Sunday, July 29, 2007

Tour of the Summer Palace

You know, it's kind of funny that I've found a way to outsource my work while in China. It really DOES work!

Here's Amber:

Beijing Weekend
Amidst the Chinese masses, Baylor students and faculty spent a warm, hazy Sunday afternoon exploring the wonders of Beijing's Summer Palace and Silk Road marketplace.

The Summer Palace is named for the season it receives the most visitors -- often 40,000 daily during the summer months. The ancient towers sit pristinely along the shores of the. Lilly pads blooming with lipstick pink flowers line the edges of shoreline and add to the oddly serene atmosphere despite the crowds of people and vendors. One of the palace‚s historical highlights is the Rock of Bankruptcy. The large boulder first brought the jealousy of an Emperor upon a wealthy rock lover and later was said to resemble an ingot of silver and was deemed a symbol of prosperity. After touring the grounds, one of many large boats decorated with dragonheads sailed everyone across the lake and back to the streets of Beijing.

The tour bus then shuttled everyone to the much-anticipated Silk Road marketplace. The locals hawk their wares -- from knock-off designer handbags to silk robes and electronics -- in a five-story warehouse. Only the strong-minded and persistent survive the intense haggling and aggressive shop owners. Most shoppers run into problems determining high from low quality materials and then translating the quality into a reasonable price. A general rule of thumb is to divide the designated price of an item by five and refuse to pay more than the quotient. Most determined shoppers, in the end, get their price but not without frustrating the workers who often resort yelling, pulling and grabbing in order to motivate you into their store. Needless to say, the cultural barriers are huge, but at the end of the day everyone seemed quite satisfied with their purchases.

And from Robbie:

The morning after shopping brings out students showing off their bargains like pirates displaying their haul after taking over a smaller ship. Silk, pearls and other booty were part of the treasures. But the sword clanging was the largest part of the fun in shopping (and I had some help from students in the price-reduction process. An 80% off deal was a good bit of work).

First off, imagine flea market like stalls spilling over with shirts, ties, silk, jewelry, shoes ... well, you name it and you could buy it here. At each a sentry greets you in a wide variety of ways, but mostly yelling at you to come in, should you happen to make eye contact, no matter how brief. Some reach out to grab you by the sleeve. Some try the full on, hand on both shoulders grab ... a lot like a rowdy game of indoor touch football. You are surround by stuff you probably might want, really don‚t need, but will end up taking home.

"Hello handsome man," was one of my favorites (I only heard it about a few hundred times) in the yell out category. And before you ask, there was NO WAY I was going to take a camera into this shopping insane asylum, as it would have been marked down to about $12 USD and sold off. "Some toys for your children?" "Something for your girlfriend or wife?" "Need some underwear?"

So you want to buy something? Well, you take a look the booth, with a new shadow attached to your every move. Should you make eye contact with an item, or ask a price, the vendor whips out a calculator and punches up some numbers the both of you know will never be the final price. (By the way, the large plastic calculator, sort of an older-style desktop model, really is put to good use all over the city to help tell non-Chinese speakers what to pay. Just a little pointing and a calculator can get you most anything) The art of bargaining is become friends of the deal and dealer. They want to haggle and you want some cheap stuff. "Give me your best price," they ask you. You knock off about 90%. They cry out, roll eyes, make sad pouty faces and plead, "Give me just a little more!" If you have begun this process, or are holding the item you want to purchase, OR the calculator, you are now in a formal long-term relationship with this vendor. You try to walk away; they cling to you, repeating the phrase for more money. You REALLY try to leave, and then begrudgingly accept your offer or talk harshly about your heritage. It is more show than shopping and not for the timid.

After two hours of this madness we were back on the bus, comparing loot and prices. Now, we have to figure out what to do with four handbags and a dozen pair of sunglasses ... Merry Christmas! (... and if you think we've had our fill of this, planning another shopping outing this week.)


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