The tale herein harkens back all the way to June 3rd when I ate numbing fish, went to the silk market, and briefly thought I was trapped in the silk market.
For lunch we were on our own and I ended up a generic Chinese restaurant where Frank ordered us some good food including this fish that was “ma fa” which is Chinese for bitter-spicy. The fish had been cooked with berries that contain a compound that numbs your lips as you eat it so as the meal went on our lips became progressively more numbed. It was really strange, but it was tasty and that’s the important part. I also learned all the important place-setting words that meal like cup, bowl, chopsticks, plate, and spoon.
Later we took our first lengthy subway ride to the Silk market. When I heard silk market I was expecting a street with little vendors but what we came to was a massive building full of heckling vendors selling all manner of stuff, most of it fake. Knockoff clothes of all sorts were abundant, people yelled at you as you passed by asking if you wanted whatever they were selling. Early on as Dan, who is 6’2” tall, walked by a place and ignored the woman she yelled “hey noseface!” to get his attention. We are pretty sure that’s what she meant but we found another person later trying to say “northface” and just making a mistake, but fun fractured English abounded. That said the market catered to foreigners and all the vendors there definitely knew English and some knew Spanish.
The Silk market was a stressful event for me because you must haggle with every person you want to buy something from if you want a reasonable price. I was looking for a wallet and sunglasses at the market and considered getting a painting thing. I tried my hand at haggling by myself a couple of times but had little success. I was going around with Ray most of the time who, while proficient in Mandarin is not proficient in bargaining but is very proficient in making you feel like you’re being ripped off. All the people who have been to China in our group pretty much always tell you that you could get what you’re buying cheaper somewhere, but it’s important, and difficult, to realize that you’re talking about getting something for 20 or 30 RMB instead of 50, in the case of wallets at the Silk market, so either way it’s a good deal were it in the US. The painting guy I tried haggling with a bit but didn’t know how to really proceed because I didn’t want to be offensive but I didn’t want to give up too much ground and pay more than I had to. The lady near that stand got really mad at Ray for some reason and it was generally not that awesome.
I tried getting myself a wallet at one stand. I’ll give you a taste of how the bargaining goes. I look at a bunch of wallets and pick one that I like and I ask how much it is. The vendor says something absurd like 250. I say “No, that’s too much.” She replies “180.” I say no. She comes back with something like 120 and says “I can’t go any lower than this.” I say how about 20. They say I’m crazy and that this is a nice wallet and what’s my highest price. I maybe reluctantly say 30 and it goes back and forth. One stall I got them down to 60 and I was like “nah, I’m good” and walked away and as I walked away she was like “ok 50!” and after a bit I came back and was going to get the 50 but my Chinese advisors made me feel like a chump as they are so good at doing for paying such an exorbitant price for a wallet and I walked away again which the vendors were none-too-pleased about.
After this we teamed up with Susan who is a much better shopping partner than Ray and agreed to try to help get me a wallet. To do this we devised an ingenious system. She started looking at wallets acting like she was getting one for Ray, who was standing near her, and I was standing near Ray looking unassociated. When she looked at one that I liked I poked Ray who poked Susan who bargained with the guy. I’d decided I’d pay 50 for a wallet, and this was a success. We all felt very proud of our complicated system. We tried to do the same for a pair of sunglasses but it didn’t work out.
We ate dinner upstairs in that building and after dinner attempted to leave. You would think that this wouldn’t be a difficult task, but you would be wrong. I’d heard of that factory fire where all the workers died because the doors where chained shut and as a result American standards for exits are the way they are, but I didn’t really appreciate would that would be like until I was trying to leave the Silk market that day. We were on the 7th floor of this building. The lowest floor is connected to the subway, has a main entrance, and numerous smaller exits. We got on the elevator on the 7th floor and took it down. We put about 14 people in each of 2 elevators, including 2 unsuspecting Chinese people. We got off at the first floor. We are trapped in a room with the elevators. There are glass doors that are locked that would let us get into the main part of the market and proceed to the subway. So we go up and try another floor. Same deal. The random Chinese man pounds on the glass door and yells at a guard to open it. The guard just pointed up. We went back to the top floor and took escalators all the way down because we’d deduced that the building was closing at this point and apparently that means it’s time to lock everyone in the elevator room. We got down to the first floor and try to get to the subway. The gate separating the subway station from this building slides shut in the middle of our group of people, unbeknownst to us. So we “all” head out to the main exit and realize we’re missing like 5 people who we call to figure out that they made it through the subway gate and we didn’t. The rest of us enter the subway stop which was still running (it was just the direct connection between the subway and the building that was being closed) and meet up with our lost sheep and happily take the subway after an eventful day of shopping.
Ok. Life is very busy so I haven’t had time to write a full post. We have been learning some chinese, learning our way around the campus and nearby areas, we got our cell phones, went to a tourist-y market (the silk market), we met with professors for lunch (except for biology kids at PKU (me, Andrew, and Frank) because they failed to inform the BIO PKU professors when and where the lunch was being held), went out to dinner on a boat at Ho Hai (a lake) in the city, and went to karaoke.
Look forward to fun tales about bartering in the market, getting our phones (from a very smoke-filled electronics store crawling with emo kids who were there for no apparent reason), exploring campus, and the night of the boating and karaoke.
I am busy but having fun. I now need to go shower and sleep.