Wallflower Dispatches

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The Charming Mountain Goat…is shopping in Shanghai

April 15th, 2010 · No Comments · Charming Mountain Goat, Travel Writing

Writers’ rates being what they are, Shanghai’s most relevant shopping spot is Market 580 in 580 Nanjing Xi Street.

Until June 2006, this market was located outdoors in a park which was a maze of stalls, very dirty and quite confusing. It was also one of the biggest markets in China to offer fake designer goods.

Today it has been moved to its present location, but just as before you are greeted by men and women who hiss the magic word “Watches, handbags” in your direction as soon as you come into sight.

This chant is often accompanied by the showing of a business card or a well-thumbed dirty ring binder that holds in its pages faint photographs of Louis Vuitton bags of a different ranges and sizes.

If I were better acquainted and had the ability to feign more interest when these subjects come up amongst certain types of females, I might even be able to name the models. Alas, the ring binder and its mysterious contents remain a secret.

Inside as you rush past the individual cubicles that have the charm of an abandoned railway station toilet, the hissing continues. “Watches!” “Lady, come look. I give you good price.” “Do you need shoes?” (Which woman doesn’t?), “My shop is nice – the other one rubbish.”

Generally, all items regardless of cubicle, salesperson, product or brand appear to start at 180RMB. That is about €19, £17 or $26. A pair of Converse Allstars? 180 RMB. Reading glasses? 180 RMB. A Chinese silk scarf: 180RMB.

The sales process is much more fun than those boring supermarket or department store trips on offer in Europe.

You enter the cubicle to browse and immediately the selling starts. “You want shoes? Which size are you? I can get bigger.” If you touch an item, the salesperson immediately pulls it out and prizes its uniqueness. “It’s new model. I can give you good price.”

A medium size pocket calculator assumes the role of intermediate. The sum of 180 RMB is tapped into the machine, which is then handed to you. This is not actually the prize of the item, but a character test.

The way in which you will look at the pocket calculator, react to the number that has been tapped in and react all reveal what you are really made of. And likewise determine the next move of the vendor.

The correct answer to 180RMB for a pair of trainers is 50RMB (that equals €5,40 or  £4,70 or $7,30). If you are accompanied by a local Chinese friend who can confirm this answer with a nod, an angry argument will break out between the two. The salesperson has just realised that she won’t be making a large profit.

We had the pleasure to shop with an elderly, polite English gentleman whose smile puts anyone at ease. We just stood back in awe and enjoyed the spectacle. While the Chinese salesperson was taken in by this gentleman, he in turn was ready to bargain.

It seems ridiculous to argue about pence or cents for an already laughable amount of money, but under cries of “You are so tough.” and “What is your best prize, come on…”, the laughter on both sides confirmed that this was going to be the most enjoyable bargaining experience in an otherwise dull sales position.

We always parted with the goods and were told with beaming smiles: “See you soon.”

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