Monday, September 24, 2007

Beijing and beyond

After a month adjusting to life in Tianjin, last weekend, we finally made it up to Beijing for a fun-filled day of sight-seeing and bargaining. Our branch rented a bus for the 2-hour ride leaving from Nankai University to central Beijing, and after a couple hours of delay we arrived in the surprisingly clean, uncongested, and nicely-lanscaped city (perhaps improvements prompted by the Olympic committee?).When we first arrived, the bus dropped us off at the Pearl Market (where they actually do sell pearls- the more mature women loved it), but you can find plenty of knock-off Nike shoes and fake Rolex watches, as well as buckets of other clothing, jewelry and electronics. Behind the main market was a smaller market full of toy vendors; this was our first stop in hopes of finding something to occupy Ellie's idol/destructive time. We were sorely disappointed with the prices (we are cheap, and as we eventually found out, we are even cheap for China... and I'm not sure if that's a good or a bad thing).

After insulting several sellers with our demands of low prices, we did end up buying several items including some wooden vegetable cutting kit that Ellie loves. She's in that mimicking stage of life and loves to be able to cut her onions and eggplants while we cut ours. Luckily, she understands that we only put mommy and daddy's food in our mouths... we can never be too sure about possible/probable presence of lead or other contaminates in the paint.

After some "practice time" in the toy market, we moved on to shoes, socks, and other enticing non-essentials. Tiffany's Chinese blood has been pumping harder in the Motherland, and her ancestors have been molding her to to be a real "Chinese," including breaking sellers down to the lowest price. I am particularly impressed with Tiffany's skills, not only in smashing vendors' hopes to rip-off ignorant foreigners, but also with her stubbornness to speak Chinese! She has significantly improved her market conversation skills because she rarely mumbles her native tongue to the sellers, even when they speak English to her.

As to bartering, we've adopted the "Mean Boss" technique from a friend who used to live here last year. (Thanks Amy- it works like a charm!) As seen below, Tiffany gets the price as low as she can by herself, while it's my job to hang out in the corner with the kids (and hold all the money). Then she comes to me with her request... which I always firmly shut down, because it is my hard-earned money you know. After some persistent persuasion, we usually get a little more off- all I have to do is be the bad guy, which is totally worth it because I value money over what people think of me! They sometimes call me a "mean boss," but one went as far as telling Tiffany that she needs a new husband: a Chinese husband who lets her buy as many jeans as she wants and is not so controlling--is that ironic to anyone else? (Even a quick look at modern history will show how controlling Chinese men can be...)

For sake of time, the rest of our Beijing excursion included the historic Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, getting somewhat lost trying to get to the subway (our first time on it), eating at our favorite American fast food joint Subway, and stealing more deals at the Silk Street Market. When we made it back to Tianjin, our branch president took the opportunity on the side of the road to extend a calling to me: Sunday School President. Since then Tiffany was called to serve in the Young Womens (there are 2 young women, who speak Chinese and minimal English...). We will stay busy.

Sorry for the quick summary at the end there... we have to leave now to the train station for a week-long vacation (it is a holiday here). We will soon post about Shanghai, Nanjing, Hangzhou, and Suzhou as soon as we get the chance!