Photo of USTDC courtesy of Les Duffin

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Shrewd Haggling

Shopping in Taipei was a contest of wills between merchant and customer. Much like traffic laws, there were posted rules (asking prices) and de facto rules (actual prices). To pay the asking price was not only a breach of negotiation etiquette, but it also identified the buyer as an idiot.

During my first couple of weeks in town, I wandered into a small furniture store not far from the hostel. There in front of me was the most beautiful coffee table and end table set that I'd ever seen. Beautifully inlaid woods with marble set into their tops, heavy brass hardware -- they were gorgeous!

The guy explained that the woods were teak and camphor, though they could have been plywood and fiberboard for all I knew. He then opened the beautifully carved doors of the coffee table and showed me the recessed bolts that held its three sections together. They could be easily removed so that the table could be shipped through the APO (US Postal Service for overseas military). The end tables were exactly at the size limit for postal shipment.

I knew then that I absolutely had to have the set. "How much?" I asked. He probably noticed my rapid breathing and replied, "$120 US."

Hey...wait a second here; I thought furniture was supposed to be cheap in Taiwan! "How about $70?" I countered.

He laughed. I laughed. He stuck with the asking price. My drooling probably didn't strengthen my position.

I went back a couple of weeks later with the same result. I dropped by every month or so after that. We were old friends by then. Somewhere along the line the price went up to $130. Not what you'd call real progress.

About two weeks before I was scheduled to leave Taipei I made one more trip to the shop. I casually looked around at the other items there, but he knew what I really wanted. I told him about my poor wife who had been holding the family together back in the States while I was in Taipei, and how much I wanted her to have something as nice as that set. "So, what's your best price on this set...for my wife...who really deserves it?"

He paused for a few seconds, made that sucking sound through his teeth and said,"Okay, just for you: $120 US!" Back to the original price. He knew he had me.

I shipped the set home and it graced our living room for the next thirty years or so until we gave it to our daughter and son-in-law, who still have it today. Lovingly cared for over the years, it's still a beautiful set and we've been pleased to own it.

But I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the locals still laugh about the Air Force guy who paid way too much for a coffee table set back in 1974.

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