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On Bargaining

One thing I will thoroughly miss about SE Asia is the bargaining.  It has become, how can I put it…a way of life and a hobby.

You can bargain pretty much anything here in SE Asia, from cab/tuk-tuk rides to clothes and merchandise, to treks/excursions to hotels.  For Westerners, this non fixed price system may pose either a serious cause for stress and confusion on the one hand, or a very fun time, on the other hand.

I’ve become quite accustomed to bargaining for most things (exceptions include hotels).  Rides in Thailand?  If they quoted 60 baht, I would go 50, and when they increased my bid to 55, I would stick to my price and say “No!  50!!!” only to have my concentration broken by an exasperated Diesel, who insisted on reminding me that 10 baht is only a difference of 30 cents and that it was midnight.  “Whatever,” I would say, “you can’t think in dollars.  You have to think in BAHT, Diesel.”

Sure, these negotiations have been quite lengthy at times, often resulting in less than ideal situations, like that time when I refused  to pay an extra dollar and both Diesel and I had to get on the back of a single motorcycle with the driver, who took us on one of the many death-defying rides we’ve experienced so far.  Or like when we almost didn’t make it to the Vietnam embassy to pick up our visas because I refused to give the cab driver a $20  bill and get no change because “I have no change, no change” he would repeat.  Instead, just on principle, I made a 10 min detour into one of the banks to get change because there was no way in hell I was going to give him the extra money, especially because he was driving like a turtle and lied about knowing where the embassy was.

As much as Diesel gets on my case about not spending a bit more for time’s and efficiency’s sake, I keep on doing it and am always happy on the inside because I’m not getting ripped off like other tourists (though this is probably not true; I don’t think most tourists, including me, have an idea of what the real cost of things are):  I have never paid more than $4 for a scarf or T-shirt, I purchased my silk sleeping bag liner for $3 (which average $25-$40 in the U.S.,  Diesel adamantly claimed that there was NO WAY I was going to get it for less than  $5 which is where “all“ the stores were charging), and have got free food from street vendors (one time, when I didn’t’ have money to buy an egg, I asked if I could have it for free.  Initially, the vendor refused, but as I got on my bus, lo and behold, there she was, ON my bus, with my egg in her hands!) and even other tourists.  I’ve got so into it that I start bargaining for other people, even if they haven’t asked for my help.  “She’s a poor student.  Give her a good price.” or “Oh, fixed price?  But didn’t your friend make it?  Can you ask her if she will make it cheaper?”  And even if you are tired, you can still bargain…sitting down.  Today, as a friend was trying to get a good price on some art, there I was, sitting on the floor, drinking my iced tee and going “Oh, good price, good price.  You know it’s a good price!”

Some kind of shamelessness is required, as well as persistence and conformity to the fact that, if you can’t get your price, you can walk away with a clear conscience.  You just can‘t want anything too much.  You see, bargaining is never dangerous.  Sure, I’ve had people yell at me (Are you kidding me?  What do you think I am?) , laugh at my bids, and physically grab me  when they were indignant with my offers (that happened often in Vietnam, for ex), but all that stuff left me surprisingly unfazed.  All you need is to make each offer with a smile. The vendors will laugh with you or at you, but either way, you keep it light-hearted.  I know there have been many times Diesel was very ashamed of or frustrated at me, but I had to do what I had to do.

Today we went to an art gallery and asked about the price of a painting.  “2 million rupiahs,” the owner said (which by the way, sounds like a lot, but is $200.  This country should seriously consider cutting some zeros.  Stuff like 500 rupiahs is like nothing, and the Indonesians don’t‘ even have that sort of small change, often giving you change in CANDY, which they pull right out of the till, as if it were some sort of legitimate currency!)  The rest of the time, they just don’t give you change).  I thought about it and quickly counter bid: “1.5 million!”  He shook his head, but as I was about to walk away, he jumped:  “Ok, ok, 1.5 million!”  Diesel looked at me:  “You HAVE to take it now.”  That’s a big no-no, actually.  I mean, when the vendor meets your price, you should buy it.  But I didn’t.  In fact, I claim temporary insanity because I didn’t really mean to buy it, I was caught up in the moment and didn‘t even realize I had started to bargain!  Diesel told all these people that I should have bought it, but I was like:  “Man, I was just doing it for FUUUUN!, I defended myself’.  And then I thought:  “And if the guy was willing to go down $50 in just 2 min, I should have actually bartered harder anyway…”

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2 Responses

  1. I think bargaining is so much fun too! It is all a fun game!

  2. I think traveling with you would make me crazy. I salute Tim… even if he did shave his beard….

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