Us Against Them

This is certainly not a new topic for China bloggers, but I just finished reading an article on ESWN entitled “How I Was A Chinese Traitor” and it brought back memories of my own similar experience in Beijing.

For those in too much of a hurry to click and check out the article – essentially it’s a translation of a blog entry of a Beijing journalist who helped out a German friend that got swindled by a quite popular tea scam. The Chinese journalist then got called a traitor by the swindlers.

When I went to Beijing last year with Martin we got taken in by the same scam but at about half the cost – we were lucky, though it didn’t feel like it at the time. Yay for looking poor I guess.

The article is really interesting because it shows what is a common China occurance, and anyone with a Chinese girlfriend, boyfriend, wife or husband would likely agree. Everytime I go to the markets with Maggie the Chinese people – expectedly – rip me off, out right lie to me, and try to cheat me in anyway they can. They do it poorly, and it brings shame to them as it really illustrates their ignorance. I mean, not to sound judgemental here (ha!) but what foreigner is stupid enough to pay 500 RMB (about $75 CND) for a pair of obviously counterfeit Nike sneakers or Converse hoodie?

Maggie then scolds them for being blind idiots that didn’t see that she is Chinese (and therefore SHE would know a fair price – because not in my entire life in the West did I ever need to know the price of products, or even see a shop for that matter, what with being the decadant and agoraphobic person that I am). She then proceeds to barter with them and gets the price down to somewhere between what the Chinese people would usually pay and what the foreigners usually pay (like 30-90 RMB if the original asking price is 500 RMB).

The shopkeepers then, perhaps (but inconsequently) wrongly assuming that Maggie is my tour guide, berate her for stopping them from ripping me off. Much like the author of the ESWN article above, they essentially call her a traitor to her country.

Now, keep in mind I have two very strong principles when I go shopping. A) I understand that these people are poor and as such if they try to charge me a little more than a Chinese person, I’m not offended, as long as that price is not them blatently banking on the fact that I’m an idiot and they can lie to and steal from me. This to me is simply immoral and unethical. B) Should they act this way, I just move on. I don’t bargin, I don’t do any business with them at all.

I like bargaining, when done, as the guidebooks would have you believe, all in ‘good fun’. If the ‘fair price’ for something is say 50 RMB, and the shopkeeper might be willing to go as low as 40 RMB to stop you from buying it at another shop (taking a cut in their margin just to keep the business), I might be willing to go as high as 60-65 RMB just to be done with the transaction. Somewhere in there is the settled price, and that’s fine. But if I walk up and ask how much a pair of sunglasses are and the shopkeeper says “220 RMB” because they are a “good brand” – I walk. No little shop servicing the common people of Dalian is going to sell sunglasses that are either real or expensive. In Canada I’d pay $10-15 for a pair of sunglasses – MADE IN CHINA! Why would I EVER pay more for something IN China than I’d pay in Canada? Despite me explaining this to a countless number of shopowners… the effects have been minimal. They need a newsletter, or Web forum or something… someone should spread the word to them on what common prices are in Western countries.

Anyway, that’s my rant on why I take no shame in shopping at Walmart (fixed prices) for near everything I can. Bargaining may be “fun” for the first little while, but when your white skin removes most of the decency from a person in their quest for the ultimate money grab, buying day-to-day items can become a tiring pain in the ass and after a year and a half here – my ass is sore as.

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