Welcome Back! Just as Seoul Searching was reaching new heights, gaining more readers, followers, and establishing a devoted fan base, my internet stopped working. Yup, my last week in Korea, a week I had planned to do a record amount of blogging, was lost due to a lack of internet contact. I was not happy about it.
Today I'm typing this post from Australia. I have left Korea behind, but I don't want to get ahead of myself just yet. The plan is to catch everyone up. I'm going to try and do some fast and furious blogging because there have been some huge happenings. So if you're interested, make sure to check the page daily in the upcoming weeks.
Back to my parents visit...
We flew to China...China! My parents and I in the country that builds all the little inexpensive toys that we play with when we're children, and self confident adults. I've heard many things about China and I'd like to give you my take on those rumors. The biggest one is that it's highly polluted and you can't see the sun. I can give you first hand knowledge that this myth is TRUE...and FALSE.
We flew into Shanghai from Seoul for a 3 day stay. In those three days I never saw the sun once. At times it was hard to even see a hundred meters ahead of ourselves. While some cities have a park in the middle, and others center around a famous building or landmark, Shanghai seemed to be built around a gray cloud. This gray cloud engulfed everything and gave the whole city a kind of "Gotham" feel. It rained, sleeted, snowed, and smogged all three days of our stay in Shanghai. However, we then spent 4 days in Beijing and during those 4 days, I didn't see a single cloud. The sky was perfectly clear. While talking to our guides though, I did find out that Chinese police men that work on the streets are offered earlier retirement because they don't live as long because they spend so much time breathing in the polluted air on the streets. So yes, it is polluted apparently, BADLY, but sometimes you can see it, while other times you can't.
The cities were cool though. They seemed pretty futuristic, which makes sense considering that the downtown areas have all been built within the last twenty years. We saw some cool temples, and stuff but the most exciting part of the visit was when I asked our tour guide if we could go to a market. She said she could make some calls. We pulled up to the side of the road a few minutes later and a man with an umbrella led us out of the car. We then followed him down an ally, then another alley, up some apartment building steps. As we were going up these steps we saw poor families, beaten down rooms, dirt, cracked walls, and the most impoverished living quarters my parents and I had seen in some time. It is safe to say that we were both nervous about where we were being led. Then out of nowhere we walked into an apartment with three rooms that all looked like they belonged in a mall. They had nice lighting, tons of clothes, watches, purses, carpeting, etc... It was like walking onto a movie set. You couldn't believe this nice place was in the middle of all this poverty.
I expected the things inside this "apartment" to cost about one dollar, but apparently it was a high class knockoff place. There are different levels of Chinese knockoffs; low level that will cost next to nothink but break in next to no time, medium level that will be really cheap but will probably not last very long, and high level that is supposed to be almost as good as the real thing. We were at a high level place.
I figured I'd never buy a high class watch anywhere else, so this was my opportunity. I found two I liked and was willing to spend about ten dollars from them, but when I asked the prices I was given a "price for a friend" that was about five hundred dollars. I wanted to laugh in the guys face, but realizing my surroundings I decided to scrunch up my face a little, as to say, that's a bit too high for me. The dance began. Bargaining is a way of life in China. I have been to other countries and enjoyed bargaining but it is a whole different monster in China. Instead of bargaining things down a few dollars, or ten or twenty percent, in China prices start out inflated to around one million percent. That's right. If you wanted to buy a lighter, they will try their little hearts out to try and describe to you why this lighter is worth a million dollars. If you were dumb enough to pay them a million bucks, they'd take it without blinking, but if you're smarter they will begin reducing the price in one of two ways: One, they will enjoying your bargaining and begin to act like they like you and like that you're a cheap bastard, by gaining their respect and friendship they will lower the price "just for you". Or two, they ask you to type what price you are willing to pay on a calculator. My father ended up bargaining a watch down to about forty bucks for my mom, using both techniques. Let's hope it lasts.
I usually enjoy the give and take of a good bargain and cherish the empowered feeling of getting a good deal for myself, but in China it wasn't like that. Due to the unbelievably large originally marked up price it wasn't so fun. You could bargain for ten minutes and still buy a thing for twenty times it's worth. You had to show interest, and then walk away to even get them to come down to a considerable price. While you walk away there voice scrambles down an imaginary spiral staircase, "100! 90! 80! 70! 60! 50!" Don't turn around until they have stopped decending, you never know how low they will go. When they start cursing you, they've reached their bottom dollar limit. Then you can go back and bargain with them a little more before buying it. But once I bought something, different sellers with the same product would hollar at me trying to sell me another, but they would start with the price I bought it, "You like dat, I give it to you for 50!", and right there I know I got taken because if he's starting at 50, I could have gotten it for at least half of that. So even when you buy things for three dollars, you walk away and feel like the people took advantage of you. It was a good experience though.
You may have also heard about a large snow storm in China around the same time we were there. Apparently it was the worst snow storm in over fifty years. Hundreds of people died, crops were lost, trains were canceled, and hundreds of thousands of people weren't able to travel to their see their families on the Chinese New Year holiday. The thing is, China is a big place, we didn't run into any of this stuff really. Shanghai had bad weather but it didn't stop us from doing anything. It didn't seem real that the country was going through such a hard time, and we were on vacation, seeing tourist sights, eating out, and sleeping in nice hotels, but that's the way it was.
Of course we also saw the Great Wall, and it was Great. I would suggest it to anyone. I'm really happy I've got three of the seven wonders of the world down. It was just as amazing as the first two, Angkor Wat and Chichenitza. Of course there were people selling souvenirs on the wall though, and that kind of sucked. And yes you really have to bargain there too. We were offered the first shirt that said "I climbed the Great Wall" for 280 Yuen. After showing interest and walking away for an hour, we returned to buy 3 shirts for 80 Yuen (not each, ALL TOGETHER). We walked away feeling like we had figured out the whole "bargaining thing" in China with smiles on our faces, and great shirts in our bags.
Once we got back to the hotel we realized that one shirt had a stain, and two didn't fit. We still got taken...but hey, that's China.
The sideshow will be coming soon.