Tour de Xi'an

For you? Best price!

I thought I would be used to the apartment bathroom by now, but I'm not. It's hard to take a shower, use the toilet, brush your teeth, shave your legs, and wash your clothes in the same two foot by two foot area, and even harder to keep that area clean. Phillip says it could be worse, Phillip says the toilet could be a hole in the floor, Phillip says it's nicer than many other Chinese bathrooms, pointing out the fact that whenever the Chinese students come over, they almost always use the bathroom before they leave. I believe him. It's true. And I hate to be a spoiled American, but I am a spoiled American and I really miss my bathroom!

I also thought I would be used to all the people staring by now, but that's actually become more annoying. When everyone was warning me/giving me tips about China, "they stare at foreigners" is the one thing they all agreed on. So it was okay at first, because I was prepared! I'm new, I'm different, small children will hover around my table at dinner gawking at my big eyes and my big nose and hmm, what is the foreigner eating for dinner? Fine! Besides, everyone is friendly once you start talking to them. Okay okay, everyone is friendly once Blondie starts talking. I just stand off to the side with a big Non-Threatening Foreigner Smile plastered on my face. Besides, Blondie probably gets more stares than I do on account of the whole blond thing. STILL. It makes me really self-concious. Do I have food on my face? Am I wearing something wildly inappropriate? AM I REALLY THIS STARE-WORTHY?

We have a little routine: class in the morning, lunch, siesta, some afternoon sightseeing, and then dinner with a little shopping, TV watching, and taxi riding squeezed into all the spaces. We do a lot of eating and sleeping which is what you're supposed to do when you're on vacation. One of the best things about being here a few weeks is that we don't feel pressured to see everything right away. But at lunch today we realized we have only one week left in Xi'an and Blondie, the list maker, started writing down all the things we must see, do, and buy:

1. The Wild Goose Pagoda
2. The Bell Tower
3. The grocery store with 3 floors
4. Eat hot pot
5. Another round at the Muslim market
6. Sit in on one of Blondie's university classes
7. Eat more street food

...and some other stuff I've forgotten already. Phillip and I will probably go see the pagoda this afternoon while Blondie works on her syllabus. Tomorrow I'll sit in on one of her classes. We'll probably go back to the market on Saturday and do the grocery store and church stuff on Sunday. Tuesday we'll visit the orphanage and a week from today we leave...

The weather brightened up this week. I may have mentioned the BLUE SKY. Oh, I love you Blue Sky. Yesterday, because Phillip had absolutely no interest in shopping for curtain material with us, we went downtown to the Muslim market. This is a gazillion-mile long alleyway full of souvenirs and other assorted junk, not a place where they sell Muslim babies or anything. It's Muslim because it's in the ancient Muslim part of town. Anyway, I was glad to have Phillip and Blondie with me because bargaining is the order of the day and if I'd been alone, who knows how rich the merchants might be today! You could practically see the dollar signs (kwai signs?) flashing in their eyes as I walked by. If I found something I liked, I would yell for Blondie or Phillip who would then perform a little drama as follows:

MAGGIE: Oooh, I like this little painting. How much do you think it is?
BLONDIE: Oh, I wouldn't pay more than 10 kwai. (to the merchant) How much is this painting?
MERCHANT: For you?! Friend price! Friend price! I will write down the Real Price here on my little notepad and then I will draw a big line through it, just so you can see that I am giving you a Friend Discount!
BLONDIE: How much then?
MERCHANT: Cheaper price! Cheaper price! For you? One painting? (Scribble scribble. The foreigners peer at the notepad and much scoffing ensues)
BLONDIE: 55 kwai? No thanks.
MERCHANT: But see? This is good quality! A professional paint this painting! 55 kwai!
MERCHANT: Okay, okay, what is your best price?
PHILLIP: 5 kwai!
MERCHANT: I am completely and utterly offended!
BLONDIE: (to Maggie) Well... I'd pay a little more than 5 kwai...
PHILLIP: I would only pay 5 kwai for this painting.
MERCHANT: I don't make money with 5 kwai! 50 kwai! 50 kwai best price!
(continued foreigner-scoffing)
MAGGIE: Well, I like this painting too!
MERCHANT: Ah! Two paintings! For two paintings, better price. For two paintings, 80 kwai!
BLONDIE: That's too much.
PHILLIP: 10 kwai!
MERCHANT: 10 kwai! You humiliate me!
MAGGIE: This whole bargaining thing is really cutting into my shopping time. And can't we all just remember that 8 kwai equals ONE DOLLAR? ONE DOLLAR, PEOPLE.
PHILLIP: Maggie, this is about principle.
BLONDIE: Yeah, Maggie, just stand over there and try not to ruin everything.
PHILLIP: Well, let's LEAVE, because there's NO WAY I'm going to pay 80 kwai for two paintings.
(foreigners begin to shuffle out of the shop, one of them much more reluctantly than the others)
MERCHANT: Wait wait! Maybe 65 kwai! 65 kwai for two paintings! (Sensing that Maggie is the bargaining wuss) You! You! Your sisters like these paintings, yes? Your friends? Paintings for your friends? Only 65 kwai!
BLONDIE: But I thought we were friends! What is the friend price?!
PHILLIP: 15 kwai!
MERCHANT: This IS friend price! What about 3 paintings? You want 3 paintings? Your family will like these paintings!
MAGGIE: Two paintings! Two paintings!
MERCHANT: Okay. (glowering at Phillip) 50 kwai. Final price!
MAGGIE: Hey, wasn't one painting 55 kwai?
PHILLIP: 15 kwai. That's my best price.
MERCHANT: Your best price?! Your best price?! 40 kwai! 40 kwai final price!
PHILLIP: 15 kwai! (beginning to walk away again...)
MERCHANT: 30 kwai!
MERCHANT: Oh you Americans are mean little people. I will nod in acceptance of 20 kwai, but this sour expression on my face will make sure you know that I am definitely not happy about it.
BLONDIE & PHILLIP: (as we are walking out of the shop) Man, I bet we could have gone even lower!

I got a lot of stuff like this and not all of it was junk. But the most I could do on the bargaining end was shake my head balefully at the price jotted down on the notepad. 50 kwai? For a singing Mao lighter? Even I know that's ridiculous. Blondie's method is to talk them down, point out flaws in the merchandise, turn the Friend Price tactic against the merchant, to stand indecisively for many many minutes hoping the merchant gets tired of us first. Phillip's method is to give the merchant a look of Great Disdain and walk away. Most of the time the merchant will scream for him to return, but if not, there's always someone else selling the exact same thing next door. It was a successful afternoon for all of us, I thought. Win win for everybody. Especially me. I didn't have to do any work!

Please think happy thoughts for Blondie and Phillip who have sore throats and stuffed up noses. Please hope that one of them wakes up soon so they can accompany me to the Wild Goose Pagoda!


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