In Beijing, bargain for bottom dollar

Shoppers browse stalls at Beijing's Silk Market

TEXT OF STORY

Tess Vigeland: This is Marketplace Money from American Public Media. I'm Tess Vigeland.

Some Americans are lucky enough to be watching the Olympics in person. They'll see several sides to China: the shiny Olympic park on one hand; a few blocks away, the gritty underbelly. Marketplace's Scott Tong tells us the shopping experience reflects different sides of China as well.


Scott Tong: Shopping trip one: an official excursion hosted by the Olympic media center. On an air-conditioned bus, our guide welcomes us and we're off to the White Peacock Art World.

This is where you buy a traditional Chinese something to bring home and display: a rug, a painting, a carving. It looks like a giant museum gift shop. The jewelry lady slides open the cabinet to show me a jade pendant. One hundred bucks, all the prices are listed. I smile and walk away; she smiles back. Upstairs, a local artist demonstrates painting with bees wax -- 70 bucks for an original. And on the way out, we all get a gift box with a jade frog inside. All in all, a very civilized, non-invasive experience.

Now to the south side of town, to the tourist trap known as the Silk Market. This is Knock-Off City -- stalls upon stalls of fake Gucci bags and Rolex watches.

My friend Paul Salo was eyeing some khaki shorts. How much? The seller whips out a calculator and pecks.

Salo: One-ninety!

Seller Girl: OK? It's good quality.

About $30 U.S. is the opening price. Let the games begin.

Salo: We're going to cruise around first?

Seller Girl: No come back . . .

Two minutes in, we're down to 20 bucks.

Seller Girl: OK, 100, you want to buy for now?

And then 15. We walk away. She starts shouting after us.

Seller Girl: Eighty OK?

Twelve dollars, seven . . . Paul Salo stops.

Salo: Five bucks for a pair of shorts?

We turn around to go buy the shorts and try to confirm the price. She shushes us. "Shhh -- don't tell the other customers the good price you got."

So we walk away feeling pretty good, although Beijing veterans say folks like Paul probably paid double or triple the local price. Maybe they should rename the Silk Market the Fleece Market.

Well, here's the nicer way to look at it:

Edward Felcyn: We bought six propaganda posters.

Edward Felcyn of Los Angeles is in town for the Olympics. He and two buddies ventured into a tchotchke stall and got roped into a bargaining session that ended up with eight purchases.

Felcyn: And there was like, there's some with like, a sickle, there's one with like Nixon I think getting stepped on. Hahaha . . .

Felcyn knows they probably got ripped off, but the buyers and sellers all walked away happy. By the way, he's converted to bargaining.

Felcyn: We should start a negotiation practice at the local mall.

Felcyn's friend Chris Lowebrunner wants to take it even further and start negotiating during public radio pledge week.

In Beijing, I'm Scott Tong for Marketplace Money.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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