Bargaining is part of the fun when shopping in a foreign land
I AM no shopaholic. However, when I am overseas, I do try to get a few souvenirs for people back home. Most of the time, I buy from individual shop operators or the market where the prices are not fixed.
This means one thing — I can bargain.
Like most seasoned shoppers, I’ve had my share of good and bad bargain experiences. It can either be fun or a nightmare when you bargain, depending on the shopkeepers’ mood and character.
I must add that I only bargain in certain countries. In Indonesia, India and Cambodia, I hardly ever do so since the shopping there is really cheap. Plus, I don’t have the heart to pay less in these poor countries as I’d like to think that I’m helping their economy, no matter how small my contribution.
Hong Kong ranks right up there for my worst shopping experiences. My eyes were wide open the moment we stepped into Mong Kok market in the island city, famous for its fascinating street markets.
In one of the streets, a shop selling children’s items caught my eye and so I decided to get some stuff here. Since the shopkeeper did not speak a word of English, we communicated via a calculator. When she showed me the price of an item, I thought it was a tad expensive so I took the calculator, keyed in my price and showed it to her.
Horrified at my asking price, she literally yelled in my ears, “No!!!”
“You don’t have to shout!!!” I yelled back and walked away. I didn’t turn around when she called me back.
In Beijing, China, a friend who bought Chinese silk was shocked to find out minutes later that the silk he thought he had bought had been changed to a cheaper non-silk material!
By the time he realised this, it was too late. The coach he was in had travelled too far and could not turn back.
A more rewarding experience for me was in Seoul, Korea. The four of us were shopping for Korean silk to bring back home. We wanted to buy silk for our mothers, sisters and relatives to make baju kurung.
We stumbled on a silk shop, went in and loved what we saw. We then asked for the price. When the man showed us — also via a calculator — how much a metre of fabric cost, my three other friends immediately lost interest.
But I was ready to “fight” for my price. I took the calculator and slashed by half his asking price. He took a look at the calculator, shook his head, smiled and keyed in his price, which was a little more than what I had asked for. I took this as a sign that he was willing to go even lower, if I played my cards right.
We went back and forth several times and by then, the price was almost what I had originally asked for.
Finally, I keyed in my last price and also told him that since Malaysia was going through a currency crisis (it was 1998), that the amount was all I could afford. I also told him that if he agreed to my price, I would get all my three friends to at least buy 16 metres each. This meant that the four of us would at least walk away with 64m of silk fabrics... again if the price was right.
Looking at the calculator and then at me, the shopkeeper gave a big smile, shook my hand and told me: “You are a good businessman!”
Needless to say, we bought more than what we had planned to.
However, nothing beats another experience I had, also in Seoul. I was walking with my friend, Roslen Fadzil of Harian Metro, when we saw a toy shop. A stuffed toy that said “I Love You” when pressed, attracted my attention. I wanted to get it for my mum. So I asked the shop owner what it cost, via a calculator. A little more expert by this time, I keyed in my price and gently pat his back.
He smiled and keyed in his price, this time slightly higher and returned the favour by patting my back.
I took the calculator, showed him my last price, flashed my best smile and massaged his arms!
“You guys are crazy!” exclaimed Roslen, laughing.
Well, we were. But most importantly, I got my stuff toy at the price I had asked for and the man got some business and a free arm massage...