On Tuesday, Michael was set to spend the day teaching a short course at the Beijing Institute of Botany so he left with our host at about 8:30, but I had other plans for the day.
At 9:30 I went to the hotel lobby and asked them to get a taxi to take me to the Pearl Market. When the taxi arrived, they opened the door for me to sit in the front which was an entirely NEW experience. My previous car rides had been observed from the back seat where you couldn’t really see ALL of the traffic, but from this new vantage point, I could truly SEE everything that was about to hit me!!
As we drove, we passed huge apartment complexes and small green areas that almost always held an impromptu market or group of people playing cards. I felt that the traffic (overall) was more orderly than in Kunming . There did not seem to be as much horn blowing and swerving. We spent some time in heavy congestion but most of the trip was on large highways that were moving well.
The trip took about 50 minutes and cost 90Y (about $US13). I am amazed that it is so cheap, especially when you consider that gas is almost $4 per gallon.
I kept looking for signs of “the city”….you know….sky scrapers etc. Then it dawned on me that, because of the smog, I would never see those building until we were directly upon them. I do not know how native Beijing residents live without ever seeing the sky or the sun. I was also amazed at the number of joggers that I saw. I would think that an aerobic exercise would be VERY hard on the lungs.
When I walked into the Pearl Market I was expecting to find…..pearls!! But it was not that easy. The market is built on 5 levels with the first level containing computer and technology stuff, the second level having clothes, shoes, etc. The third level contains mostly jewelry and beads, with a few pearls thrown in. The fifth level held the REALLY expensive pearls. But, the fourth floor was where I was heading….to a shop owned by “Miss Lynn”. This information came from Simon in Bangkok who actually gave me a list entitled “Simon’s Best of Beijing”!!! I walked up and down the aisles and had about given up on finding the correct shop and then I remember that he said it was at the back of the building. So, I walked to the VERY end of the last hallway and, sure enough, I came upon “Lynn’s Shop” (that was the name of the shop).
As usual, Simon had not lead me astray!!! Lynn spoke wonderful English and happily explained the different types and grades of pearls and showed me some wonderful pieces! Almost as soon as I entered the store, I was offered a cold bottle of water. When you got ready to buy a strand of pearls, you would first pick out the size, grade, etc that you were interested in and she would bring out a large bunch of strands of pearls. You would pick out the strand that you wanted, the type of clasp that you wanted and then they would re-string the pearls on a nice cord, with a small knot between each pearl. This entire process only took about 10 minutes!!! And the price was amazing!!!!
I bought quite a few things with her and didn’t bother to haggle about the price. When I was leaving, she took out one necklace and gave it to me as a gift!!!
OK….that wasn’t stressful!!! BUT, as I moved down to the 3rd floor, things started heating up a bit. The entire area is made up of small shops and as I walked passed I was bombarded with “Hello Lady….I make good price for you"! Or, “Hello Lady….what you buying today”! And, as you go lower on the floors it got worse. And heaven forbid that you should make eye contact with the vendor, or even worse, actually look at a product that they had for sale. In this case, they would follow you while holding the item that you had looked at and asking how much you wanted to pay for it!!!
I purchased two stone necklaces from this stall and watched in amazement as she strung the stones. Unfortunately, this photo didn’t get a good view of her doing the work, but the blur of her hands indicates the speed with which she was working.
I really enjoyed looking around in the stone area and could have bought a LOT of stuff, but finally realized that there was only so much jewelry that one girl needs, so I pulled myself away and returned to the street.
There was a taxi waiting outside so I showed him my card that said “Take me to the silk market”. He said, in broken English, that it would be faster by the “bicycle rickshaw”. I asked how much it would be and he said “Three”. OK ,I thought, a taxi would start at 10Y so it must not be very long of a trip so 3 sounds good.
Now, if I felt conspicuous in the front seat of a taxi, you can imagine how I felt in the backseat of a rickshaw!! The driver did a great job and it was actually a lot of fun, especially when we were able to navigate around a bunch of taxis that were stuck in traffic!!!
The driver carefully missed the manhole covers that were raised above the road and I actually felt safe during the ride.
Then we came to the BIG intersection. Here is a layout of the intersection……
The problem occurs when taxi’s park in the bike lane to pick up fares, effectively blocking the bike lane off. At that point, the bikes have to merge into the regular automobile traffic.
At this particular intersection, we needed to make a left hand turn which meant turning across oncoming traffic. The problem is that to make a turn FROM the bike lane TO the bike line you not only cross oncoming traffic, but also the straight traffic that is going your direction.
Here was our trajectory……
Then, the joy of being on a manually pedaled vehicle showed it’s worth as we went the WRONG WAY (against traffic) in one area and then up on the sidewalk in another area. I worried about being on the sidewalk until I saw the bus parked on it as well!!!
Then came the rub…… as I got out of the vehicle, he handed me a card that said that the ride cost THREE HUNDRED Yuan (about $US45) and not 3Y. We then had a stand-off as I repeatedly said “Too High” and he said “Too Far”. I finally handed him some money (more than 3Y but GREATLY less that 300Y) and walked off with him grumbling in the distance.
The silk market was much like the pearl market…..located on several floors and really more about clothes and other stuff than silk. Once again came the barrage….
“Hello Lady….come look at what I have”
“Hello Lady…..you want Tee-Shirt”
“Hello Lady…..wanna make a suit”
“Hello Lady…..I make good tailor for you”
“Hello Lady….come look at table runners”
“Hello Lady…..want to buy a comforter….pure silk”
At one point, I started pretending that I didn’t speak English, but then they would just walk up and grab your arm to get your attention!!!
Once I entered this shop and started wandering around and looking at the silk, I had a shadow following me. Every aisle that I walked down, she was two steps behind me. Every time I fingered a piece of fabric, she started asking how much of it I wanted and when I finally picked out one to buy, she asked numerous times if I didn’t want more of it, or perhaps the same pattern in another color!!
I did learn something here about bargaining!! They start by giving you a “high” price…..in reality none of the prices were very expensive when you convert it to US dollars!! Then if you counter with a price you normally end up somewhere in between. HOWEVER, if you just say no and walk away, they will start reducing the price on their own. As an example, as I walked past one vendor selling scarves, the price started at 75Y, then went to 45Y and then 30Y, and I had not even shown an interest in it!!!
I did purchase one table runner that started at 280 and ended up at 100Y!!!
It was then that I fell into “Costume Jewelry Hell”…..
At this point, I had bought enough and I was tired of trying to say “No” to people without being entirely rude, so I went back to the street to catch a taxi.
This was the part of the trip that I was most concerned about because the hotel was so far away from the downtown area. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that it was during the lunch hour and most of the taxis were already occupied. The first one that stopped for me looked at the card showing where the hotel was and politely refused the trip so I continued standing there and waving at each taxi that passed.
The next taxi driver looked the card and motioned for me to get in. He then pulled up into a parking area and called the phone number of the hotel and talked loudly to them for a few minutes, mumbled something about “so far” and off we went.
Traffic was HORRIBLE and we crawled along at a snails pace. The driver alternated between staring intently at the hotel card, muttering “so far”, ranting about the traffic (at least that’s what I thought he was doing), and checking to see that his air conditioner was working. I was exceedingly thankful for the later!!!
He called the hotel again and spoke at length to them and seemed to be satisfied with the answer. The traffic finally lessened and we were able to cover some distance quickly. The problem arose when we got off of the main road and onto the small streets. He stopped SIX different times and got out of the car and asked for directions!!!
We finally passed a sign for the “Beijing Botanic Gardens” which I knew were fairly close to the hotel. I pointed to the sign and said “it’s that way”. He said “Thank You” and put his hands together in an attitude of prayer!!!
Needless to say, I tipped him WELL for the trip!!!!!
I was hungry when I reached the hotel so walked down the street and found a small store that sold Oreos and Pepsi…..I was saved!!!!
Thus ended my “stressful shopping day”!!! Xiao-Ru commented later that she would never have thought about sending a visitor down there by themselves before, but was glad that I had such a fun time!!