Thursday, December 1, 2011

How Much?

“Hey, check out this painting I bought in Beijing”
“How much was it?”
“No, just look at it, isn’t it great?”
“How much?”
“Huh, oh, uh, I don’t know, like 200 yuan, why?”
“Oh my god, so expensive!”

This is what I imagine my conversation with my roommate might have been like had I had the nerve to show him the beautiful Chinese painting I bought at the antique market in Beijing. He, like so many other Chinese people, would almost entirely decide the painting’s value based on how much money left my wallet.

This trait of the Chinese bothers me a little. Prices are so low here that I feel I’m being cheap if I try to fight over every last penny. When my roommate or co-workers let me know that I could have gotten a better deal on something, it makes me regretful and takes away from the great qualities of the product that led me to make my purchase in the first place. It’s not their money. I don’t understand why they care so much!

Well, actually, I do. China is full of piànzi [swindlers] and as a foreigner, I’m undoubtedly a prime target. Thus, my roommate and co-workers, in some sense, are looking out for me, making sure that I am not being cheated by some no good swindler. In the end, though, it’s hard for me to view their concern for my expenditures as a concern for my well-being.  I’m just so not used to being asked “How much?” all the time. I’m still used to American culture, where scruitinizing another’s spending behavior can be considered rude and uninvited .

That the Chinese basically only use cash in their purchase transactions, in my mind, makes a difference as well. Whereas many Americans use their credit cards everywhere they go, the Chinese are much more conscious of everything they spend, since all their money tangibly comes and goes from their wallets. Accordingly, they are more deal-seeking in nature and do not spend as freely (their weaker purchasing power is a contributing factor as well).

I’m definitely concerned about going back to the U.S. where prices are so much higher and nothing is negotiable. To some extent, I have adopted the Chinese consumer mindset. For instance, the other day, I refused to buy two bananas for $0.80 because I knew I could get them for half the price on another street corner. I also get really excited to tell my Chinese friends when I get a good deal on something, so that I can prove to them that I don’t get ripped off all the time. In fact, the other day I was eager to tell my co-worker that Kehoe and I had gotten great haircuts the day before for RMB 10 each ($1.60) because I knew she’d approve.

Pointing to my head, I said to her, “What do you think of our haircuts?”. I was expecting to hear some positive feedback about how the barber did a nice job or how we both looked good. But I guess I should have known better. 

She responded, “How much?

Last Thursday, I went with a big group of friends to an American restaurant to celebrate Thanksgiving. We booked a private area on the third floor with a large buffet and open bar. I was extremely looking forward to our attempt to replicate Turkey Day. Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. Food is definitely a big reason but I truly consider it the perfect holiday: there are no religious services to attend, no pressure to give and receive gifts, and no sacrifices to be made. Thanksgiving is simply an excuse to be with one’s family, eat well, and be thankful for one’s good fortune.                                   

However, on that Thursday night, I felt as far away from the U.S. as ever. I did have a good time, but I was definitely given a clear reminder of my distance from home. The food was incredible, but all the good food in the world couldn’t replace the absence of my family and the comfort of spending my favorite holiday in a familiar place. But their pumpkin soup was downright phenomenal.

This past weekend, we went on a group trip. Our first stop was Zhouzhuang (周庄), considered the most famous water town in China. I'll admit, it was very beautiful.
This one, also in Zhouzhuang, is one of my favorite pictures I've taken this semester.

Because of Zhouzhuang's popularity, it has quickly transformed from a small, remote area into a commercial, tourism-driven town. While the somewhat large crowds took away from the scenic beauty, there are definitely some perks to commercialism. For instance, for 10 yuan, I got to dress up as a Red Army soldier and hang out with Mao.
With a mere 16 days left until I fly back home to the U.S., I can’t help but to start to get excited for my return.  I’ve already allowed myself to start getting sick of Chinese food. This past weekend, I lost my cool, and splurged on American fast food, consuming a beef wrap, spicy chicken sandwich, chicken nuggets, and french fries from McDonalds and a 6-inch sandwich from Subway. That same evening, I used a toilet.   
There’s one particular food that I’ve been craving terribly because I just can’t seem to find it in China. I’ve already arranged with my mom that she will be holding it in her hands when I arrive at the airport on the 18th of December. An everything bagel with cream cheese and lox. This is the longest span in my life that I have gone without satisfying a food craving. Words cannot describe how I plan to savor every last crumb.
Speaking of lox, Jews happen to be highly regarded by many Chinese people. My marketing professor told our class how the Chinese greatly admire the Jewish people’s strong work ethic and commitment to their children’s eduation, and that many of them strive to mirror Jews in this regard. In my desire to not be a religious person, I’ve definitely lost a certain degree of kinship with other Jews. Ironically, it was my Chinese professor who renewed my sense of pride in being Jewish.

On Sunday, we went to the Nanshan Bamboo Forest in a town called Liyang (溧阳).  Nevermind the natural beauty of the forest, for me, the best part was the Chinglish on all the signs. Enjoy.

1 comment:

  1. 40 cents a banana is expensive lol