Mostly I bought a few gifts for various kids -- Britt and Drew and Rebecca. And a little something for me. And a Mao watch for Paul. He won't wear it, but it amused me nonetheless. Plus, because I didn't want to buy it the price dropped to about $5. Even if it stops working tomorrow, and it will, it's amusing to have.
The Pearl Market is listed in the Beijing Official Guide as a "Discount Brand Market." I'd been to a shopping center like this before, in Shenzen, just over the border from Hong Kong. This one specializes in pearls and jewelry but has lots of other things, including some very impressive counterfeit (I assume) goods. The Shenzen store specializes in counterfeit goods (I know) and has some very nice jewelry. Six of one, half dozen of the other, I suppose.
On the first floor was electronics. Cameras and phones and mp3 players. I saw an iPod nano that was about the size of the shuffle. I'm not averse to counterfeit goods, although I should be because a. it's illegal and b. it's illegal and, oh yeah, c. it's illegal. All right, also because counterfeit stuff is usually crap.
And I didn't need a new iPod.
The second floor was purses and luggage and watches and eyeglasses. I like the idea of the eyeglasses; I know you can get a good deal. But I'm not clear on buying frames without lenses and my French eye exam was awful; I'm not trying it in Chinese.
The girls who sell are hard-core. Seriously hard-core. They all speak enough English. Prices for almost everything are posted, but they have no basis in reality. Used to be, when you haggled for some goods you would counter the seller's price with 50 percent. These days, things are so marked up you have to counter at 10 percent. And if you're not used to doing that, it's hard. You feel cheap and petty. But if you don't, then you feel like a patsy. The first thing I bought had a price of 680 yuan (or about $99) and the woman offered it to me for 400-something, I think. I countered back at 100. She went down to 320. I went to 150. She went to 280, I stayed at 150. She kept coming down, I kept telling her my final price was 150.
In my experience, I almost always overpay for the first thing I buy, because a. I usually want it and b. I'm not entirely clear yet how the haggle goes in any particular place.
Because she started so high, it was hard for me to go much lower, but I should have started lower. My final price was actually too high, even though I had to walk away to get it. But then that's where the rich American guilt comes in; how do I in good conscience haggle over what amounts to a few dollars? It's like the sales person saying $20 and I'm stuck on $18. Just get it over with.
As I picked up a few more things I realized just how low most of the vendors would go. I didn't want the Mao watch. It started at 220 yuan and it finished at 35. I never countered. I did, however, manage to get a free gift box and ink to go with my 20-yuan personalized chop (a cylindrical or cube-shaped stone that makes an ink stamp) by telling the woman that today was my birthday.
On the third floor were the pearls. Not the high-grade fancy ones, but some nice ones nonetheless. Pearls and chinatown crap. An odd mix. The prices on the pearls were good, and I only haggled a little, because I thought the prices already were reasonable.
The whole thing was overstimulating. Each stall was about six feet wide and there were a hundred stalls on every floor, easy. And every one of them had a girl calling out "Lady, lady, you want ...."
So I quit while I was ahead.