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Nathaniel: How to Bargain with Vendors in Beijing, China

Article #7 in the Student Travel Stories Series from our tour of Beijing, China.
By Nathaniel, Age 15, 10th Grade in Boston. Born in the U.S. to parents from Colombia.

Nathaniel (second from left in the back row) at the Temple of Heaven.

Nathaniel (second from left in the back row) at the Temple of Heaven.

Q: You really learned a lot about money and dealing with vendors on this China trip! Tell us some details.

A: The first day of the trip we toured Tienanmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Summer Palace, and it was the first day we were experiencing China. On that day, we started learning about the culture and what was going on, and that’s when we were introduced to vendors.

We didn’t really know about bargaining, so all the vendors tried to sell us their stuff, and I didn’t know how to say no, so I bought a sort of Communist hat from a vendor for about 40 Yuan ($7). A lot of people bought that same hat. The square was so crowded and there were so many vendors. Then we compared with each other the prices we paid, and we got confused. We started complaining to the vendors about how some people got it for cheaper than others, but they can’t really give you back your money… all they can do is give you another item.

By the end of the trip, I was so proud because I’d learned to bargain for a good price. I also learned not to spend money on things I don’t need!

Q: What were the warnings our guide gave us about fake money?

Nathaniel in the front, wearing the "Communist" hat he bought.

Nathaniel in the front, wearing the “Communist” hat he bought.

A: Our guide warned us about using 100-Yuan bills with street vendors. He said we should use lower bills like 20s and 10s, because with smaller denominations, is less likely the vendors will give you change with counterfeit bills. If you use bigger bills, vendors sometimes give you back fake money.

You can even get swindled if you don’t buy, because another trick vendors do is to take your 100 while you are bargaining, then switch it with a fake one. If you walk away and don’t buy, you’re stuck with a fake 100 and the vendor has your real 100.

Q: What was a funny vendor moment you had?

A: In the Silk Market, we were going around the aisles and it was funny how every vendor had to touch you to pull you in. A hilarious moment was when one female vendor just tapped my belly and said “I have your big size!” As soon as I passed she somehow touched my head and said, “Good boy!” I thought it was weird but at the same time I thought it was really funny.

The extremely sad panda view at the Beijing Zoo.

The extremely sad panda view at the Beijing Zoo.

Q: What was an upsetting part of our Beijing tour?

A: I like animals, so I was really interested in going to the Beijing Zoo. But when we got there, after I saw the first animal, I didn’t want to see the rest of the zoo because the first animal I saw was a panda in a gutter with rocks and trash around it.

It seems animals aren’t treated as well in China as they are in America. In that zoo, animals have less space to walk around than in American zoos I’ve seen, and they sort of looked depressed. We saw some giant elephants and they were way too big for the cages they were in. All they can do is turn around and that’s it. Overall, it was interesting to learn about other animals that exist in Asia and the rest of the world, though.

Another difficult part was getting used to Chinese food. I like Chinese food, but I don’t have it that much in a normal month back home! Eating a lot of it, I didn’t get sick or anything, but I didn’t like eating it repeatedly. I wanted to have something different!

Headed to the Silk Market with new bargaining skills.

Headed to the Silk Market with new bargaining skills.

A final difficulty: I never used the squat toilets. I tried to stay away from them. I thought one day I would need to do it, but luckily I was able to hold it in until we got to the seated hotel bathroom!

Q: What historical fact about China did you find interesting?

A: That the Emperors had thousands of concubines (girlfriends)! I sort of thought an Emperor might not have just his wife, but I didn’t know he would pick out specific other women to be in different parts of his palace and go to them!

Q: How did China compare to other countries you’ve visited?

A: I’ve been to Costa Rica, England, and Colombia. In all those places, I could easily speak English or Spanish, but in China, most things are in Chinese and few people speak my language. It was challenging to deal with the language difference in Beijing… but I thought it was fun! It was exciting to find new ways of communicating. That’s a fun thing in learning about a culture: experiencing how to find your way and communicate and get your thoughts across and understand each other.

Q: What part of the tour leaves the most beautiful picture in your mind?

Exploring the giant grounds of the Temple of Heaven.

Exploring the giant grounds of the Temple of Heaven.

A: The Great Wall of China made the best picture! I was on the steep side and you could see a lot of the environment. I felt really accomplished. It was extremely steep, and at one point it looked like it went straight up!

Q: What was it like traveling with a big group of Boston students?

A: One reason I went on the trip was I thought it would be a good chance to meet new people. I like getting to know different students and learning about them.

When you meet people, they bring stories that are interesting, and you bring your own. I learned a lot about the lives of the other kids on this trip! People were able to show who they really are. The students I knew, I got to bond more with, and people I didn’t know, I got to become friends with. I’ll always think of them, now, the people I traveled in China with. If something happens that seems like what they’re interested in, I will get to remember them.

Watching intently at a tea ceremony in Beijing.

Watching intently at a tea ceremony in Beijing.

Q: What are your thoughts now that you’re home?

A: Every time I travel, I always change a little bit in personality.

Every time I go to a country I become a better person.

I get to know new things and speak more with people about different topics.

Normally at home during February vacation, I would be sleeping, but on the China tour we did so much in that short time!

Thanks Nathaniel, and thanks, EF Tours!

Readers, do leave your comments and questions.

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Elizabeth D.

Friday 11th of May 2012

I feel bad for that panda all covered in trash. Does this zoo even comply with the laws in China? It really shouldn't.

Uzochi

Thursday 26th of April 2012

That's so sad. Why don't they help the little panda? I would help it if I could. They really need to do something about it because it's kind of disappointing. Anyways, it seems that you enjoyed your trip to China from reading this article and the other one that led me here!

Alessandra Andres

Thursday 29th of March 2012

Just like Nathaniel I would probably be unhappy to see the animals caged up like that. I think it would make me sad. Isn't China a natural habitat for pandas? I was a tad bit confused as to why they kept the pandas in such bad conditions. Since from my understanding pandas are the symbol for China. Also I thought it was funny because of how sneaky the vendors could be. But some would just call it being smart :)

Jose Rivera

Friday 16th of March 2012

I wish I can go to China one day to see the sites.

Jun Hao Lei

Wednesday 7th of March 2012

It will be funny if you use fake money on the vendors and get real money back! That can make lots of poor people a living.

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