Most good internet geeks have heard of deal extreme, the China based website where you can buy $1 flash drives and unlocked cell phones for $50. (If you haven’t heard of this site we have a word of warning: they actually do have everything you want but delivery takes forever). Last week we found the real-life Deal Extreme and it was even better than I thought possible.
In an effort to carry as little as possible, Vin and I brought a limited selection of books, most of which I blew through in a week. We stocked up in Seoul at What the book but the selection of used books were of the dime store variety preferred by those on the nearby American military base and the new books were super $$$.
We also hit up the local Foreign bookstore in Nanjing, where we were surprised to find out that ‘Foreign book store’ does not mean a book store for foreigners but rather a ‘book store where you can buy books to learn a foreign language’. Two totally different concepts. I did find a superb English-Chinese book on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign speeches, but in general the selection was less than awesome. I’ve been hacking my way through a French–> Chinese –> English translation of Stendhal’s ‘The Red and the Black’. It hasn’t been fun.
What I’m trying to say is that books are a necessity and finding them has been problematic. We decided to solve this problem by buying a Kindle.
Surprisingly China is not cheap. Electronics hit the shelves late and with huge luxury-tax markups: the official iPad just came out at a price of RMB 3,988 or 600 American bucks!! The black market is the best place to find electronics early and cheap(re). So that’s where we headed.
This place is a computer geek’s wildest fantasy
The Zhongguancun Electronics in Beijing (line 4, Zhongguancun stop, near Peking University) is truly awe inspiring. Row after row, floor after floor of independent kiosks selling identical cameras, walkie-talkies, and computer gadgetry. The only difference separating the goods is how much you can bargain down the price.
Each shop sells only one type of electronic but has ever brand ever made – and some brands that they invented. We saw pocket sized android iPads and knock off Macs running windows. We were offered every book reader under the sun, most of them only displaying in Chinese. We even happened upon some of the real deal – at jaw dropping prices.We’re not talking luxury tax markup, or even white boy markup. The price for name brand electronics was double what we would ever pay in the US.
We put our newly minted bargaining skills to the test. These skills include looking mortally wounded at the initial price, offering to pay half and walking away. My entire chinese vocabulary is based on bargaining, “Doushao qian? TAI GUAY!” (How much? Too much!)
The air in the market is on fire with people shouting, “Camera. Come here! Sir, sir! Camera!” There is a palpable need to buy something: an excitement from the thrill of the conversation and the knowledge that a vendor just down the aisle is selling the same thing at perhaps half the price. As you walk away from a possible deal you hear, “OK, ok! Sir! 60 RMB! Ok, ok!”
Except with a kindle. First of all, most of the vendors had never heard of a kindle. We received quizzical looks, “Keen-dal?!? No have. You want iPad?” And when we did finally find the kindle section on the third floor, the price was firm – 1,750RMB ($265 or double the US price.)
My first counter offer was 900RMB – half price. My heart was pounding, I had a huge smile on my face, super excited to partake in this financial battle royale. instead the shop owner literally took the kindle from my hand, vehemently shook his head and waved us on. No bargaining, no best price, no nothing! Word must have gotten out that whitey was looking for a kindle because all the way down the line vendors wouldn’t budge from 1,750RMB.
After 3 hours we finally found someone willing to talk about the initial price. She lowered the price to 1,720RMB – taking about 5 dollars off the price. The insult!
We must have looked like suckers but 1,725RMB was well above the highest price we were willing to pay. We left empty handed, totally let down and more than a little crabby. To be so close, to hold it in your hand and to totally fail at Chinese bargaining – total bummer.
In hindsight, we had a great time, even if we did leave empty handed. To check out five stories of every imaginable gadget, see stall after stall of flashing screens and beeping toys, and understand how the folks get their hands on late to market items – it was fantastic.
Oh and we’re still buying the kindle. It’s arriving in Taiwan next week – less than $200 including int’l shipping. Who’s the SUCKA now!?