… or I came, I saw and I did a little shopping.
That was I think the general motivation behind Grace’s and Emily’s idea of a trip to Hong Kong. And visiting Uncle Graham & Auntie Luise of course.
We had only ever transferred flights in Hong Kong before. Over ten years ago we spent 6 hours at Hong Kong Airport, en route to China. Not surprisingly the city looks and feels different to being viewed from a plane window or an airport terminal. Perhaps when landing at the old airport with wing-tips almost touching the skyscrapers either side you got more of an immediately feel for the intensity that is Hong Kong; but nothing can make up for actually living in the city for a while.
Truth is, this time we all did a lot of living, viewing, seeing, smelling, touching, shopping, bartering, haggling (I even had a shirt and jacket tailored for me!) but overall we were more oohed and wowed by other things in the Singing City: the mix of cultures, the people-filled buildings, the islands, the sea, the cacophonous colours, seeing faithful Christian witness in the midst of the other gods of religious mysticism and materialism. It was a feast for the senses indeed.
Nevertheless Grace of course got into her stride very quickly with bartering in the markets. She had such a successful technique that eventually Emily got very cross when she saw that her mother clearly had been unable to purchase an item for her (I forget what) at the significantly reduced rate Grace was managing to achieve. In future Grace would do the bartering for her not Mum, decided Emily. In future Grace actually would do the bartering for Mum also.
Grace had perfected her technique in Egypt, when we were on holiday there a couple of years ago, whilst Judith was muttering “Why can’t we just go to a fixed price place? I’m so embarrassed.” It went something like this: Grace would start at a fairly ridiculously low price, feigning potential ignorance of the currency conversion, stick doggedly to it, letting the seller come down and down (from his initial ridiculously high price). Then as things got sticky and drawn out, with the skill of her Airport-Fire-service-negotiator* father, she’d up her price ever so slightly, giving a certain frisson of unexpected encouragement to the vendor, who would normally drop his again further as a result. But then just as he was loudly bemoaning how little he would have left for his starving, shoeless children, Grace would decide no, she didn’t want the item for anywhere near that price, turn her back and make out to leave. At which point the vendor would normally rush after her, pleading with her to stay and bargain further. Waiting for her moment – the point at which the vendor offers to drop to a really low price, perhaps below what your actually willing to pay – Grace, with a comedian’s timing would stop dead in her tracks and agree to a purchase half-way.
“I can’t do that!” said Judith “It’s too much like acting.” Indeed it is a drama, or a dance, and you must enjoy the taking part if you are to win. And both parties generally go away happy; the vendor has a sale, and I think Adam Smith would agree that even here on a micro-scale the supply-and-demand laws work to the extent that to the sandal-seller a $10 note is of greater worth than another unsold pair of sandals of which he has myriad. Whereas to the purchaser, walking around with her feet in a pair of sandals is infinitely preferable to perambulating in a $10 note.
But enough of market economics! However wondrous and fascinating they are!
There is certainly plenty of opportunity to practise your bartering techniques in Hong Kong, and Auntie Luise knew all the good markets. Infact I think she knew all the markets! Now I don’t mind window shopping actually, I’m fascinated by what people will buy, and here in Hong Kong there is the added advantage that you can buy anything. This is because if they haven’t got it, just show them a picture of what you want and they’ll make a copy for you. It’s the cri de guerre of the street vendor in Kowloon: “Copy watch Sir?… Copy bag?… Copy pen? … Copy jeans?…” Not fake, please note. But copy… In Dubai it was “Fake watch Sir?” Here it’s a copy. I prefer copy. OK I know they’re both not the genuine article. But copy has more of an ‘old master’ feel to it, don’t you think. All the painters of old did copies of their own work and others’ on commission. They never called those fakes! OK so they do call them fakes if you do that kind of thing today. But hey! I was amused by copy.
So I ventured into the make-shift market-booths a few times to see how much a copy Tag Heuer Grand Carrera would cost me. Or a copy Patek Philippe. Or a copy Rolex Yacht Master. But you see I don’t want a Rolex, not even a bargain copy Rolex. I’m very content with my real Tissot thank you very much. You don’t hear stall holders shouting “Copy Tissot“; so it’s kind of set apart. Except, this was Hong Kong, remember. I followed one vendor to the back of his stall and as I began to flick through reams of pages of photos of Rolexes and Cartiers, he glimpsed my Tissot peaking out from under my sleeve. “Ah you wan copy Tisso? Yeh?” he exclaimed jabbing my wrist with his finder “We do goo copy Tisso!”
So I have decided. My next watch will be a Casio.
* private joke for Guernsey residents with a long memory. I’m not going into it now, it would take far too long. Try googling it if you’re sad and bored!