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Lesson learned comes at a cost
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China grows on you in ways one could not imagine. One of the first Mandarin words any foreigner learns to use with confidence is "pianyi yidianr" ("cheaper please").

While it is an attempt to buy something more suited to ones' budget the term contains within it a whole world of seller-buyer camaraderie, without which a shopping experience here would lose a lot of its color.

Much as I express frustration over the whole bargaining "ritual", I secretly derive much pleasure from it. Oh! What bliss it is to get something 10 yuan cheaper.

After living here for five years, saying "pianyi yidianr" is almost a reflex action. It's like I am incapable of asking how much something costs, without asking if the seller can cut his price. And it happens all the time - whether I'm looking for hardwood furniture or just a bottle of water from a ramshackle roadside kiosk.

And I must say I've acquired a certain lan while doing so. My voice sounds more authoritative and whenever the vendor comes up with the Beijing classic, "Wo si le" (I die, a reference to the price offer), I sound my warning: "Wo shi Beijing ren, wo zhu zai Beijing" (I am a Beijinger, I live here), and feel certain the poor fellow will wilt on hearing this.

This, of course, is met with a spirited throwing down of the ubiquitous calculator and that "get lost" shrug, but I usually manage to wrangle some concession.

A recent incident, however, stopped me in my tracks. The Indian community got together to celebrate Independence Day, for which there was a small charge to cover the cost of food, venue and so on. One gentleman called a couple of days before the event.

"We are a group of 15 who want to join." There was a moment's pause, then: "Err, can we get a group discount?"

The shoe was firmly on the other foot!

(China Daily August 31, 2009)

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