December 26, 2008
Shopping for Jade
The Taipei Weekend Jade Market is an earthy weekly bazaar located under the elevated stretch of Jian Guo at Ren Ai Road, and?is a great place to spend an afternoon searching for trinkets, oddities and more than a few hidden treasures. With a bit of shrewd bargaining, you can find a sleigh-full of holiday goodies without draining your bank account.
Like the nearby flower market and antique market, the Weekend Jade Market is something of a Taipei institution. Vendors begin staking out their spots in the wee hours of Saturday morning when the rest of the city is making its ways home from a night out on the town. By sun up, the cave-like interior of the market is filled with shoppers and so it will remain until after sunset.
Folding card tables line the interior of the market, each covered with an array of jewelry, beads and figurines. Felt cloths and wooden boxes are spread with semi-precious stones and settings. Blue turquoise, pink quartz and, of course, the seemingly endless shades of ubiquitous green jade lend a rainbow quality to the whole chaotic scene.
My visit to the market came on a recent Saturday afternoon. I was hoping to make short work of the female column of my Christmas shopping list. Being on something of a tight budget, the precaution was taken of bringing along a Taiwanese friend--a woman whose negotiating skills could reduce but the most stalwart of local merchants to a mass of quivering protoplasm. I was pulling out the big guns, so to speak, and would soon be quite happy that I did.
At 3 p.m. the market is comfortably busy, crowded with shoppers and packed with a sometimes withering array of items. Who knew you could make so much from a simple green stone? Some vendors specialize in decorative trinkets, beads and curios priced anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand NT dollars. Others seem to gravitate toward the higher end of the price and quality scale with items like the solid jade hoop bracelets worn by so many Taiwanese women, which can fetch anywhere from NT$3,000 to NT$30,000.
Complicating matters is the fact that prices are rarely, if ever, posted. Rather, they are hidden in the mind of the merchant and only revealed after the would-be buyer's spending capacity and relative gullibility have been properly sized up. Plunging into such a maelstrom of unbridled commerce can be understandably intimidating to the uninitiated. But don't let this dissuade you. Just be ready to bargain, haggle, wheel and deal, and do whatever it takes to get the price you are looking for. If a particular vendor won't budge, then go on to the next one. There are plenty to choose from.
I was ready for some wheeling and dealing myself. I had my eye on a couple of nice jade necklaces. Quoted NT$2,000 for one, I was preparing to unleash my withering counteroffer when the jab of an elbow delivered to my rib cage by my diminutive companion signaled that I should shut the heck up and let her handle it.
She shook her head in disbelief as she sized up the necklace. I noticed a slight smile cross her face as she glanced back at the now visibly unnerved vendor, as if to say "well met". She was like a duelist drawing her saber.
"What? How could I? Surely you jest…?" I was ready for the sob story about expensive private schools and a sick uncle.
"How about 1,700?," was the actual counter offer that was fired back at us.
Nicely done, I thought. Stand fast.
"Would you consider 1,500? It's really a beautiful piece, nearly as beautiful as you."
Ah, here come the compliments. He's done for.
And so it went, until…
"Ok, NT$1,000? That's as low as I can possibly go, really. I'll have to pull my youngest out of his English class, you realize."
"Done and done."
And it was more of the same for the remainder of the afternoon. Every time I attempted to strike a deal of my own, the haggle queen intervened, usually getting a much better price than my own target. Frustrating? Only a bit. My wounded pride mended itself quite quickly when I realized that I finished off my shopping list for a fraction of what I thought I would be spending. I also learned some valuable lessons from watching a master negotiator at work.
Lesson 1: Never settle for the quoted price (see below for the exception). This is one of those opportunities to try out your own master negotiating skills. Some vendors--most I would guess--are more than willing to give you a fair price. We found a good target is about 60% of the quoted price. Sometimes you may do better than this. Usually, the less valuable the item is, the smaller the percentage that you can expect to knock off the quoted price. Beads and items in the NT$100-200 range can seldom be haggled over.
Lesson 2: If you are going to buy a high quality jade item, bring along someone who knows jade. Color, clarity, opaqueness, even the tone (in the case of jade bracelets) the stone makes when tapped can (apparently) reveal clues to the quality of the material. I, admittedly, would have been lost without a little help from my faithful shopping advisor.
Lesson 3: Have fun! This is particularly important when bargaining with the vendors. I have found that a light-hearted approach will often garner greater rewards than a hard-nosed one. If you have a good laugh and the vendor does as well, you may be surprised just how quickly they accept your offer. If you feel that there is no chance getting a vendor to budge on price, keep looking. As I said before, there are plenty of other vendors to choose from.
Lesson 4: There is more to the Weekend Jade Market than jade. Sure, the semi-precious gemstone is the star attraction, but that's not all that can be found. Antique coins, silk bags (perfect for storing that new jade bracelet), crystals, turquoise, glass and wooden beads, and more await the weekend treasure hunter.
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