Sunday, July 09, 2006

Inexpensive Retail Therapy

Some people drink to forget their sorrows; some people write. But a great many point their feet towards the nearest, biggest or newest shopping center (are you ready, boots?). And if there's a major event going on (Midnight sale! all items up to 80% off!!!) only a disaster of epic proportions can stop them.

But a shopaholic whose pockets aren't quite deep enough to make him or her a regular customer at Greenbelt IV (a place in Makati where the shops bear names like Louis Vuitton or Prada) finds that the tyangge or flea market is quite enough to satisfy the urge that besets most of us to buy something fast and cheap NOW. Over the years these flea markets in the Philippines have sprouted like mushrooms; they're even more ubiquitous than SM malls. We live in front of a large church building and every Sunday there's a tyangge that's literally a stone's throw away from the house. It's fun to look around and marvel at the knockoffs that some of them sell. "Bili ka na Ate; bago yan, galing China" (Buy that; it's new, it's from China) or "Gusto mo yan? Bilihin mo na! Kapag nabenta na yan baka next next week pa ulit magkakaroon kasi sa Bangkok pa kinukuha yan." Loose translation: "You like that? Buy it now! If someone else buys it, we won't have any more of those for two weeks because we get them from Bangkok."

tyangge in the PhilippinesEverybody loves a good bargain and Filipinos are no exception. At a tyangge, one can find a wealth of very inexpensive personal items like clothes and trinkets. For the budget-conscious, signs that announce "Buy one take one" are good, but hardly enough to get the juices flowing, oh no. Show 'em a sign that says "3 for 100" (or three items for about US$2) and see them salivate. Show 'em a stallkeeper who'll agree to knock the price down even further and agree to 4 for 100, and you'll most likely see someone have a retail orgasm.

I'm pathetic at haggling and stallkeepers sense this somehow. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I've successfully persuaded someone to significantly lower an item's price. It seems this is one thing that I don't have in common with many of my friends, who are formidable to behold when it comes to haggling (among other things). Take for example one of my girlfriends. If she sees something she likes, she'll just give it a quick look or a cursory touch, never letting on that she's interested in it. She'll ask the price in an offhanded sort of way. No matter how cheap the given price already is and no matter how small the item (it's just an ashtray, for crying out loud!) she'll turn up her nose and give a slightly disdainful sniff, as if suspecting the stallkeeper was pulling a fast one on her. Then she'll glance at the coveted item once more, turn on her heels, and make as if about to exit the stall. Predictably, the poor owner will follow her and ask her the price she's willing to pay. After a couple of minutes of haggling, she'll walk out with the said item in her hand and grinning like a fool.

Now this friend in question is hardly a member of the urban poor. She's a lawyer who's a full partner in a firm and she has backpacked through Europe twice (I still for the life of me can't understand why she insists on calling it backpacking when in fact she stayed at certain well-known hotels). But she's the quintessential haggler, one for whom the process of bargaining is much more thrilling than the act of buying itself.

Me? I'm a wuss at haggling. I used to make attempts at it, though. "100 pesos? I'll buy it for 80."

"100 really is the last price."

"Okay." Capitulation, thy name is Lizza.

When my friend heard about it, she laughed her ass off. "I would've gotten it for 50."

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