Friday, January 25, 2008

Chinese Sales Tactics Revealed!

Sales techniques are very different here in China when compared to the way salesmen attract buyers in the states (which we sometimes miss), probably due to the relatively recent emergence of capitalism--a stark contrast to the former socialist, planned economy.

The spoils from an early shopping spree in Shanghai (we didn't have any clothes before then):

China MYTHBUSTERS- The only place you can buy fortune cookies in China is at an import store= FACT.

Here there seems to be little concern for business ethics because often salesmen will do/say anything to get your money. They often put customer satisfaction/retention at a low priority, forcing any modern American businessman to cringe with disgust. I guess it makes more sense when you put it in context of the local circumstances: in a city of 10-15 million, there's always another chump just beyond the polluted corner.

It really is no use asking for their honest opinion because the product is always incredibly awesome! It's almost like asking a mother if her baby (named Erik Larsen) is adorable-- a no-brainer.

Example #1
After Tiffany tried on this obviously small sweater, this salesman held firm to his claim of it fitting perfectly even though she couldn't breathe long enough to get a second picture. In his attempt to recoup, Mr. T style, he made some comment about it being good to show a little belly. Kudos for the effort, but who wears a turtleneck sweater with a bare midrift? His face-saving tactic was particularly moot because of a common superstition here that if your flesh (particularly stomach) is exposed to the open air, the evil wind will mess up your chi. Hey man, why are you so willing to mess with my wife's chi just to make a $2 sale?

China MYTHBUSTERS: as soon as a foreigner walks into a store, the salesman's eyes turn into dollar signs= FACT.

Like in many other countries around the world, prices are not set in stone; you need to barter down to a reasonable price. The starting price is always ridiculously high (just in case you're as chumpy as you look) and then they add about 600% on that for foreigners. Here's what you can do to combat this:
Luckily, stalls with similar products are usually conveniently grouped together in a single location (shoes, baby clothes, stationary...), so, often you just go to the next seller, find the same product, and gradually work down to your desired price. The farther you get into the market, the lower the starting price, which usually results in a lower ending price, too (since they don't get as many buyers). Talking to many sellers is incredibly important to find the best price of an item; you have the advantage because they don't know how low the previous sellers offered you, and believe me that you do have to quote your best previous sales in order to get them again (eg "but I bought this same "Armani" purse last week for $5-- I know you can go lower than $45 and I'll only take it for $5"). Works like a charm.

China MYTHBUSTERS- "Made in China" products found in the US are easily found in China= MYTH (Actually, "Made in China" goods on the US market are of a much higher quality than anything "sold in China" on the Chinese market, that we have found.)

After a long day of intense searching for cheap (and cute) clothes during our Shanghai trip in October, Tiffany found an old woman selling baby clothes, nunchucks, and cigarette lighters, a natural combination. Acting in desperation near closing time, Tiffany settled for an outfit with a ridiculous bear who had a squeaker toy hidden under the snout and some nonsense English (this is how low we were pummeled). Revealing our inexperience through hesitation, we caved in and bought the silly outfit (after demanding a nunchuck demonstration-- priceless coming from an elderly woman), but only because she had the clothes bagged up and cutely wedged into Didi's chubby little wrist rolls .

China MYTHBUSTERS- If you properly address a Chinese salesman as "comrade," he will immediately give you the product for free due to the collectivist nature of society= MYTH

Despite the inevitable challenges of making those "perfect finds," Tiff still declares bargain shopping her #1 preferred hobby, in true Goodwin style. Local Chinese markets are a worthy substitute for the yard sales she used to frequent. I can even usually tolerate shopping this way, especially to see Tiff's face light up as she gets an incredible deal on something we don't need and never would've bought for full-price anyhow. The problem is that, without any degree of organization within or among stalls, Tiff takes it upon herself to thoroughly dig through piles of potential steals. She doesn't stop at locating the right style, color, and size. No, she locates one for everyone we know who fits that size, as well as one for everyone who may someday fit that size. I really can't complain, though. Who else has a wife that buys Gucci belts only if they're priced under $2?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Preview: Meet the Marsens

Friday, January 18, 2008

Winter Walk

While Tiffany and Didi went to go visit-teaching, Ellie and I explored the grounds of "Fragrant Water Gardens," the apartment complex where we live. I made sure to bundle up Ellie (4 pairs of pants, 4 shirts, 2 hats) to reduce ridicule from the natives, though it is never enough to eliminate their collectivist remarks. It had been a while since we roamed the paths of our protected neighborhood (except out of necessity), and I was reminded why we pay so much every month for to live here! (We really only got to visit the nearest park area of the complex before the batteries ran out.)

(The first floor window behind the car is our living room.)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Three days, Three unbelievable trips.

One benefit of being a teacher is the wicked awesome vacation time. One benefit of having extended vacation time overseas is the possibility of visiting a seemingly endless number of cultural sites. Our seven-week vacation started last Saturday, so we hit off our first weekend with three days, three trips… all to the hospital... which in China is always a cultural experience.

Last week, Ellie and Erik unfortunately picked up a nasty cough. To make a long and pitiful story short, the sickness escalated enough that we found ourselves battling the crowds in the sometimes absurd Chinese health care system (in the middle of flu season) three days in a row this week. Our first visit was to the specialized Tianjin Children’s Hospital.

To make a long story long:

Trip #1 Saturday, January 12, 1:30pm

Our friends Chris and Emily Hardy accompanied us to assure professional treatment and quality communication between us and the hospital workers (she's a nurse and he speaks Chinese). Upon arrival, our first glimpse Rocked us like a Hurricane . In the words of Tiffany, “this was the first time I truly felt like we are in a third world country.” And we've seen squatters, so that is saying a lot. I guess the twist to what we've seen in Uganda and Cambodia is that in China, multiply the number of human bodies to be found anywhere by around 50,000. As we maneuvered through the labyrinth of sick, sad looking children lining the narrow ER halls, some of whom were already hooked up to ivs, we buried our kids’ faces in our clothes to shield them from the palpable diseases swimming in the stuffy, humid air around us.

When we made it to the Outpatient Department, Chris left us in attempts to fanangle through the unmercifully complicated procedures found in many instiutions here. If you like riddles or tricky mind games (compounded with communication problems), you’d like China because these procedures are full of steps and processes that nobody ever explains until you have to back-track, even when you ask. They only give you the next “clue,” maybe because that’s all they know, too! For example, there are a lot of long lines to wait in, only to realize that you need to stand in a couple other lines before meeting the requirements of the current line (it seems that the foreigners are the only ones who mind, though- maybe we have the problem).

Adding to the shabby facilities, sick children strewn about, and multiple kids peeing on the waiting room floor (common practice here for children- no diapers, no kiddy potties, though they do have amazing tailors who design pants with a long vertical cut up the backside to prevent soiling pants when a baby or toddler does have to squat), there were more than 100 patients ahead of Ellie and Erik on the list. In our 15 minute wait, only 2 kids were admitted. In our frustration, as well as Tiffany's paranoia that we were all going to pick up ebola from breathing that air, we walked to McDonalds, always one of the cleanest public facilities to be found in the city. While salivating over our juicy Double Cheeseburgers, we decided it wasn’t imminent to see a doctor that very moment. We cut our losses from the $2.50 doctor’s charge and went home.

Trip #2 Sunday, January 13, 9:00pm

We had planned a Monday trip to a highly regarded, "western-standard" hospital in Beijing, but were then convinced that it was probably a little unnecessary, considering the exorbitant charges, which included a deposit of almost $3,000 before being admitted to a room--yikes! After a priesthood blessing with our home teacher and with help from the Hardys and Barbara Tam, our branch mother, we tried our luck at the same Tianjin Children’s Hospital the next evening. This time, the hospital was nearly empty and from the first check-in to exiting the building, only about 20 minutes had elapsed! The nurse assured us that Erik didn't have anything serious (colds here commonly turn into RSV and pneumonia, though, so we're glad we checked!), but did prescribe some nasty Chinese herbs for the kids to drink that they despise with a fury. They do seem to work quite well, though.

Trip #3 Monday, January 14, 6:30pm

We didn't even take Ellie to the hospital on Sunday since Erik's condition seemed more severe, but late in the night, Ellie woke up vomiting, a bug she likely contracted during the Trip #1 viral-gauntlet stage. She was on the road to dehydration (she couldn’t even keep an electrolyte solution down--the Chinese equivalent of Gatorade is translated into the name "Pocari Sweat"--mmmmmm), so we hooked up with my friend Lilin at the Number One Central Hospital, and he stayed late after his shift to help us. He was highly indispensable by getting us right in past the confusing Chinese hospital administrative processes and by translating (although we did have three other translators on hand--the Hardys once again, and our friends Amy and David who gave us a ride). After a traumatizing blood test, Ellie got pumped with glucose water through an iv (which unfortunately didn't have the plastic tubing over the needle that American ivs do, so every time she moved, the needle would poke through her vein and the iv would back up with blood. Chris and Emily were champs in keeping her hand and arm perfectly still, despite a couple tantrums) and cried herself to sleep. We passed the hours until she peed (which was the signal that she was hydrated enough to go home) discussing all aspects of chickens. Thank goodness we'd brought a "safety bowl," since she through up her few sips of Pocari Sweat on the taxi ride home, but all in all, all was well again.

"Doctor made all better." Note: despite Ellie's claim, the doctor does not hit people. He helps people.


The Next Day: Tuesday, January 15

Ellie woke up feeling perky again with no more stomachache! In the evening, though, Erik manifested that he picked up Ellie’s bug by throwing up seven times in two hours. Once he had it all out, though, he was back to his cheerful self.

The Following Day Wednesday, January 16

Erik woke up late in the morning with some lingering symptoms, but as usual, he was full of smiles. I, on the other hand, had now picked up the bug, too (and was not full of smiles), and spent a miserable day doing nothing. The kids both had a couple relapses, but the worst was over. All I have to say is that Tiffany's immune system rules! We were blessed in so many ways this past weekend. We were so grateful that I was out of school to help and that we have such fabulous friends to support us in times of need.

This was not the ideal first week of winter vacation that we had planned (seeing the sights of Harbin, Dalian, and Tanggu), but hey! we still have six weeks left, and at least we got some quality family time in!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Kurtis Blow for Sprite (1986)

Shout out to my homeboy Jeff.

I chanced upon this gem while reminiscing the mornings my roommates and I would wake up to Kurtis Blow's "The Breaks." That's usually how we commenced our morning dance party in the kitchen.

After feeling this lyrical masterpiece rock me to my core, I wondered, how is 7up still in business?

Monday, January 07, 2008

Border Control: Chuck Norris?

If Huckabee wouldn't have won the election prior to this unprecedented endorsement, now there's no question he'll successfully roundhouse kick his way to the White House via Chuck Norris' steel-toed boot. I'm sure the media has hysterically covered this power convergence in the States, but for me here in China, this alliance is fantastically new. Though I hadn't planned on voting for Huckabee, the mere fact that Chuck Norris "tells America how it's gonna be" leaves all of us without a choice. But before we call the campaigning off just yet, here me out...

Possibly, the only way to combat Huckabee's forceful campaign is to immediately unite his opponents with other outdated (yet fiercely motivating) superhumans before Chuck's "third fist" takes any compelling action. Here are my suggestions:

MC Hammer -to add youthful energy and machine-like precision (McCain?)
Mr. T -to master the art of "recouping" (Guliani?)
Darth Vader - bringing fear to a new level (Clinton?)
Those 5 kids whose powers combine to make Captain Planet (Romney?)
Run DMC -help with foreign affairs policy and criminal justice (Obama?)

If they don't work out, we'll need to summon the secretive powers of:

Max Headroom, Tay Zonday, Robert Van Winkle, the Star Wars Kid, Mr. Roboto, Tito Jackson, or any of the Fratelli Brothers from the Goonies will be just fine.

Who would you suggest?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy Birthday Mama and Happy New Year to all!

Misc. report

Ellie and BFF Xixi like to hang out with another girl, Hanhan, all three of them born in October 2005, and all six of us parents have vivid dreams of our daughters' bilingual glory. Our circumstances in light of that goal differ widely. Hanhan's parents are Chinese, but her father speaks good English and they hope to immigrate to an English-speaking country. Xixi's mother is Chinese and father American, so she understands both languages well, but speaks mostly Chinese. And then there's Ellie, who honestly doesn't know the difference between the Chinese and English words she utters, and whose parents are somewhat less than conversant in Chinese (me especially). For Ellie to really gain any Chinese aptitude, she'd need to be enrolled in a Chinese preschool (8-5 M-F, as young as 18 mo. old), but I don't see that happening anytime soon. Despite her behavioral querks, I think I'd rather miss the kid.

One of the numerous career paths Kyle has investigated lately is nursing. Ellie demonstrated her support for this career, but to no avail. In the end, Kyle just couldn't come to terms with the needles, catheters, and a whole year of chemistry and biology classes!

These days when a family prayer is proposed, Ellie immediately assumes the responsibility of offering the prayer herself. If we are blessing a breakfast of eggs and toast, the prayer sounds like this: “Hebby Fah-ver, tank tu for Eh-ie’s food, bread, eggs, Mommy’s bread, Mommy’s eggs, Ellie’s eggs, Daddy, Daddy’s work, family, Didi bood boy (good boy), pea-buh bed (peanut butter bread), watch a movie-- Tarzan!, church dress, Jesus, Daddy, Jesus Christ A-mehhhhhn (with the intonation of a gospel choir). This is an improvement from her previous response to prayers, which was folding her arms when a prayer was called and then exclaiming “A-mehhhhhn” when the prayer became disinteresting, afterwhich we’d spend the rest of the prayer trying to stop her from eating her food, running around the church building, etc.

I can’t declare Ellie officially potty-trained, but she did employ her potty duck (aka “defecation seat”) seven times in one day last week. Actually, it was all within three hours, and I feel she may be taking advantage of the potty candy system (entitles her to a candy every time she “goes” on the potty, though we’ve yet to determine how many drops constitutes “going"). In any case, she sports her big girl undies with pride!

One of the tastiest perks of living in China has been the plentiful presence of “baby oranges” in our home. Not that syrupy canned stuff you westerners eat—no no, we eat the real thing, the real Mandarin orange way. And we eat upward toward a pound of them a day, for less than a dollar a day, too. They are immensely sweeter and lip-smacking-er than those larger, Florida-grown varieties. In fact, just thinking about those tasteless, dry oranges makes me pity all of you considerably. If agricultural regulations did not forbid it, I’d gladly be shipping some your way.

Boxes are too valuable here to resurrect Ellie’s beloved box house of previous days, but some Americans moving back to the US passed on some fun tents to Ellie, in which she enjoys having sleepovers with her stuffed animals and hiding things I tell her to bring to me. P.S. Can you believe we found name-brand pants for $1.50? Wait, that doesn’t say Adidas… Sorry, not sold in your size, Mish, otherwise you could be sporting poofy Abibas pants, too.

Well, all Didi wanted for Christmas was his two front teeth, and the slobbery little kid’s wish was granted! Unlike Ellie, teething does not seem to be an excruciating process for Didi, so we didn’t even notice his gums were making way until the teeth had broken through. Didi doesn’t scream, but the kid can DROOL! I can’t tell you how many people here have expressed concern for our perpetually wet-chested child. “No, he’s not leaking body fluids or vomiting—he just drools.”

One of the advantages of not having many friends here (with children) is that my children are not frequently exposed to the myriad of diseases floating around this pollution-saturated city. (And maybe I haven’t mentioned this before, but perhaps because people’s lungs are already headed toward cancer, or perhaps because a pack is 50 cents, but virtually every man in this city is a chain smoker, and some women, too. So, if the coal and car exhaust pollution doesn’t kill them, tobacco’s right there to make up the difference.) Our friends’ kids have recently been hospitalized with things like pneumonia and the croup, and we count ourselves quite fortunate to have avoided such illnesses so far… <>