How I mastered buying pirated goods at the Silk Market Beijing
Sadly, it’s our last week here at CET. Surprisingly I’m not all that busy, and because Christmas is quickly approaching and I hadn’t gotten any gifts for people back home, I figured last Sunday was a prime opportunity to hit up the Silk Market Beijing (aka Silk Street, Silk Street Market, Xiùshuǐjiē, and 秀水街) and try my hand at bargaining. (If you remember, my last experience was some what of a failure.) I’m happy to say that I was successful, but only after going back again on Wednesday. Here’s why it took 2 attempts.
Misconception About The Beijing Silk Market:
The purpose of going to a new place is defeated when you don’t know anything about it, so before I venture to a new place in China, whether it’s on an organized weekend by CET (like our trip to the Great Wall) or my own exploits (like my day at Tiananmen and the Forbidden City), I read up on it as much as I can in my Lonely Planet Guide Book or on Wikipedia.
Most of the time, my conception of where I’m going is so wrong it’s not even funny, and I’ve fully realized that, especially in China, you can do all the research you want and you still won’t be prepared for what you’re about to get into.
How does this apply to the Silk Market? I won’t bother telling you what I originally thought it was, however, it’s definitely not an open-air market where you can haggle for a decent price on quality hand-made goods while practicing your Chinese with the understanding vendors.
My First Xiushui Experience
Mission: Buy Christmas Gifts
Status: Failed Miserably
So I met up with a friend on the subway and headed to Silk Street. She had warned me to bring a list, and I obviously didn’t – partially because I’m lazy and partially because I’m so bad at shopping that a list wouldn’t be much help. Anyway, we reach our stop about 20 minutes later, walk out the station exit, and to my surprise, the Silk Market closely resembles every other 5 story modern shopping mall I’ve seen in Beijing so far.
Here’s Wikipedia’s definition of Silk Street: “This 35,000-square-meter complex houses 1,700 retail vendors and over 3,000 salespeople spread over seven floors with three levels of basements. Many of the stalls have, over the years, gained local and international reputation for selling counterfeit luxury designer brands at relatively low prices. Some have carried on this trademark despite growing pressures from the management, the Chinese government and famous brand-name companies.”
Here’s Silk Street according to Nate: “This 35,000-square-meter labyrinth houses 1,700 ‘retail vendors’ and over 3,000 blood-thirsty salespeople spread over seven floors with three levels of basements forming one of the most intense gauntlets in the history of man. Almost every stall sells counterfeit luxury designer brands at relatively low prices, and those that don’t sell luxury goods sell counterfeit Chinese culture at relatively low prices. Every vendor in Silk Street has carried on this trademark as there’s really no pressure from the management or the Chinese government.”
Am I upset about this? Not at all. My problem wasn’t that stuff was pirated or faked, because in all honesty, Silk Street has some of the best quality counterfeit luxury designer brands and Chinese culture you can buy. My problem was that I was so enticed to buy everything that I was getting sucked into the Silk Street savings allure and making mistakes like asking how much something was without actually intending to buy it. I was like a moth to a flame except I was to overwhelmed to fork over any cash.
My goal was to buy my family Christmas gifts. In the end, I bought myself a scarf (the winds pretty bad here in Beijing) and a new belt.
My Second Xiushui Experience
Mission: Buy Christmas Gifts (and do better than my first time)
Status: Definite Success
I decided to get my act together and make a trip back to Silk Street on Wednesday. I actually made a list of everything I needed to buy, could possibly buy, and should wait until another time to buy. The mistake of asking for starting prices on my last trip actually played out in my favor because now I also had a budget and a rough idea of what I wanted to spend on everything.
My tactics were simple – Put my starting price at 30-40% of their original asking price; don’t go up by more than 10 kuai total; stay firm but semi-friendly; walk away if they don’t budge; watch them run after me and give me my asking price (because that’s how it goes).
This time I went solo, and after getting there I made my way directly to the electronics section, ignoring every vendor who wanted to sell me a fake Prada purse along the way. I needed a new pair of headphones and I was also buying a pair as a gift for someone else, so I stopped at a stall that had Beats by Dre (fake, obviously).
I picked out two pairs and the vendor told me 280 kuai. I sarcastically chuckled and told him 80 kuai. He replied no way. His next offer: 200. My next offer: 81. I told him the woman in the next stall over said she would give them to me for 75 but she didn’t have the color I wanted so I was willing to pay him a little more. His next offer: 150. My next offer: 83. His next offer: 120. My next offer: 87.
He said we were friends and he was impressed by my Beijing accent (obviously a lie because my Chinese is pretty bad) and went down to 90. I stayed at 87 and said if he didn’t want my money then I was leaving.
Vendor: “It’s only 3 kuai!”
Me: “Exactly, so give them to me for 87.”
Vendor: “I’m giving you a good deal, I could’ve kept the price at 150.”
Me: “And then I could’ve said I don’t want them.”
Then I did the “walk-away”. He came running after me and I got both pairs for 87 kuai, or $13.59.
I can’t really go into detail about the other things I bought since they’re all gifts, but in my mind, I was successful. I say “in my mind” because I know that I probably could’ve gotten everything cheaper, and in the end, as depressed as the vendor looks, he’s actually really happy because he knows he still won.
That’s why you can’t have a soul when you go into Silk Street. The vendors are like robots, programmed to continuously say “we’re friends”, “your Chinese is so good”, “you’re so good looking, I don’t know how you don’t have a girlfriend” etc. Unfortunately, we’re not friends, my Chinese is bad, and I have a mirror so I already know I’m good looking. You have to ignore everything they say, focus on the price you want to get, stand firm, and enjoy the benefits.
If you’re in Beijing and want to head to Silk Street, take Subway line 1 to Yong’anli. Exit A out of Yong’anli station is actually an underground entrance to Silk Street so it’s really convenient.
As for my actual study abroad life, next semesters plan is slowly starting to take shape. I was accepted into Beijing University’s Chinese Language Program, and although it’s not CET, I’m excited for the change of scenery. Now the hunt is on for a job and a place to live.
If you have any other questions or comments please feel free to get in touch!