To my dismay, I woke up this morning to find it absolutely pouring outside. The forecast said that the rain wasn’t going to let up until around 6pm, which sort of bummed me out. My plan was to walk around Shanghai in the morning and see what kind of weird and wonderful stuff I could find. But then with rain entering the picture, I was holed up in my hotel room with nothing better to do than flip through channel after channel of Chinese TV. In an interesting stroke of luck, I clicked over to ESPN international and lo and behold what is on TV but the Red Sox-Tigers game! So at least I had that small taste of home to keep me going for a while. By the time the game was over and I had surfed the web for a while, the rain had actually let up enough for me to get on my way (with my umbrella handy, of course).
My plan was to walk around and do some shopping. I told the first cab driver to take me over to Nanjing Road, which is supposedly where “everyone goes” to shop. When I got there I found out that it was true everyone goes there but it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. The place is a long stretch of pedestrianized road with stores on both sides – boring, Western-style boutiques and department stores. Yawn. If I had wanted to go to a mall I would have stayed in Massachusetts.
Nope, I wanted some Chinese stuff, so I hopped back into a taxi and headed for the Old Town Antiques Market – a sort of outdoor bazaar full of all sorts of strange, old Chinese merchandise. It was here that I was introduced to the wonderful world of haggling. If you’ve never haggled before, I don’t blame you. It was definitely something I was not accustomed to and at the beginning I sort of felt guilty for trying to low-ball people so much (especially when the exchange rates make things so cheap to begin with). However, it is customary to do so in that situation and I’d go so far as to say it’s absolutely expected of you.
After just one day of doing this, here is how I observed it to work. To begin with, you approach a stall and find something you want to buy. You kind of look at it, then pick it up and inspect it. As soon as you touch it, a merchant will come up to you and ask, “do you like?” I guess the trick here is not to appear too interested in something, so you just kind of shrug and say, “it’s OK.” They will then say something like “how much you think?” Personally, I never answered them because with my limited experience doing this I had no idea what things regularly go for. Instead, my beginner’s strategy was to let them start the bargaining. I would just give them a blank stare, squint, shrug or do something that indicated that I wasn’t intending to buy it to begin with. At that point, the vendor will usually pull out a calculator and type in a price: “one-eight-oh” they’ll say, for example. “One eighty?! For this?!!?” is a pretty decent response to the first offer. “How much you think?” It’s now the buyer’s turn to grab the calculator and enter in a ridiculously low price that will have the vendor either gasping or laughing. I would typically start at about a third of the offering price, so in this case I would type in sixty. After some back and forth usually you will arrive at a price around half of the original offer. For something that started at 180, the ending price (for me, the rookie haggler) would be about 100. So in this example, we just talked them down from 180 RNB (about $22.00) to100 RNB (about $12.00). A savings of $10.00 isn’t that bad, but I’m sure I could’ve done better with some more practice. For instance, it wasn’t until I had nearly spent my budgeted shopping amount that I realized the “start to walk away” technique is insanely effective. Another thing that would have given me more of an edge would have been being able to speak Chinese. Either way, it was actually really fun and it added to the whole experience of buying Chinese antiques and curios.
After that mentally and physically draining experience, I went back to the hotel to take a short nap. Once recharged, I headed on down to The Bund to see what all the fuss is about. I can’t say I was disappointed. The area is very nice, with a great walkway right along the river. From the walkway you can get a fantastic view of the Oriental Pearl (apparently the largest TV tower in the world) and the other skyscrapers residing along the other side of the Huangpu River. On the Bund side of the river there are very old European-style buildings that used to comprise the financial center of Shanghai. For dinner I stopped at a restaurant built into a boat docked along the banks of the river. Naturally, it was very good food. In fact, I can’t say I’ve had a particularly bad dining experience while I’ve been here and I really don’t understand why people complain about it.
So my flight home is tomorrow and this is probably the last time I will check in while I am here. All in all this has been quite an experience, and one that I wish everyone I know could have been involved in. As always, it is really eye-opening to be in a different part of the world. You end up experiencing a different perspective, and you begin to gain a frame of reference for where other people are coming from. I’m looking forward to coming home, though, and seeing my friends, family and my girlfriend. I’ve got a lot of plans for when I get back, so I might as well not lament leaving here. The next adventure is just around the corner!