A tale of two markets

December 15th, 2007

My parents’ last three days in China were spent shopping. Day one at Zhongguancun buying electronic goodies, day two at the Silk Market/Xiushui buying clothes and similar bits and pieces, day three at Hong Qiao buying the clothes and things that they hadn’t got on day two.

Now, all of us living in Beijing know what to expect at these markets. Of course, we did our best to warn and prepare my parents for the experience, but you can’t really prepare people for the intense, pushy, hard-sell insanity of such places.

When they got home from the Xiu Shui experience, my parents looked like they’d had  more than enough of such markets for one lifetime. They told stories of being subjected to racist abuse because they wouldn’t be cheated, and of my wife being subjected to more racist abuse for daring to marry a foreigner and help her parents in law.

lzh’s Chinese version of the story did not contain any overtly racist language, but still, it is clear that my parents and my wife were the recipients of some very unpleasant language, and for the reasons stated above.

Still, the shopping trip seemed to be successful, and they seemed like they’d mostly enjoyed it, at least in a “one of those experiences” kind of a way. They had an impressive haul of loot to show for their day shopping, anyway, and there was talk of all the things they still needed to buy, and talk of what they’d do tomorrow, and…

But still… Well, I’ve been to Xiu Shui enough times to know what to expect there, and I’m well aware that the people working there, as a gross generalisation, are not the best, friendliest, most honest people China has to offer. Quite the contrary. I hate that part of Beijing, loathe it with something more than a mere vengeance, and avoid it as much as possible. Still, I remember when, many years ago, Xiu Shui was a relatively pleasant, easy place to go shopping. You always had to be on your guard against rip-offs and bargain hard, of course, and the old market was a pretty good dictionary definition of fire trap, but  still, it was once relatively pleasant to shop there. The new Xiu Shui seems to have taken pushy sales to new heights of absurdity, and far too many of the vendors seem to think it appropriate to abuse people who don’t bow to their demands or to abuse Chinese people who dare to help foreigners. Somebody needs to clean that place up before Beijing loses serious face during the Olympic tourist rush.

Hong Qiao, on the other hand, was quite a different experience. I have come to dislike Hong Qiao, but nowhere near as much as I loathe Xiu Shui. But still, my parents got back from Hong Qiao with all the things they hadn’t bought at Xiu Shui and a far more relaxed look on their faces. Apparently Hong Qiao was a far more relaxed, less pushy, more pleasant experience.

My conclusion, and I will state this clearly to anybody who asks about shopping at any of Beijing’s foreigner/tourist markets: Boycott Xiu Shui. Nobody should be abused by vendors for any reason, and certainly not because they refuse to be cheated or because they dare to help foreigners.

Alright, there’s still a lot I have to write about. Like the wedding, for example. I’ll get there.

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