Dave's Sketch Journal

Drawing is taking a line for a walk. - Paul Klee

Pearl Market

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The Beijing Pearl Market is world famous as a bargainer's paradise. You can buy anything you want at Pearl: electronics, silks, bags, shoes, leather goods, cameras, jewelry, and pottery. Absolutely everything is for sale. The building occupies an entire city block, is four floors high (not counting the basement), and contains, well like I said, a few items.

Some vendors have a four to six foot area to sell their stuff. They sit behind the goods with their boxes stacked around them. Or they'll stand outside their booth in the isle so they can step into your path as you approach. Some vendors have glass display cases for watches and electronics.

There are people everywhere. The isles are just three feet wide. When I walked in I joined a seething mass of humanity. I feel like a fish swimming in a school through coral reefs while sharks snap at me from every side. "Mr. you take look at nice things."

Bargaining is great fun. Very few prices are posted and even the prices you may see are just for show. They don't mean anything. I ran an experiment by asking three vendors what their best price was on a camera. One quoted 2400 yuan ($300), another 2600 ($325), and still another 2700 ($337.50). "That is best price for you." said the last one.

Ruth found a silk jewelry box. I always do Ruth's bidding because she hates dealing with the vendors. The lady wanted 160 yuan but we were able to get it for 30. (From $20 to $3.25!)

Finally Lynn went with Ruth and I went in another direction. I was tired of looking at silk boxes. Lynn later told me Ruth told a vendor "Oh, you're so nice I just have to buy something from you." Oh my word, that's like giving a gun to a mugger and saying: "Rob me." Lynn leveled the bargaining field by saying: "Yes, Ruth but you know that if you spend that much money your husband will beat you." Lynn is very good at the game.

The vendors are very tuned in to body language. If I walk briskly through I can hear echoing behind me: "Take a look, many good things," "Mr. you like to look here." "I give best price." But if I hesitated, changed my pace, or looked ever so slightly at an item, the vendor would pick it out, hold it up and say: "I make a very good price for you." It was uncanny.

Usually I started at a price one fourth of whatever they were asking. If a box was 160, I'd offer 35 or 40. Sometimes I did well, other times I had to walk.

Eventually we left without spending the family fortune. Fortunately we still had enough yuen left over to catch a taxi back to the hotel. And that's the great thing. With the four of us traveling together, a taxi ride to any part of the city cost us about 42 yuan max. That's just $1.30 per person. One time we caught a 1.20 taxi from the other side of town and it cost us only 18 yuan.

Actually, the hotel has a card they give to us. They have a check-a-box of the most famous places. They hail the taxi and tell them where you want to go and you're set. On the back of the card is a little map you can use to get back home.

But don't ask the taxi to go somewhere other than what's on the card. Once we wrote on a piece of paper where we wanted to go in both English and Chinese. We later discovered that taxi driver thought the suite number was the building number. Most taxi drivers are farmers who have moved in from the country. They can sometimes get just as lost as we do i guess. Of course, the advantage is that they speak the language fluently. Yet he was so persistent trying to locate our destination. He stopped in the middle of the street, jumped out, talked to a security guard, gestured wildly, jumped back in, and off we'd go in a totally different direction.

I will not say that the Pearl Market was the best of today, but it was an experience.

Laws control the lesser man. Right conduct controls the greater one. -Chinese proverb
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