Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Bag! Watch! Purse! Club

If you have ever lived in China or even visited, or heck, even been to a China town in America, you may well be acquainted with the experience of being viewed as a walking money tree. You hear English, but it is minimalistic, chucked at you in globs. "Bags!", "Watches!", "Hello!", "Hey Lady!" (my favorite), "Ok!", "Shoes!", and "Purses!" Sometimes you get more elaborate descriptions, like "Good price!" or "Come look!" or "Gucci!" They flash a laminated, folded sheet with pictures of goods, splaying it out for you to see and then quickly collapsing it back into their pocket, lest they be caught by the authorities, and then expect you to follow them to the secret shop. I am really, really good at saying "No" now. If I could figure out how to say, "Actually, I don't really care for purses much, thank you, " in Chinese, I might pull that on them. I figure it would stun them long enough to make my quick get-away.

Our friend, Gregg, is pretty much a genius because he came up with the most hysterical way to turn the tables on these guys. He decided it would be great if he could get a hold of one of the cards with all the pictures on it, so that when he goes to the high traffic areas, he can beat the sellers at their own game. As soon as you see a dude approaching you, you whip out the card. "Bags Watch Purse?!" The poor suckers wouldn't even know what hit em.

While I was walking along one of these shopping streets, waving my hand "No" at least two dozen times, I thought about Gregg's idea. It really was perfect. I found myself wishing I had one of those cards. Every non-materialistic, non-shopping crazy schmuck should have one of those cards, cause I know I'm not the only one who doesn't want that stuff. In fact, I will never want that stuff. I thought about getting a shirt made that says, in characters, "I'm Poor." But the card thing is both effective and potentially funny.

One night David and I met Kellie and Gregg on a corner to go to dinner. Gregg held out his hand and revealed one of the product cards. He smiled.

"You got one?" I asked, excited.
"Yup. Bought it for 5 kuai." We all laughed. This was excellent progress. He actually got one!

So after dinner, David and Gregg walked ahead of Kellie and I on the sidewalk. We were having our own conversations. Then Kellie and I realized that we were passing small groups of people who were laughing with a very surprised look on their faces. Then we noticed they were looking ahead of us, sometimes pointing. Gregg was whipping out the card any chance he got, leaving in his wake numbers of very shocked product pushers. It was comic gold. We quickly decided that very night that we needed to add to our army. We needed to get all the expats on board (or at least the 4 of us), each procure our own card and go out en mass. I decided we would have to video the action. Perhaps we would put it on YouTube. The possibilities are endless.

So this past Saturday, David and I went to Yuyuan Bizarre to attempt to do some shopping. The funny thing was, David needed to buy a couple fake watches for a friend back in the States. So before I knew it, we were actually following the bagwatchpurse guy. He took us to a side street and then a small little walkway amongst some old residences, still occupied. Then, Voila!, a secret room full of knockoffs. I couldn't believe we were actually doing this. It was interesting, but my patience with the ordeal was limited, as it is very, very hard sell in there. The price started at 1200 yuan for one watch and a half hour later, after thoroughly frustrating the salespeople, we got two watches for 700 yuan. I actually think we could've gone lower, but it came out to about $58 per watch, one being a "Rolex," so I think we did OK.

So even though we already bought some, Mr. Bagwatchpurse wants to take us to ANOTHER store. We follow just to see, but we're done. He then tries to drag us to "the best" store, but we managed to tell him we really were finished. He finally left us alone. But later, we ran into the same guy. I gotta hand it to Mr. B. He sure is a go getter, cause he tried to get us to look at some more stuff. Again. This is when David seized the opportunity.

"I wanna buy THAT," he said, pointing to Mr. B's card. The guy figured it out quickly.
"50 kuai." Damn. This guy is on the ball. And so, the bargaining begins.
"My friend bought one for 5 kuai!" David says.
"You kidding me! 40 kuai!"
"Too much! It's just a card! 5 kuai! My friend bought one for 5 kuai!"

By this time there are two other card toters gathered around and now they are trying to get us to buy their cards! I kept trying to walk away. This was getting ridiculous.
"30 kuai!"
"5 kuai!"
"You must be joking! 20 kuai!"
"Buy this one! 10 kuai!"
"Too much! I'll buy yours! 5 kuai!" More laughter. Things are whipped up into a frenzy at this point. These guys couldn't be more thrilled that some goofball tourists are offering them money for their cards.
"10 kuai!"
"Ok, ok. 10 kuai, " David agrees. "Still too much." There's a pause. "Pinky? (my nickname), do you have 5 kuai on you?"
"I am not giving you 5 kuai for that thing." I start to walk away.
"Can I borrow 5 kuai? I only have 5 kuai!"

I turn. I look at David amongst this crowd of Chinese folks. They are still haggling him. I relent. I hand the original Mr. B 10 kuai, take the 5 kuai from David and then drag him away. The other sellers still want us to buy their cards. Complete madness!

But at least now there are two members of the BWP Club. As for my future role in these dealings, I am going to self appoint myself as head camera girl. It's a war zone out there. I'd rather not be in the front lines.

We're taking back the streets...

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