My first bargaining in China

Zavertailo Kateryna (Ukrainia): “Once we reached the school, l realized that it was quite a distance from the bus station and worth the eight RMB that the drivers had asked. I began to blame myself for bargaining too hard. I said to the driver gratefully, “Thank you so much. How much do I owe you?” He replied, “Not a dime! I decided to help you for free. Be diligent in your studies and progress every day. I hope you enjoy your time in China,” and left as soon as he had finished”.

Zavertailo Kateryna
Zavertailo in the Han Street, Wuhan

What’s China really like in the eyes of foreigners? Which parts of Chinese culture are the most attractive? What are their personal experiences while learning Chinese language? Are there any touching stories that happened to them during their stay in China? You will find the answers here. After reading the following stories, don’t you have the desire to pick up your pen and put down something in Chinese about things around you?

By Zavertailo Kateryna (Ukrainian, PhD in Linguistics and Applied Linguistics, Wuhan University)

There is a saying in Chinese that one relies on his parents at home and his friends abroad. Indeed, it was only after coming to China in 2007 that I really learned the importance of friends. When I first arrived in Tianjin, I didn’t have any friends or even acquaintances; it was the first time I had traveled abroad by myself. I kept in mind my mother’s teachings and remembered to be careful not to let anyone cheat me.

Before the semester had begun, I took a bus from Beijing to Tianjin. As a foreign girl wearing yellow trousers, I attracted a lot of attention as soon as I got off the bus. Taxi drivers surrounded me, asking where I was going and telling me to come with them. I was at a loss for words. Although I had studied Chinese for two years, I had never spoken it face to face with a Chinese person until that day and so many of them were asking me questions at once! I was nervous, but I had to go to school. I gathered up my courage and asked “How much is the fare to Tianjin Foreign Studies University?” The taxi drivers were happy that I finally answered and told me that it would be eight RMB. As it was my first time in China, I did not know that there was an initial charge of eight RMB for all taxis in Tianjin – the fare could not have been any cheaper. But I did know that I was going to bargain down whatever price was quoted to me. I resolutely said, “Eight RMB is too expensive. How about five?” The drivers laughed and said, “This foreigner really knows how to bargain. But eight RMB is the initial charge – we can’t change it.” Even so, I stuck my ground and said, “Five RMB or nothing!” The drivers continued laughing, thinking I was cute but not wanting to lose money; eventually they left. Soon there was only one left, a fat, older man who smiled warmly at me and said, “All right then. Six RMB and I’ll take you anywhere you like.” But I firmly refused his offer.

When I first arrived in Tianjin, I didn’t have any friends or even acquaintances; it was the first time I had traveled abroad by myself. I kept in mind my mother’s teachings and remembered to be careful not to let anyone cheat me.

I then stood by myself on the street, not knowing what to do. I finally asked the nice driver, “Excuse me, what’s the way to Tianjin Foreign Studies?” He replied, “It’s too far to walk. You’ll never make it!” I said, “That’s fine. Just point me in the right direction.” And so I dragged my big red bag and my backpack down the street in the direction he had pointed, searching for my school. In the bustle and bustle of the big city, my resolution and courage bad disappeared step by step, but out of self-respect I didn’t let myself turn back towards the bus station. Suddenly I heard a man call me from his motorcycle, “Hei, Laowai!” Laowai, which literally means ‘old foreigner’, is a common colloquial name the Chinese give to foreigners. Surprised, I turned and asked what the matter was. He took my bag, put it on his motorcycle, and told me simply, “Get on!” I didn’t try to bargain this time; instead, I silently got on his motorcycle. We had a conversation on the way, and he asked me where I was from and what my study and work plans for the future was. It happened that be was one of the onlookers watching me bargaining with the taxi drivers. He said with a laugh that I was really a good haggler. Once we reached the school, l realized that it was quite a distance from the bus station and worth the eight RMB that the drivers had asked. I began to blame myself for bargaining too hard. I said to the driver gratefully, “Thank you so much. How much do I owe you?” He replied, “Not a dime! I decided to help you for free. Be diligent in your studies and progress every day. I hope you enjoy your time in China,” and left as soon as he had finished. I was moved and immediately recalled that old saying, but with a s light variation – Rely on your parents at home, and rely on good people when abroad.


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Published in Confucius Institute Magazine
Number 47. Volume VI. November 2016.

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