Haggling needs no translation
Everything that one would expect in a foreign country can be assumed from this point. Lots of walking and tons of food I have never seen or tasted surround each corner. Many confusing situations and uneasy smells bombard me with each passing day.
One particular confusing situation stands out especially. At 4 p.m. the first day (June 4) we received a break from the usual hustle and bustle of our newfound “routine,” six of the eight of us ran off to the basketball courts with our Chinese guide, Alex.
The other two, Morey and I, stayed back with another Chinese friend, Boru, and Dr. (Jim) Pomfret, asking if there were any good places nearby to do some souvenir shopping. Dr. Pomfret instantly mentioned “Ee-wu,” and Boru agreed it would be a good place to visit but warned that Chinese vendors usually take advantage of Americans, declaring they will “rip us off and raise prices dramatically.”
Boru mentioned he had guitar lessons quickly approaching, but he would gladly take us the next break we had. Morey and I weren’t going to wait.
Anxious to jump start our shopping in China, Morey and I asked for some quick directions and began walking towards the east gate of Shandong University … or maybe not?
We never really clarified which gate was the East gate before we left. The Shandong University campus is nearly as large as the campus of Penn State University, so we debated back and forth giving any input we might have to find the right route.
We also decided the Wal-Mart Supercenter that was supposedly near would be our backup, but we knew we didn’t fly across the world to go to the neighborhood Wally World. We were off. We started walking as a few blocks turned into a few streets. Deciding we didn’t want to be lost forever in such a foreign place and questioning if this shopping place closed at any particular time, we began hailing a taxi.
We jumped in saying “Nee-how” (Hello, just about the only Chinese we knew) and said “Ee-wu” as many different ways as our tongues could bend. The taxi driver looked at us like we had question marked painted on our foreheads in neon yellow.
After hearing enough random sounds he shook his shoulders and began driving away. Morey and I look at each other and try to reason how we ever thought the two worst Chinese speaking individuals in our group could manage to make it to the right gate, grab a taxi (which we had barely done in the U.S. let alone China) and make it to a shopping area we hardly knew the name of, let alone the location.
We wouldn’t know what “Ee-wu” was if we sat smack down in the middle of it. We joked the taxi driver was taking his goofy American passengers back to the airport or random places we would have no interest in.
Thankfully we stopped somewhere half promising. Iced treats, drinks, foods of all kinds and people shouting an array of what we assume are sales pitches are everywhere. If the image was a painting it would take hours of staring to fully look over each colorfully painted detail. It was crazy.
We begin walking around and discover there is an entrance to a larger building full of small vendors. Many of the doorways in China have clear plastic flaps like ones you would see in oversized freezers or airport scanners.
We begin circling through dry pastries, nuts and treats, underwear and pajamas, sunglasses and clothing. We look above at huge colorful banners spanning the entire ceiling.
“Wow, this place looks pretty legit,” I said. Morey shakes his head in agreement with his mouth still half open towards the ceiling.
We decide to venture further. Eventually a stand sparks our interest. We look around as the sales person follows closely. We ask “how much?” pointing to a beautiful red dress.
The woman starts shouting something in Chinese.
“Guess that won’t work,” Morey says. He begins looking up how to say it on his phone translator app. Again, we say “Du-show” as many different ways as possible until finally the woman gives a number. We are getting somewhere, but we still can’t decipher what she is saying.
We wave our fingers to sculpt numbers until she waves her hands in a “no, no” manner and grabs a tablet and a pen. 150 Yuan. I converted the yuan to a familiar dollar. Roughly $23. I wasn’t even sure if the dress would fit since every Asian girl I had seen so far looked about forty pounds or so less than me.
I was told everything in China is negotiable, so I decided to try out my negotiating skills. I wrote down “50” and the woman shook her head and counter offered writing “150-10.” Again, I wrote “100” and she counter offered with a “130.” I pulled out “120” and motioned it in her direction.
She laughed and pulled a bag out of nowhere. She threw the dress in the bag and handed it to me. Reluctantly I took the bag and we walked out of the store.
“Wow,” Morey declares. “Guess it doesn’t matter if it fits or not because it’s mine now,” I reply.
Morey and I walk around to more vendors, trying our Chinese “how much” and gauge if we paid too much by how many laughs we receive at the end of the sale. By the end of a hand full or so smaller transactions we became (what felt like) masters of haggling.
“Boy, would my Dad be proud,” I chuckled.