Saturday, November 25, 2006

On Measures and Measurements

There's a verse from a quite excellent book that reads, "...And with the measure use, it will be measured to you." While I still believe this is true, I can't help but wonder if my experiences here in China really do reflect this passage. Am I really using that small of a measure?

Like most developing countries, everything you buy here must be bargained for. Besides large department stores, nothing has price tags on it. If there's no price tag, the price is negotiable.

Let me break it down for you a little bit. There are many different levels of pricing here, it all depends on who you are. Going from smallest to largest, there's the local friend or family price, the local price, the Chinese tourist price, the foreigner friend price, the foreigner who can speak fluent Chinese price, the foreigner price, and lastly the clueless rich foreigner price.

I can just imagine Americans, with their silly ideas of 'equality', up in arms about how rampant discrimination is here. It's actually an integral part of every day life here. I guess to be fair, it's not really racial, as someone from 2 towns down the road will still pay twice as much as a local person.

To give you an idea of the range that the price can swing, a nice souvenir could go for $1 to a local Chinese friend or it could go for $20 to the clueless, rich foreigner. The widest swing is in souvenirs, but other consumables vary quite a bit as well. For example, I have not noticed it here in the city I'm in now, but in Beijing I noticed that restaurants typically have two menus. One in Chinese, at Chinese prices, and one in English at two to ten times the amount. (It's actually exciting now that I can read Chinese, I'm still waiting for the opportunity to call someone out on it when I encounter it.)

The worst abuses are in the markets. Because everything is sold by the pound, if perchance they agree to an acceptable price, there's no way of knowing that they are using their hand-held scales fairly. Most Chinese people tell me not to bother bargaining in the market. Usually, if they play nice and bring their price down 25%, they'll just give you 25% less food.

The thing is, I'm not necessarily interested in getting the absolute lowest price out of them. I'm not interested or willing to stand there and haggle for an extra $0.15. I just don't want to be taken complete advantage of, or be made the fool. To be honest, I really do want to help these people out. I don't mind paying extra just so I know these poor farmers' children get to eat today. But I do not want to give a free hand-out to a dishonest person who tries to take advantage of me just to make a profit. When I know what the price is supposed to be and they vehemently deny it and charge me triple the amount, or when I ask for a pound and they measure out 10 ounces for me, I get annoyed. It wouldn't be so bad once in a while, but the endlessness of it all wears on me a bit.

The majority of the time I find it easier to pretend I live in a utopian society where everyone is honest and caring of others, and I do not blink at the price they give me. I just keep thinking about that verse, reminding myself that the measures that He was speaking about aren't weighed in pounds or ounces.

No comments: