Free Day - Shopping, BeiHai Park and Belly Dancing?!
Today is Sunday, and our guide, Simon has the day off. Of course, that doesn’t mean we’d leave anyone high and dry, so we met with Ivan Yi of WebPlus Inc (Beijing) (http://www.webplus.com.cn/) and Star Mu of Pacific Net (http://www.pacificnet.com/) and his wife (whose card I didn’t get).
We went to the HongQiao Market, which is not too far from the hotel, near the Temple of Heaven.
Now THIS is shopping! The market is how I remember “Silk Street” from back in the 90’s, except it’s far cleaner, is inside, and the quality of goods is much higher. 5 floors of shopping mayhem. Clothing, electronics, jewely, trinkets and almost everything else you can think of are present, and it’s one of the places where former President Clinton and former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and many others shopped during their respective visits (there are pictures of them all over the mall).
The lower levels are basically the cheaper stuff (and the knockoffs) with the top two levels reserved for high end pearls, jade, amber, sapphire and other precious jewelry. I bought my wife a set of beautiful pearl earrings with a matching necklace from the world famous Yong Hong Pearl (aka “Sharons Store” - http://www.sharonpearl.com/ ) at the top level, and some tea and CD-R’s at the lower levels. I also wanted a belt, and the result was a very interesting experience in Chinese market negotiation.
See, it’s common for Chinese companies to make a “good, better, best” quality array of goods, where the goods appear almost identical but the quality differences can be dramatic. My old belt was wearing out, so I stopped by a stall to see about getting a new one. The first belt offered (at the outrageous price of 600 Yuan - $75 USD) was a cheap Hugo Boos knockoff. I think it might have even been pure vinyl. Very often, market negotiators will start with something totally crazy, on the off chance you might be stupid enough to actually take it. Myself, I’d have been embarrassed to offer it. First step, focus on quality, then negotiate price. Otherwise, if you get down to a low enough price, you’ll never even be shown “the best stuff”. She had a bag of what looked like totally identical belts, yet the first one was a cheap vinyl one, the second offering was real leather (though only as a razor thin layer on top of vinyl – you can check by looking at the belt holes – you want to see pure leather all the way through, never any layers of material). The third one was real leather, but had a cheap belt buckle, and finally, with great reluctance (and me about to walk away, since, as I was able to show her, I already had a belt and really didn’t “need” another, so I didn’t care) she brought out a real belt – good quality stitching, real leather, good buckle, the whole works. Finally. If you don’t know exactly what you are looking for, it’s almost certain you won’t get it, here.
Then we negotiated price. Naturally, she started at 600RMB again, claiming that she could not move on it, since my excellent negotiating had put her in a bad position. Yeah, right. Rule number one – they will NEVER agree to a break-even or money losing price, so be ruthless – you won’t be taking advantage of them, since they won’t let you. Unless you have counterfeit money, the only person in danger of getting a bad deal here is the buyer.
I knew that this belt was worth between $45-$60 in the US, so I set my sights on around $20. Since we had already eliminated the crappy quality stuff, there were limits to how low you can go, at this point. But they are usually lower than you might think. I started with $10, and we haggled for a while, with the invaluable help of Ivan, Star and his wife. The final price was $18. Nice.
While waiting for Brooke to finish her shopping (the lady is a shopping machine) we discussed e-commerce in China (Ivan works for a Chinese friendly shopping cart company) Since shoppers rarely have credit cards, there are obviously several challenges. Turns out there are some very interesting tactics you can use with cell phones, debit cards (which are more popular) and, of all things, C.O.D!
Afterward, we went to a local restaurant across the street that serves fairly authentic Beijing food. I’ve experimented a lot with food in Asia and I had not seen half of these dishes. One looked like un-hardened cement, but tasted delicious.
After this, we broke up into two groups – Brooke and I in one and David, Ivan and Star in the other. Brooke suggested seeing BeiHai Park (right near the Forbidden City) so off the two of us went.
Unfortunately, the park, like the Forbidden City, is under renovations for the Olympics right now, though there are a number of interesting sights, nooks and crannies. They drained half of the lake, and we watched workers loading dirt onto a pickup truck that must have been 50 years old. Afterward, we had some tea (you can almost always find a teahouse nearby). It was very cold, just above freezing, so the tea was very welcome.
By this time it was getting late, and I had my eyes set on a dinner show. The hotel apparently has a very nice dinner show, so we hurried back. Unfortunately, the show was not on that night, which was a disappointment, since dinner shows in China are a lot of fun. Asking the guy at the desk, we found out that the most famous dinner show (A Fun Ti) in Beijing still had space, so we booked a reservation and went.
Belly dancing in Beijing. Will wonders never cease. The show also included China’s only male belly dancer (very popular with the ladies), a very pretty female belly dancer, some female Chinese dancers in more modest clothing, and two musicians. The show was in Mandarin, Cantonese and English, which was nice.
Anyway, the show was a lot of fun, and family friendly. There were even several couples with their spoiled rotten kids in the audience. One kid kept wondering up on stage, and apparently the parents thought nothing of it. These kids are in for a big surprise when it comes time for them to deal with the real world later on. In China, due to the one-child rule, kids are often spoiled, and usually referred to as “Little Emperors”. Every one I’ve seen so far this trip was also ill-behaved and severely overweight. Fortunately, it didn’t detract from the show (Personally, I think it added an interesting Chinese touch to the otherwise very middle-eastern experience). The lamb-kabobs were very tasty.
Afterwards we went back to the hotel for some sleep – tomorrow is the Great Wall trip, and you want to be fully awake for that one.
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Free Day - Shopping, BeiHai Park and Belly Dancing?!