Shopping in China

One of my least favorite things to do in Beijing is to shop. Part of it is my ususal shopping angst about having to make choices, knowing I’ll make mistakes, having to break in something new, and contributing to my already excessive clutter. Add to all that, shopping in China’s Yashow market features the risk of over-paying, time wasted bargaining, guilt for buying knockoffs, and the unpleasantness of shop girls pawing me and calling “Lady, lady,” when I stride past their stalls.

This week, I got the good idea to ask my old pal Shu Ren to shop with me. Shu Ren and I became friends as young marrieds, 33 years ago, after I moved to Beijing. For the first time, she can speak a word of English.

“Feesh,” she says. She learned to say “fish” while visiting her sister-in-law for three months in Australia last year.

Together, we prowl Yashow’s aisles, giggling like a couple of schoolgirls, assessing shoes, scarves, and jackets with the trained eyes of a pair of moms, and chattering at the leisurely pace of the senior citizen duo we now are.

I watch Shu Ren bargain on my behalf for a fuzzy, warm jacket. My style would be to act all outraged when given a price of 240 yuan for something worth 50 yuan (figure six yuan to the dollar). Shu Ren smiles as she sidles up to the woman and asks for the lowest price. The woman comes down some and Shu Ren continues the bargaining dance, virtually flirting with the salesperson. Finally they agree on 80 and Shu Ren gives me the nod to buy.

At another stall, a woman wants 80 yuan for a t-shirt I want. Shu Ren offers 40.

“No,” I say. “Twenty!” I end up paying 35.

I impress Shu Ren when we go to buy Uggs. Every stall offers the same styles, so instead of back and forth bargaining, I say to an attendant at each of a few places, “Tell me your lowest price. I’ll return to buy if yours turns out to be the lowest.”

We have so much fun—shopping!—that I call Shu Ren for a second day at Yashow, followed by coffee and French fries. When we hug good-bye, I wonder if and when I’ll see her again. One of these days, my daughter Sabrina will move home and after that, I am not likely to return to this city I love so much.


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