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Buy, Bargain, and Trade: By Cadet Rob Bingham

The marketplaces of China are absolutely incredible and warrant an entire book to fully describe their complexity. The hustling and bustling of savvy merchants bargaining prices and visitors haggling with them seem straight out of a movie. The smells of local fare such as tofu on a stick, pigs’ feet and lamb filled the air. I enjoy the roots of commerce; I believe commerce today has become too commercialized.

Today’s commerce is filled with advertising and marketers that are only in the game for the instant profit. They use propaganda, cheap tricks, and marketing savvy to sell a product, which makes the interaction with people almost nonexistent. The value of a product is solely based on how much the buyer will pay for said item. We forget this golden rule and we set concrete prices that only allow certain people the ability to buy our products. The quality of the products in the market environment tend not to be the same quality we find in the States but prices in the market environment will increase due to quality while price in our commerce environment increase by brand name.

The main marketplace in Xi’an, the town in which we were temporarily residing, was known as Muslim Corner. It was about three square miles of shops operated by Chinese locals but primarily owned by the Muslim community in China. It was impossible to walk through Muslim Corner without some merchants eyes widening that a foreigner was present and the only English some knew was, “best price for you.” The prices of their merchandise would start off equaling that of American prices, which is quite expensive in China. The current exchange rate for Chinese currency is 6.3 RMB to 1 USD. After the initial price is given, game on! My tactic was to try to offer about forty to fifty percent of their asking price. I thought this would show them that I am a force to be reckoned with and they would drastically drop their asking price.

Now, the way that the bargaining game works is that they will never agree with your price because they try narrowing you down with high counter offers in order to eventually “meet in the middle” and maximize their profits. With some items it was the matter of arguing about 0.25 cents USD so I just happily accepted and moved on; but with higher offers I would pretend to lose interest and start walking away. This tactic worked quite well and I was able to buy at the price I wanted more times than not.

The reason I prefer this approach from the non-personal is because of the mutual respect you obtain after the transaction. If you were stern and demanded a fair price the merchants would laugh afterward and thank you for your patronage. Both people understand that the transaction is a mutually beneficial one and there is no reason someone needs to go broke buying a good.

Trade and bartering are two of the oldest professions in history and they still hold strong to their roots in Xi’an, China.

Pictured clockwise: CDT Ethan Watkins, CDT Justin Hall, CDT Jack Newhouse, CDT Jason Kilgore, CDT Stephanie Valera, CDT Rob Bingham.
The Cadets of the Cultural Understanding and Language Program (CULP) try different cultural foods while indulging in a hotpot dinner. Hotpot is a cultural experience where the whole table uses one cooking pot to cook raw meat before consumption. This eating style is similar to the more commonly known fondue.

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