A Week Of Firsts In And Around Beijing

My first hike, purchase of fake goods, head cold, and Chinese conversation

Tongs and trash bags in hand

Actually, every week is still a week of firsts in Beijing, but I had no other good title to use, so I’ll go with it this time. Most of the firsts actually centered on a hike we did last Saturday, including buying my first pair of knock off shoes, but I also had a first experience that was an indication of how far I’ve come in just one month in Beijing. So here it is, my week of firsts.

Like I said, last Saturday CET students and staff hiked the mountains on the outer edges of Beijing (or as far as I know they’re on the outer edges). Because I only brought boat shoes, a pair of white sneakers, and my winter boots to China, I was in need of a good pair of hiking boots, or at least a pair of shoes that I could get dirty or ruin and not care about. And that’s what prompted me to buy my first pair of knock off shoes.

I went to the shoe place down the street from my campus and checked out the selection. I found a pair of (fake) black adidas shoes that looked like they would fit the bill, but since I obviously had no clue what my Chinese shoe size was (44 by the way), and because there’s zero organization in these little stores in our neighborhood, I had to wait for the reluctant owner to come in.

I told him my size in America, he said he understood, and he proceeded to dig through a mountain of boxes until he found a few boxes which were all a half size too small. He kept saying he couldn’t find my size, but of course I was able to find the right size in the first box I opened. So I said I wanted them and told me 130 kuai ($20.31). Even if they were fake, they were a really good quality fake, and when you consider you pay $25 for a not so good pair of shoes at Wal-mart, 130 kuai sounded fine to me.

The most authetic pair of fake shoes I've ever seen

But you have to understand that in in this type of shop, haggling (taojia-huanjia) is part of the culture. Shop owners generally expect customers to ask for the price of goods to be lowered, and sometimes they will even get upset if you don’t give it a try. Now I’m already thinking to myself that $20 is an awesome price, but I knew I should ask him to lower it, so I offered 120 kuai. He looked at me like I was dumb, but accepted my offer.

After he gave me the shoes, he was actually nice enough to explain what I did wrong, and why I looked dumb. Lowering the price by 10 kuai was a joke. Because it was only a difference of 10 kuai, it left him no room to bargain and therefore the whole buyer seller interaction was kind of ruined. In case anyone is coming to China and wants to know, you should start asking a price of just a little above half of what the store owner originally says. I could’ve gotten those shoes for probably $15, but oh well. It was a good learning experience, and now I know what I’m doing when I bargain.

The shoes happened to work out great on the hike, which for my first hike was a ton of fun and had some great views. On Saturday morning, we met up with an NGO that cleans up trash while hiking mountains. It’s a pretty cool concept – you get to see nature and clean up nature at the same time. It was a bit more challenging than I had expected, but everyone made it to the top so it wasn’t all that bad. The great weather we’ve been having continued on through the weekend, so there were some great views from the top. We did most of the trash pick-up on the way down, tongs in one hand, trash bag in the other. Beijing has a pretty serious trash problem, as in people don’t use garbage cans, so not surprisingly everyone’s bag was full by the time we reached the bottom.