Day 26: The Day of Cliché

All of our unplanned, haphazard, Sam’ll-handle-it traveling had been going swimmingly, but we finally hit a snag this morning.  We arrive back in China after the splendid overnight train from Shanghai and take a taxi straight to the Liyun Apartotels that were so good to us.  We explode into the lobby, a dust cloud of backpacks and random limbs.

But it’s booked solid.  Heave the bags backs on, down the street to cross on the overhead bridge, back up the street to try somewhere else.


Bags, bridge, try again.


Bags, taxi, try again.

We finally find a place that is somewhere that I cannot explain because I cannot explain where any place is in Beijing.

And so, forward with the Day of Cliché.

Cliché no.1: Shopping.  I’m not really one for doing a lot of shopping while traveling, and I am not very good at haggling over prices.  I would rather simply not buy something than invest a ton of time in arguing the price down only to feel bad about screwing these people out of the ten yuan that they obviously need more than I do.  (I suppose I could pay the full, ridiculously high asking price, but I don’t really want to do that either.)  But I’ve been watching Sam, the Mistress of Bargaining, and decide to try it out if I see something cool while walking through Silk Street – a large, multi-level department store filled with individual booths and aggressive proprietors.

Kristy and I are obvious marks as soon as we walk into the building.  My height alerts every salesperson on the entire floor to my presence so they can prepare their shouted advertisement as I walk within earshot.

YOU NEED SILK KIMONO PAJAMAS?!!!?”  I can hardly tell if they are asking me a question or informing me that I do, in fact, need silk kimono pajamas.  I just love the notion of someone asking me if I need silk kimono pajamas, like anybody really needs that.

I’ve never seen such in-your-face endorsements before: it isn’t like they are just sitting there, announcing their goods into the wind; they make eye contact, grab your sleeve, stand in your way so you can’t get away.  In one narrow section all the girls come out of their booths and physically block me as I watch Sam and Kristy get swallowed up in the crowd.  I try refusing to make eye contact and ignoring their merchandise, but they don’t let up, so I experiment with a small step-and-bump into the girl in front of me who is busy displaying a scarf that is, apparently, “very good quality.”  No movement.  I push harder, she pushes back.  I turn to wedge my shoulder into a small opening between girls, and they feign outrage and injury in the hopes I will feel bad and turn back.  Not a chance.

GUCCI PURSE, GUCCI BELT, GUCCI SHOES!!”  What is it, exactly, that makes the person at the end of the row think, just maybe, I will stop and buy from them when I just passed twenty other shops selling the exact same things?

(Side note: in Mandarin, the letter x is pronounced as sh, so some of the fake Gucci stuff has labels sewn into them that say Guxxi.)

I decide to try my hand at this haggling business in the quieter Corridor of Cashmere Sweaters.  So I start looking at and feeling some *fingerquotes* “Polo” sweaters when I see the You’d-Have-To-Be-An-Idiot-To-Pay-This opening quote displayed on a calculator screen.  800 yuan for a sweater.  That’s almost $120.  So I laugh at her and turn to leave.  She backs down quickly, hands me the calculator to put in my opening bid.  I lowball it without mercy, something like 30 or 40 yuan.  She laughs at me in turn.  I ignore her for a while, feel some more sweaters, pick out a couple of colors that I like.  I try to get a better deal if I buy two.  As I verrrrry slowly come up from 80 yuan, she inches down from 500.  So I feign disgust and pretend to leave again.  She shouts me back into the booth.  More inching, another frustrated “exit.”  Finally, she is clearly unhappy that she has spent all this time on me and I won’t budge on 110 yuan.  For two sweaters.  She jerks the sweaters into a bag, takes my money and practically throws me out of the shop.  I pay $8 for each sweater when she wanted $115.  I’d be pissed too, I guess.  I see her later and judge from her scowl that she recognizes me.

So I’m actually enjoying the haggling.  It makes my sweaters feel even more satisfyingly soft.

cctv building

CCTV Building in the background – the structure turns three different corners in the air.  It’s like two tall, crooked vertical towers with a horizontal section that makes a 90 degree turn connecting them.  Very cool.

Cliché no.2: Chinese Acrobats.  If you ever want to feel super special in China, there are a couple of things you can do: wander through the Forbidden City so a bunch of people ask to take pictures with you, or go to an acrobatics show and have ushers serve you ice cream while you sit in the centrally located VIP seats.  And just ignore that fact that all the other people in the theater are also sitting in the VIP seating.  Besides, the important thing is they serve you ice cream!!

chinese acrobats


Cliché no.3: Beijing’s Heinous Snack Street, home of The Most Disgusting Things on Sticks.  Scorpions, beetles, crickets, cockroaches, roasted to perfection, served on convenient skewers.  Stupendous after-theater fare.

Bee Cocoons, anyone?  Silk worm, sea snakes, centipedes?  Anyone for some beetles?

Delicious Starfish

For a palette cleanser, we stop for some more ice cream at Häagen Dazs, where you sit down and get served ice water with lemon while you eat.  And where the little counter in front of the cash register is sloped so Kristy’s ice cream immediately slides off and spills on the ground, requiring the smarmy scooper-guy to re-scoop it for her while we laugh.

Tomorrow we’re going on a Great Wall tour, so that should be pretty fun!


6 Responses to “Day 26: The Day of Cliché”

  1. August 1, 2010 at 9:30 am

    Funny post. I had forgotten about critters on sticks and don’t recall the starfish. I do love the acrobats though I never watched them while eating ice cream.

  2. 3 Jay Williams
    August 2, 2010 at 10:12 am

    Love the blog….it’s got to be made into a book…then movie. After I get well you need to tell me about your China trip….

    • August 2, 2010 at 1:39 pm

      hey jay!! i’m glad you’re enjoying it! i’ll get working on a movie deal, but the book is already (kind of) in the works. i don’t know if you saw my last post, but it is a photobook of my time in tibet.

      i’m looking forward to telling you more about it. i hope you’re feeling okay!

  3. August 3, 2010 at 9:44 am

    Yeah! You’re back to posting!

    Man, I have GOT to take you with me when I shop! You drive a hard bargain! I’d never be that brave! Bravo! 🙂

    The theatre photos are amazing. Nice to hear you can get Häagen Dazs !

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