And BAM, I’m employed!
Chaos. Pure chaos is the market.
Hundreds of people meander while crammed into a small alley between the make-shift stores stuffed with thousands of “designer” (fake) brand name shirts, pants, jeans, belts, watches, shoes, scarves, gloves, video games, chess board sets, and anything else you could possibly imagine. The store owners yell, joke, poke, jeer, laugh, and beg you to come take a look. You try to squeeze through the madness in search of nothing in particular.
“HELLO! You need a new shirt? I give you good price – just for you!” they say as they tug on your shirt. The sweat is starting to seep through your shirt, giving it a blotted and half wet look and feel. The humidity and heat are nearly unbearable and the sweat on your forehead threatens to drip through your eyebrows and into your eyes. It starts to rain, but only for a minute.
“HELLO! HELLO! You need a scarf for your girlfriend? Do you need another shirt? HELLO!” says a girl following you. She wont leave.
“Please look, I give you SUCH good price! Just for you! How much you want to pay for POLO???”
A man cooks sausages on a huge pot/cart in a stall. Like out of a cartoon, the aroma sweeps across your nostrils in the shape of a hand and attempts to grab you. You nearly give in but are put off by the fact that not only will you pay twice what you should, but you, well…might get dystenary.
Yup, you’re in a market. The “silk” market, where you can get any designer name you want for next to nothing. Of course, none of it’s real, but most of it is the same quality and no one can really tell. And of course, you have never seen so many people in your life wear “Polo” shirts as you have in China. Guys who would have to save the whole month to buy one back in the US sport it with pride.
Yeah, me too. And with my interview coming up, I needed more clothes. I needed some nice khakis and a some slick leather shoes. I entered a stall and looked at some shoes.
“You want some shoes? Which you like? I give you good price!”
I pointed at a pair, tried on a few different sizes and after I had made my decision, it came time for the haggling. The girl pulled out her calculator from her belt as if it were a revolver in an old country western.
“Okay”, I say with a smile (I’m used to the routine now), “How much would you sell this to just anyone?”
She smirks. “For just anyone, I give them this price,” she says as she types 850 into the calculator.
“WHAT??!!” I exclaim with mock surprise. “Okay, Okay, how much for only me?”
“Okay okay, for only you, because you good person, I give you this price.” 600, she types in. All negotiations are done with calculators here. It gives you a chance to see and gives them a chance to work our their profits easier.
My eyes bulge (again, in mock surprise).
“I can’t pay that much! YOU’RE CRAZY!!!”
“Okay, Okay, what’s your best price? Serious offer only! Only serious offer!!”
I gaze thoughtfully at the calculator and then at the shoes.
“Best price? Hmm…I’ll give you 200 yuan ($24 dollars).”
“You crazy! Impossible! How about…” 550, she tries.
“No way! I can’t afford that! I like 300,” I proclaim.
“I say only SERIOUS offer! I do 500, okay? okay? Good price, just for you!”.
“Because I’m a nice guy? Just for ME??” I ask.
“YES! Just for you!!!”
People hustle by, bumping into me, making their own deals, asking each other advice on colors of shirts. I keep an eye on my bag.
“I don’t have that much. I will give you 350 yuan. Final offer,” I say. Pretending to grow tired of the argument.
“Nooooo, 500 goooood price!” she begs.
“Okay, well, You can give me 350 and I buy right now, or I go look around and compare prices and maybe buy from you, maybe someone else,” I explain.
“Noooo! Good price! I swear! Okay, okay. 400. These good shoes!”
Indeed they were. They were very nice leather shoes. “Designer”, in fact.
“360 or I go and look around,” I say.
“OKAY OKAY! 390!”
“Nope, I go look around then,” and I start to pick up my bags.
“Okay! Okay! 380, Okay? Good price!!!”
And I had some really sharp looking leather shoes for $45 bucks USD. I think I earned it though.
The same process continued for the pants I bought just after, a few stalls down. Today, I went to an interview for an English teaching position and I had to look sharp and with the help of a little bargaining, did so for cheap. I made a good impression on the interviewer and she said that although I didn’t have much experience teaching (I included my language exchange with my buddy Jorge when I learned Spanish as teaching experience), she liked me and was comfortable and thought her students would be as well. I prepared for a mock class in business English and gave a 20 minute presentation and did well. I start tomorrow and will earn 120 yuan an hour (about $14 USD and hour). I wont get many hours to start but if I do well, I will get more. So, in other words, I should be living pretty well here. I think my new glasses helped give the impression that I’m smart.
Yup, I got some glasses. While I waited for my buddy Rasmus to pick out some frames, I asked the girl if she could test my eyes. She did and came out with some lenses. MY GOD! I could read signs 100 feet away! I can remember squinting to see the board in University and when I asked my doctor, he had me read the first line on the board and hurried me out saying that I didn’t need glasses (I guess my 10 designated HMO minutes had been used up). In New Zealand I noticed my eyes got worse and at one point, on a hike in the mountains, the trees in front of me were always out of focus. It hasn’t changed until now. Everything is crystal clear and it is incredible. And I got these slick bendy frames. After the eye test (free), bringing out several different lenses to test, the frames and installation of the frames, and a free case, I paid about $30 USD. And now I look like I’m about 27. CRAZY!
Anything else interesting going on? Yeah, lots. But I can’t type it all. Impossible. Me and about 15 others in the hostel had a big night on the town, which entailed drinking and dancing and got back at 5:00AM. I met some Mexicans, who went out with us and spoke Spanish most of the night. I argued with the taxi driver in Spanish when he tried to cheat us out of 2 yuan. English, Spanish – it makes no difference to him as he can’t understand either. And in the morning…errr, afternoon, I woke up and wanted to die. But after an hour, I was fine and ready to go. That was a first for this trip though. Man o man, what a night! At one point in the bar, at about 2:00AM, an incredibly cute little girl of about 6 or 7 came and sat in our laps and drew chinese characters on our hands. We offered her money but she didn’t seem to interested in it. She just wanted to hang out. Where was her mother at 2:00AM? I haven’t a clue. It reminded me of Ecuador. And Bolivia.
So right now, I am living in the hostel and having a great time. It’s quite interesting because all the people that are staying there are nearly at the end of their respective trips and have been there for some time. The average stay seems to be about a week, and so, we all get to know each other well. It’s not like most hostels where people come and go each day, but instead like a family. Some people get along, some people don’t. You make friends with groups and go out and watch TV together. Today, we explained rap to the young girl at the counter by rapping in the hallway. After 5 minutes of me making the beat with my mouth and Rasmus rapping, and gathering quite a crowd, I said: “see, that’s RAP.” We are very hands on teachers. Freestyle geniuses. We also went out for Peking Roasted Duck last night and it was phenomenal. The restaurant itself was hidden behind a maze of alley ways and we walked past 100 built-in houses and shops along with kids playing in the streets, guys sitting on crates playing cards old women cleaning dishes. After dinner, we were in heaven. Did I mention that the duck was incredible? Enough – I’m getting hungry (Oh my god, it was soooo goood)!
And yeah, so I start work tomorrow. Wish me luck!