Thursday, March 24, 2005

I Hate Bargaining, But I'm Good at It

Many of you know I am not a big fan of shopping. Especially comparison shopping, something my mother seems to have taken from a hobby to a science. But as I'm new in town, and there are certain luxuries that I want to invest in for the next year, I am out shopping on all my days off.

There are a variety of shopping venues in Harbin. First off you have the major department stores. These are the most western of all the shops, usually 5 or 6 floors with everything and anything, even a supermarket. The selection is wide, and the quality of what you'll find is usually pretty good, but the prices are fixed and non-negotiable. These are the least hassle to deal with, but while they will have one or two varieties of anything youre looking for, they might not have enough for you to always find exactly what you want.

Then there are the little hole-in-the-wall stores. There is at least one on every block, and they carry all the things you need to get by in your day to day life. The quality is pretty shoddy on most items, but they really make their money on food, beer, and cigarettes. Very similar to a 7-11 back home, but dirtier and with more junk for sale. And no nachos. But once they get to know you, they might give you a gift every now and then, like yesterday when I got a free snack.

The real action, and the real China, lies in the markets. These are where every merchant gets a little booth or floor space and you can really search through a wide selection and bargain. There are clothing markets, furniture markets, computer markets, just about anything. And whats great is that you can set one merchant against another in a price war. Today I was out looking for an easy chair and a TV table. I couldn't find a chair I liked (all the ones in the market I went to were too hard, more like hotel lobby chairs than something I want to watch TV or read in) I did find a few tables. Going back and forth between two booths I got about 35% knocked off the starting price, including delivery and assembly. My Chinese TA was surprised I was able to get all that I did for the price that I paid, and another TA wants me to help her buy something now. Which doesnt make much sense, since, you know, I'm the silly foreigner with a bare working knowledge of the language and she has lived here all her life.

Either way, I still need to find an easy chair. Once that is done I'll be getting some pictures up of my place.


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