Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Chocolate Dance

Bargaining. The only way to shop.

Sometimes bargaining is like a pas-de-deux. Give and take, compromise, understanding, balance - a detailed and delicate dance. Other times it is like a cat fight. All claws. And, of course, yelling, pulling and shoving. I hate the fight, I am a much better dancer. My dance isn't quite a pas-de-deux, it is more like hip-hop. Some of the movements appear rough, but that's what distinguishes it from everything else. The casual observer might be taken aback by some of the more jerky, sudden movements, but they are all a part of the dance.
Saturday night, I went to the underground market with my classmates. We are singing together at the holiday party this Friday, and all of the guys are wearing red scarves. So, we went to buy the scarves, among other things. I had to take a break from shopping for number of weeks in the interest of fiscal responsibility. Which means, of course, that I didn't have any money. However, my three sweater rotation was in need of some assistance, and so I decided to pick up a 毛衣 (maoyi) or two. My classmates also had some shopping they needed to do, including gifts to take home for the holidays, and so off we went.
The underground market is an interesting place. Located underneath the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, there are a few entrances. The most obvious one is from the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum metro station. The one we used this time is less obvious, and involves a parking garage, dubious back staircase, and long corridors. Alas, you finally arrive at the market, and the obligatory men selling watches and handbags appear. "You want watch? Handbag? Prada. Louis Vuitton." Then the DVD guy, who entices you with the following spiel. "You want DVD? American movie. Kung-Fu movie. American TV show." And then more hushed but completely self-confident that now he is about to offer something you can't resist
- "You want sex tape?" I've heard it often (especially when I'm out with only one or two the guys), but for one of my classmates, this was the first time. She was utterly appalled and offended until I explained that it had nothing to do with her, that's just their line. "Watch." "Handbag." "DVD." "Sex tape." Ah, welcome to shopping in Shanghai.
Back Entrance Train Station Entrance
Our scarf budget was 90 块(kuai, used in spoken Chinese instead of 元-yuan or 人民币-RMB) for 9 scarves. We found place with appropriately masculine red scarves, and asked for 9. He didn't have 9 in that type, but he did have 9 in another, more expensive type. After looking at the scarf and deciding that it we would have to spend the entire budget, we asked him how much. He takes out the calculator, and enters 65 for each scarf, times 9 scarves. 585 块. We all burst out laughing and walk out. He comes out after us and asks, "How much?". "90" we say. "200" he says. And so it begins. 90. 175. 90. 120. Our teacher gave us 90块, that's all we have. 120. 90 or nothing. 120. 90. "Oh, just a little more," he says. We don't have a little more. 120. No. And we start to walk away. Ok, come back, come back. We walk back into the store. He looks for more scarves. He only has four, so he goes to another vendor to get 5 more. He returns with the scarves, we pay with a 100 块 note and he tries to keep the change. Finally, he give us back our 10 块 , and a receipt which we need to give to the office in order to be reimbursed. (Receipts are not customary in markets.) 9 scarves. 90 块. Not bad. Today in class we found out that the receipt is not valid, and most likely won't be accepted by the office. It's okay though, we are going to pool our personal receipts (taxi, clothing, whatever) and turn in those instead. TIC.
As we walked around the market in search of the various items my classmates and I needed, I heard my favorite Chinese word.
"巧克力!" (qiao ke li, qi - English "ch", ao - "ou" from "ouch" or "out", ke - "keh" and li - "lee" - so it sounds like chou-keh-lee)
So far, this is the only market I've been to where the vendors call me chocolate. I asked my friend about it, and apparently it is fairly common for Shanghainese people to refer to a lighter skinned black person as "chocolate" instead of "black". I do not know why, as chocolate in China is the same color as chocolate everywhere else, and most black people are actually "chocolate" colored and not "black". TIC and so I am a chocolate colored black girl. This is extra funny to me given my own personal desire for many years to be the color of milk chocolate, hot chocolate, chocolate milk, or any chocolate except white. I wanted to be browner and therefore prettier than the butterscotch of my youth or the almost caramel of my later years. And so being in China fulfills a childhood fantasy, to have someone describe me as chocolate. Ah the irony. Being with a new group of people, they got to experience the calls of "巧克力" for the first time. Even more fun.
After two failed attempts to get a sweater, I went into the third sweater shop of the night. I asked if he had the sweater I wanted, in the colors I like, in XL. (I have since gotten over my aversion to being an XL, and now just ask up front if they have big sizes.) Assuring me that he had what I needed, I asked how much.
680 he enters into the calculator.
I laugh.
"How much?" he asks.
"55" I say.
"You crazy," he says. "55 what? USD?"
I laugh. "55 块。"
"For what?"
"For two."
"For two what, socks?" he says in English as he lifts up his pants leg to reveal his socks.
"Oh, you're funny," I say in English.
"She making joke," he says in English to my classmates who have been drifting in and out.
"You're making jokes." I say to him in English.
"How much" he says, still in English.
"55" I say, returning to Chinese.
He laughs.
I walk out.
"Come back, come back" he says. He is the only vendor in his stall, so he runs and grabs my arm before I can get too far, pulling me back into the store.
I go back.
"How much?" he says in Chinese. "Serious price," in English.
I ask my classmate what she thinks. She got 2 for 55, but they were a lesser quality. So now I have to think of a new, more reasonable price. Because I still don't understand the pricing system here, this is always difficult for me.
We go back and forth.
He says he's giving me a special price because I speak Chinese.
My classmate (from Benin) interjects that we ARE Chinese, so he should give us the best price.
He finds that hilarious and asks if we are students.
Of course, I say, poor students, and two of us show him our school IDs as proof.
Finally we settle on 100 块.
Reasonable for two sweaters. I think. Tomorrow someone could tell me they got these exact sweaters for 30 块or 515 块. Either way, I wouldn't be surprised. TIC, and you never know what to expect.


TaKeesha said...

Hey Chocolate that is pretty funny. I wish I could be running around bargaining with chinese vendors. SOOO super cool.

TaKeesha said...

Hey, I'd like to know what your experience is like on the train or any public transportation. Is it crowded? Are the trains nice? Is it above ground?

Sacred Stitch said...

Public transportation. I've been thinking about doing a posting about the train and bus for a while, because I take two buses and train to get to work. So, it's on the way.

Max said...

Questions about celebrating Christmas in China and your religious experience overall...

- Other than the Holiday party, are you doing anything special for Christmas?
- Is the party something special for the foreign students or do many Chinese people celebrate Christmas?

From my limited exposure to Chineses history, I doubt that Christianity is the dominant religion. But the fact that China is more open to foreign influence now than in the past combined with the diverse history of Shanghai itself makes me wonder.

I know this probably a complex topic. If you don't have time to answer right now, maybe it could be another topic for a future entry.

Sacred Stitch said...

The answers to the Christmas in China questions will come sometime next week (maybe), after Christmas so that I can have a complete picture. Until then...