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Your bargaining skills will save you in Beijing’s Silk Street

Silk Street mall in Beijing. /LABAN WANAMBISI.

NAIROBI, Kenya Sep 19 – Back in school during Business Education lessons, we were taught that one of the seven barriers, and perhaps the biggest, to effective communication, is language.

However, my recent trip to China proved that in most cases than one, this is not an entirely true fact. As a matter of fact, if anything, the language, or lack of it herein plays an enabling role towards bringing people from different parts of the world and cultures together.

During our three-week study tour organised by the Shandong Foreign Trade Vocational College, I got to witness how my 20 colleagues and I overcame this hurdle to ensure that we made purchases, sampled the Chinese cuisines in four cities which hosted us.

I think as Kenyans we need to coin a phrase like the one used by New Yorkers to show how hardcore they are – If you make it in New York, you can make it anywhere, but our saying the has to show our resilience.

This is our story when we were taken to Beijing’s Silk Street Market, where Burton our guide, had two tips for us before he allowed us two hours to go put our bargain game to test.

“The most basic and important skill here is being able to bargain. It is part of everyday life in China, so you can try your best to cut the price from 20 per cent to 50 per cent or even lower from their offer. You need to remember to go to different stores to ask the Silk Market Beijing prices of the items you want to buy. This way, you can buy your items at the lowest price. Meanwhile, remember to check the quality carefully and ask for better ones, if the products are not perfect. You can buy something very worthy if you like,” he said

I am not good at bargaining so I decided to tag along with a group that had christened themselves The Emperors from Kenya, so we got to this clothing shop and the one of the self-styled Emperor picked up a pair of shorts and the shopkeeper nodded when my colleague asked the price,?” The shopkeeper grinned, still nodding, and answered in equally broken English. I looked at my colleagues because thus far, this was not going too well.

Then, the vendor picked up a handheld calculator. She punched some figures and showed it to us. The number “80” displayed. Ah…let the bargaining begin now. as my colleagues said welcome to the Silk Street where the universal language lives in square shaped numbers on an LED.

She wanted eighty Yuan! My colleague shook his head, did some quick mental math, and punched in the number “20” before handing the device back. Are you joking, You are a joker, No! No! the vendor responded in protest as she pointed to the tag to show us the quality of the fabric.

She then scowled, tapping her fingers, then handed it back to him. “40.” My colleague seemed to derive some sort of pleasure in not moving from his price of 20 Yuan as they haggled over the price and them vendor punched in 30 Yuan, making it look like a take or leave it offer.

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My colleague decided that we should pull ‘the walk away’ stunt, so he put the garment down but just as he was about to walk out of the shop, the lady vendor followed him and showed him that she was willing to take the 30 Yuan which is the equivalent of Sh450 but my colleague refused to budge forcing the vendor to come down to 27 Yuan. At this point she looked like she was now pleading with us.

I honestly admired the passion in which she pursued the deal after about 15 minutes of haggling over the price of 27 Yuan which they finally settled on.

Burton was later to tell us that in the markets, that’s part of the fun and the culture.

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