Day 8: Shopping for Silk

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The Beijing Subway is like most modern subways, except for the modern part.

IMG_0661The platforms are clean, especially when compared to anywhere else in the city, and the trains seem to run regularly. But instead of a ticket machine, there is only a ticket booth. Instead of an electronic ticket gate, there is a guy who checks your ticket before you enter. It’s all very 50’s-esque. Even the prices. The subway costs between 20 and 35 cents. Although it may seem simple, there are some striking differences that might confuse the average westerner in Beijing. If you are lined up to purchase your ticket(s) at the booth, you are doing something wrong. You should be pushing your way to the center. Apply this same technique when boarding the train. There’s no need to let people get off the train first, but there does seem to be a need to push them aside and rush on the train to get one of the many open seats that seem to be available. I don’t pretend to understand it, but being twice the size of everyone else, I don’t mind playing their pushing games.

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Today, Jenny and Anniar took me to the Silk Market to pick up some souvenirs. Silk seemed to be relegated to the 3rd floor of the building, while the rest of the floors were full of foreigners paying too much for knock off brands. When there are that many foreigners in one place, you should prepare to get fleeced. Of course bargain is the key word, but I’ve never seen such pitiful bargaining in my life. I’ve heard people mention that you should bargain 1/3 off or as much as 1/2 off the advertised price. This is madness. Your first counter offer should be at LEAST 1/10 of the original price. Never EVER pay more than 1/5 of the advertised price. If they quote you 150RMB, offer 15. Walk away until you get 20. The thing cost them 5. If they don’t sell it to you at 20, which they might not if there are a many other clueless shoppers around, don’t sweat it. It was crap anyways.

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You don’t always get what you pay for. That fake shirt may have only cost you $4, but it certainly isn’t worth $4. That $10 backpack will be lucky to last a day. And those $5 pants will be fine as long as you don’t try to wash them. Oh, to anyone who might recieve a Miss Sixty shirt from me as a souvineer, don’t uh…wash it…or wear it…I’m not kidding.

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After getting sick of wading through the crowds at the silk market, we decided to wade through the crowds at Wangfujing Street.

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Everyone’s stomach was at odds today. I tried to explain that it was the 30 minutes we spent on the Tilt-a-Whirl, but it’s really hard to explain Tilt-a-Whirl in Chinese when you don’t speak it.IMG_0697We went to a food court at a shopping mall in Wangfujing. There were 30 different booths to choose from, but to settle everyone’s stomach it was decided we should eat vegetables. We went to a booth with a bunch of different kinds of vegetables on skewer sticks. They were all 1RMB each (about 12 cents) and they sure didn’t look apetizing.IMG_0698 I picked out 5 sticks, thinking I was going to have to eat them as they were. Jenny picked out 10 more and threw them on my tray. Apparently I wasn’t doing it right. Finally we get to the end and it starts to make sense. The cook takes our vegetables and sticks them in boiling water, dumps a bunch of MSG on them, pours some Szechuan soup over it, adds a few spoonfuls of spicy pepper sauce, a couple spoonfuls of garlic, and gives us each our own personal little hot pot. Hence the name (I guess) 麻辣汤 which means something like spicy hot soup (I think). It tasted great, and for $1.50 it couldn’t be beat. Though I can’t imagine the MSG and extremely spicy soup did anything to help settle our stomachs. Apparently in some places you can get the sticks for as little as half an RMB each, so if $1.50 is too much for you, search around.

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That night we went to see a Chinese acrobat show. There are 3 types of shows that are popular with the tourists. Chinese acrobats, Shaolin kung-fu, and Peking opera. I’ve seen all three and frankly you can’t lose with Chinese acrobats or Shaolin Kung-Fu. Unfortunately no one wins with Peking opera. It’s like the Chinese equivalent of the Japanese Noh plays. It’s boring for locals, and even worse for tourists who don’t speak the language. Stick to the acrobats and the kung-fu.

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We decided to eat dinner at around 11, and so we wandered through the hutongs looking for a place that was still open. By this point I really wanted to pay for something, besides 20 cent subway tickets and 40 cent drinks. I had to show them how to properly exploit a naive foreign tourist because they were doing a terrible job of it. I let them pick the restaurant, because I was indecisive and clueless, but mostly because I just wanted to get out of this back alley at night. We picked a spot and again I let them order, as I was clueless. Well, they sure taught me to speak up. They ordered cold chicken feet, some potato dish, and a kind of fungus that grows on wood. It was…well, the beer was really good.

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I suggested maybe we should order a fish or something, mostly because my fat ass was starving, and these things weren’t going to cut it. Fortunately the fish was great, and less than $2 too. The whole meal ended up costing something like $7, most of which came from my beers.

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~ by foomfoom on August 26, 2006.

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