Everyman's hardware dream?

Trip Start Jan 30, 2007
Trip End Dec 31, 2011

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Flag of China  ,
Sunday, April 27, 2008

Today I am teaching a friend some English. Like, for example, the word 'rip-off'.
The word came up when we went shopping. More precisely, I went shopping - they came along for the walk. It was a hardware store area, on the outskirts of town. It has a grid-like lay-out of stores, and in true Do-It-Yourself style, most of the shops are in need of some TLC. Or at least a bit of fixing up.
Last week, in the same area, I went into an impressively large lighting store. I'd been there a couple of times before to admire the large lighting features, stare at the water features and wonder who on earth would buy half the stuff in the shop - namely angular lighting fittings with things that whirred and turned. Maybe someone who works in a factory and wants to be reminded of that when they get home. Anyway, the lighting store, on my last visit, was completely dark. There was a power cut, and one staff member had a torch to show the few punters around the back of the large showroom.
This time, I was in the hardware store area, looking for various things for my house: a screw with a flat plastic head to secure a toilet seat; some clear plastic sheeting or panels for my kitchen ceiling; some slabs of marble for the kitchen bench.
At one place the plastic see-through panels were $5US a metre and panels were 6 metres long. At another place shorter pieces of softer plastic panel were $3.50 a metre. The guy with the cheaper plastic had sold me some glass roof tiles, three of which broke within 24-hours of installation. He sold them to me 9 for $10, but it seemed that a shop down the road also sold the same ones 16 for $10.
When we got to the back of the market area, there were workshops cutting up and polishing local marble, from the nearby Dali mountains. Nicely coloured pieces sold for around US$30-60 per square metre. One place seemed to specialize in making the marble top surrounds for sinks and basins. When I was looking at some of the ovals and rounded rectangles, I asked out of curiosity how much a piece - about a third of a square metre - might be. 'Five' he said.
I thought he meant 50 - which is about US$7 - but no, he held up one hand with five fingers. All he wanted was 5 kwai - or about 80 cents for each piece.
After two trips I now have four pieces on my kitchen table. But when I went back to get some more, the owner's wife was about, and suddenly the price was increased, particularly for the nice green marble piece I'd singled out.
Come back another day when she's not there, was my friend's advice. They want to make a big profit, she said.
But that's the thing about being a foreigner in China. Even if you are charged a higher price because you have a big nose, prices for most things are a lot cheaper than back home, whether it is New Zealand or the recession-hit USA.
Recently I got some glass windows put in my house and for a dozen sheets of glass, four large squares 1 m2, and two panels of thicker glass, the cost, including installation by the guy down the road cost a mere US$40. Which is about the cost some tradespeople back home charge just to come out and give you a quote.
I learnt two new Chinese words today too - shir hway which means a bargain, and jern zai rern - a rip-off.
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