Monday, 16 January 2012

Of bicycles and street vendors...

Hey there, hope you're well! I wanted to post a picture of the view from my window in the morning, but by the time I got up and found my camera, the sun had risen up too much and bleached out everything in sight. But hopefully soon I'll get to show you Old Court and our college Chapel.

Outfit of the day:

For more picspam, see my new style blog: mystyledchopsticks! ^^

Anyway, today I was re-united once again with my beloved and battered bicycle, after seven weeks of being apart. And boy, I could feel what those seven weeks have done to my muscles! I've missed my bike - I don't have one that's my size at home, and whilst I can get away with riding my brother's little bike or the one that I have owned since I was about 10, it just feels outright weird to be riding a kid's bike.

If you ever come to Cambridge, then you'll very soon conclude that Cambridge (although I'm sure Oxford would also pitch in for the title) is the city of bikes - you can't go for five minutes without the sleek sound of spokes whooshing by. It's an icon of the city and an icon of what it means to be a student here. Even if you live close enough to walk to lectures, most students still own a bike for ease of transport, although that isn't to say that there aren't those who make it a point to not own one!

Growing up, I had an image in my mind that cities in China were like this too, that they were famous for their two pedals:

Sourced from here!

I remember seeing old black and white photos of roads filled with cyclists and feeling awed by the mere thought of the words "bicycle kingdom", but in the three times that I have visited China, all I've seen are cars left, right, centre. It was quite a sad realisation for me as I'd really looked forward to seeing the views from the photos in real life, but in retrospect I guess they are now just a symbol of the past and of what life once was, you know, before everyone could afford a car. Apparently, bicycles in China were once held in such high esteem that they were included as wedding presents!

In my mind, there's just something that feels a bit more communal about riding a bike instead of driving, not to mention the health benefits. But speaking of that communal feeling, I got a lot of it today when I was in town on my shopping rounds!

At Market Square, I came across a Chinese vendor selling hats, scarves and other winter goods who was in the middle of haggling with two Chinese girls. I was standing nearby, browsing the cute gloves, and couldn't help but smile at the tactics that the girls were using: cuteness, appeal to race, appeal to the homeland, and "in [insert town name] we get it for only [insert price]!!!". Eventually, they walked off, happy. Now there were some items that I had my eye on, but since I didn't have the courage to try to bargain, I went to Paperchase for a bit and then came back, determined to give it my best shot.

The vendor immediately asked me if I was Chinese, to which I replied yes in Mandarin, and then he asked me if I was from Malaysia... >_< ...I made a face similar to that, so he asked me if I was from Guangdong. I was somewhat surprised as Guangdong is adjacent to Hunan where my parents come from, and I thought my accent sounded more foreigner-trying-to-learn-the-lingo than Southern China Twang. But if he did manage to detect any Southern accent then I am well impressed. On the other hand, if he thought I was Cantonese (on account of Guangdong) learning to speak Mandarin then I am less impressed. Those are answers that I will never know unless I visit his stall again, so I shall no longer dwell on the matter.

Anyway, he told me straight away that since I was Chinese, he was willing to negotiate prices with me - he must've seen my grin when I was listening in on the girls earlier. Not that I was complaining, but when I think about it, it's pretty unfair on others that I get secret discounts just because of my race. In the midst of my bargaining session, I even saw some white tourists drop by and ask the vendor for the price of an item - for them, it was a flat rate, and whilst it may have looked reasonable to the tourists, the vendor and I both knew that the asking price is always much higher than what the vendor is willing to accept. I think this is just a part of Chinese culture, that at every small business shop, as long as the shopkeeper likes you, can speak to you in his mother tongue or is desperate to make a sell then you can very easily whittle the price down.

So with that in mind, I managed to score myself two sets of hats and scarves for almost 50% of his original price. Of course I threw in the "I have no money because I'm a poor student" card, but he already knew that, because I apparently looked so young. He also gave me a leaflet advertising a show about 5,000 years of Chinese culture that looks amazing but is too pricey for me to attend, since "I have no money because I'm a poor student". However, if any of you happen to be in London in April and are interested in attending then my good deed for the day has been done.

On a final note, here is a photo of Gus, our college cat, who decided to take up residence on my friend's bed. She actually called me over to get rid of him, poor thing!

So cute! ^^

Maybe I should've titled this post: how to haggle with a Chinese vendor. Answer: if you can't speak Chinese, then go with someone who can haggle for you.

Yishi xxx


  1. You're allowed pets in your dorm?? Does he sleep with you? That's so cute! And it may be unfair but whatever, I'm sure there are things that may be skewed against you so it all balances out in the end. Take advantage of it!!

    1. Nope, we're not allowed pets! But there is a member of staff in a high ranking position who owns a cat that just roams the place. Normally Gus is really temperamental and doesn't let anyone stroke him so it was really surprising to see him lounging on my friend's bed especially as I've never seen him inside before! Hehe yeah I guess so, it was more of a passing observation than something I felt very strongly about! Pity bargaining isn't more of a norm here in the UK though...


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