adventure when you travel somewhere in Beijing; I’m just going along for the ride.

What are You Looking At?

Brian Toth Sometimes I feel like a zoo animal or a Cyclopes by the amount of stares I get in Beijing. I understand that some people in China rarely see Americans, but didn’t their mothers ever tell them that it’s impolite to stare? Guess not. It might be the red beard that I’ve been growing out since I got here; it might just be that I look a little different. It’s funny because people will also come up to our group and just enter our circle when we are talking. They will just poke their head in to get a better look at us.

I have also taken numerous pictures with random strangers just because of the rarity of Americans in China. One man actually went so far as to come up to me and start feeling my facial hair. All I could do was laugh because I thought it was hilarious. Another thing I feel I should mention is the overall aroma of China. I wish I could jar it up and bring it back to the United States to show others because words just don’t do it justice.

At times it can be okay, other times it can be downright unbearable. Saying it smells like “salty garbage” at some places would be considered an understatement. It’s probably not as bad as I make it seem, I am just unaccustomed to it. Every time we walk by an area with that oh-so-familiar smell I just laugh while others cringe because I think it’s funny more than anything. Don’t get the wrong idea, I love it here and everything about it, that’s just the way it is here. By the time of our departure, I will probably be accustomed to it. Maybe it’s just one of those things that you don’t miss it until it’s gone; I guess we’ll see.

    — Brian Toth, business management major