Chinese markets - a masterclass in persuasion

2012-05-14 11:41

When it comes to shopping, I am the exact opposite of a stereotypical city girl.

I don’t like shopping. It’s tedious and takes up too much time better spent elsewhere. The longest time I’ve spent in Sandton City was half an hour – and that includes looking for parking, which can sometimes take a half a day.

I am normally seen there shortly before an evening function, trying to find shoes, or looking for a gift minutes before a birthday party is due to start.

Unlike my fellow grownup girl-children, I don’t have the Woolworths Quality Sale diarised and I certainly didn’t queue outside last year waiting for the new Zara store to open.

But this all changes when I leave the country for greener pastures in Africa, India and now China. Once I step into a shopping mall or market in these places, I become a shopaholic who doesn’t know when to stop and only leaves the shop once my bank manager starts calling.

The joy of shopping in these countries for me is centred around one thing – haggling.

Negotiating prices is what I think I was meant to do on this earth. And I’m getting pretty good at it.

Today I only left Beijing’s Silk Street Market when my wallet was empty. Don’t let the name fool you, the Silk Street Market has everything a girl could want, not just silk. There’s jewellery and shoes and cosmetics and even carpets and bedding, for those whose luggage allowance on Emirates is more generous than mine.

So after I negotiated for a black cashmere sweater from RMB950 (around R1100) to RMB170 (R205), I felt particularly proud of myself and decided to use the gift voucher thrust into my hands by one of the many kids roaming the indoor market.

The voucher gave me a RMB 30 (R36) discount on a foot massage at the local beauty salon.  I deserve a treat, I convinced myself (the cashmere sweater is a necessity, it’s winter back home, okay!) and sat down to have a typical Chinese foot massage for  half an hour, at a reasonable price of RMB 68 (R 80). I thought I’d relax with my book, but instead got treated to a masterclass of Chinese persuasion.

The massage therapist took the voucher and brought a wooden bucket to wash my shop-weary feet.

“Ah,” she noted in a concerned tone, “your nail polish on your toes is coming off, you need a pedicure.”

I had a quick look and decided she was right. So another RMB150 (R180) was added to my bill.

Just as I settled back into my book, another “Lady, lady, excuse me, lady” disturbed my peace.

“You need this special lotion to smooth your feet, it will make the pedicure last longer.”

Indeed this was true. Why spend all this money on something that will last for a day? (Technically that’s a question you can ask about everything I bought, but let’s leave that for now…)

So the “special lotion” was only RMB 50 (R60) more, and therefore not going to break the bank.

And then came the clincher: “Lady, if you take a package with the massage, pedicure, special lotion and a manicure, we will give you a free shoulder massage. All just one nice price for you lady.”

I must say, dear reader, I was tempted. Long flights and bad sleeping habits due to jetlag has made me long for a decent shoulder massage. And, I figured, if you’re in this deep why not go all the way?

Fortunately I took a quick look at the shopping bags around me and came to my senses. No matter how charming the masseuse is, or how tired I am, or how much I “saved” with my excellent bargaining skills today, to pay RMB 390 (R500) at a slightly seedy Chinese massage spot in the corner of a market is really asking too much.

With my newfound resoluteness I told the beauty therapist to hurry up with my nail polish, I need to go and pack my bags. I am, thankfully, going home.

Follow Mandy on Twitter: @MandyRossouw

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