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!
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.