Bar­gain­ing in Sri Lanka


Special Focus - - Contents - Chen Shu­pei 陈树培

Bar­gain­ing is a nat­u­ral part of shop­ping. When a Chi­nese per­son tries to buy some­thing in a for­eign coun­try, bar­gain­ing be­comes a nec­es­sary skill, es­pe­cially when buy­ing pre­cious jew­els. As a jour­nal­ist work­ing in Sri Lanka, I found it was a funny thing to bar­gain with a lo­cal jew­eler.

In Sri Lanka, you are al­lowed to bar­gain at any jew­elry store, be it a state- owned store or a pri­vately- owned one. How­ever the ra­tio of price re­duc­tion can be much dif­fer­ent. For ex­am­ple, the price tag of a onecarat opal with medium qual­ity may be over 1,000 US dol­lars at a store in a five- star ho­tel; and if you walk into a pri­vate­ly­owned store, you may be asked to pay only sev­eral hun­dred for vir­tu­ally the same gem. More­over, the fi­nal price is of­ten half the orig­i­nal of­fer.

In Colombo there is a pri­vately- owned jew­elry store named “Ku­pala” fre­quented by many Chi­nese cus­tomers. The aged owner re­cently handed the store down to his son- in- law, whom the Chi­nese cus­tomers nick­named “Lit­tle Boss.”

Lit­tle Boss is an artful owner. He has done all he can to at­tract Chi­nese buy­ers. For ex­am­ple, he im­plies his “close re­la­tion­ship” with the Chi­nese Em­bassy by fix­ing on the wall of his store an en­larged photo of a well­known leader of China vis­it­ing the place. That trick cer­tainly works. Most Chi­nese buy­ers are likely to visit his store. If he thinks you are a po­ten­tial buyer, he will in­vite you to a small room be­hind the store and show you gem­stones of all types of re­splen­dent col­ors. Ruby, sap­phire, opal, amethyst, topaz, io­lite… are all wait­ing there for your se­lec­tion.

I once vis­ited the store with a friend. When my friend took a fancy to a ruby, Lit­tle Boss asked him for 16,000 ru­pees ( about 400 US dol­lars by the time). Our coun­terof­fer was half the price, but the boss would not ac­cept it. Af­ter a lot of hard bar­gain­ing, we agreed to pay 9,000 ru­pees, while the boss in­sisted on a price of 10,000. The trans­ac­tion price was ul­ti­mately a lit­tle bit higher than half the ask­ing price.

At the Khan al-Khalili mar­ket

in Egypt, there was even more space for price re­duc­tion. I heard a story about a Chi­nese stu­dent buy­ing gems at a store there. The owner said hello to him in Ja­panese, and when the stu­dent re­sponded in Ja­panese with­out think­ing, the boss de­manded an ex­or­bi­tant price from him.

The stu­dent asked the owner about the price of an ar­ti­fi­cial stone, and was told that it would cost him 120 Egyp­tian pounds ( about 300 Chi­nese yuan by the time). The lad knew that he was taken as “the rich Ja­panese guy.” He at once said to the boss in Ara­bic that he was Chi­nese.

“Ah! My good old Chi­nese friend! You de­serve the best dis­count. Only 40 pounds!”

Then the young man in­formed the owner that as a stu­dent of Cairo Univer­sity he was quite fa­mil­iar with the mar­ket. The foxy man threw up his hands and said, “Well, seems that you can get it with 20 dol­lars.” 100 dol­lars off of 120— a rather big re­duc­tion, per­haps.

Khan al-Khalili store­own­ers all look friendly and smile al­ways. But sly­ness hides be­hind their warm smil­ing faces. They are just good at con­sumer psy­chol­ogy and know how to play the game. How­ever dis­hon­est they ac­tu­ally are, they can make you feel re­laxed at their places. And even if you are a fas­tid­i­ous cus­tomer, or get pretty mad know­ing how they cheated you, their smiles never fade, and then you re­lent some­what.

Those ex­pe­ri­enced own­ers know the weak­ness of for­eign tourists. They know that the tourists are un­fa­mil­iar with the lo­cal cir­cum­stances, and that peo­ple tend to spend more money over­seas. When they are sure that you know noth­ing about the lo­cal mar­ket, they will ask a price and you have no idea how ridicu­lous it is. Even for a per­son who has stayed long enough in Egypt, the trans­ac­tion price of things can vary. A nine- inch bronze plate carved with the beautiful Ne­fer­titi might be sold to a tourist at 20 US dol­lars; for me or my friends, the price could be be­tween 5 and 8, or as low as 2 to 3 US dol­lars if we bought it at a fac­tory.

A sim­i­lar ex­am­ple in­volves the Egyp­tian pa­pyrus paint­ing. I have a friend who had been a high of­fi­cial be­fore he re­tired from an elec­tric power com­pany in Bei­jing. We went to univer­sity to­gether. One day when I paid him a visit, I saw on the wall of his liv­ing room a pa­pyrus paint­ing of a mounted Ram­ses II on the bat­tle­field.

My friend told me that he bought it at a five- star ho­tel in Cairo with 100 US dol­lars. “Sur­pris­ingly ex­pen­sive,” I thought, while he be­gan to boast smugly about what valu­able high art the paint­ing rep­re­sented. At last I de­cided to tell him that the whole­sale price of such paint­ings would be only 3 to 5 US dol­lars each, if I were the buyer.

(From ChaozhouDaily , Jan­uary 7, 2018. Trans­la­tion: Wang Xiaoke)

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