Sunday, 28 April 2013

Haggling

Haggling is much like the old hag depicted in Disney films; often deceptive, cruel, clever and always equipped with an ingenious plan of attack.

This popular means of negotiation is rife in Asia, integral to its culture and to your hope of a bargain. Without it you would be paying £30 for fake Ray Bans instead of £3. Coming from England, the land of excessive pleases and thank yous, this will inevitably come as a shock to the system. Do not be fooled ladies and gentlemen, knocking a couple of quid off the price is not success, try 50% and you'll be more on the mark. It's hard to know whether these market workers should go to business school or perform on the west end: their cut throat sales pitches and dead pan business faces followed by pleading puppy dog eyes are quite an art form. Yet 5 weeks into my South East Asian trip of a lifetime I mastered the following techniques:
1.) The 'did you just call me an idiot?' look. 
Best used at the start of the haggle, when you are offered an extortionately inflated price. The look is a mixture of shock, disbelief, offence, topped off with a subtle huff suggesting they can sod off. This usually results in a decent price drop on their behalf, and so the haggling commences...
2.) Repeating the price in 'teens' rather than 'tens'.
Again another great one to start off with. If you are genuinely shocked at how much it is then the chances are they are taking you for a fool. Use this to show you mean business.. 'thirteen?...oh..thirty..wow that IS expensive!!' 
3.) Purse preparation.
Always decide beforehand a price you would be happy to pay and make sure there is only that amount visible in your purse. This means you can use the ' oh well I only have X amount on me'. 
4.) The Bluff.
This is definitely my favourite. Can't get the price you want? Walk away! yeh yeh I know you want it really but this is your best way of showing your haggle rival that you are in control. The further you walk the lower they drop. 
CAUTION these techniques aren't fool proof, but they may just be your prince charming!

Stares and smiles

Being a hot white girl in South East Asia attracts stares. No I'm not being an arrogant Westerner, by hot I mean the temperature kind..sweaty. The kind of heat which results in a no brainer choice between wearing shorts and a t-shirt or passing out. Walking around with exposed white skin is like running through mass in a Devil costume! Without harping on about how infuriating it can be I will instead advise you this, SMILE. I assure you it's the best antidote to the sea of stares and the unashamed 'I know that you can see me but I'm going to stare at you anyway'. A 'yes what do you want?' look given in return is merely glossed over while you are looked up and down once again. A contest of who can stare the hardest becomes tiring when there are forty of them and one of you. But a sweet, innocent smile really seems to make them stop. Result!

The Long Haul

Having accepted the rapidly decreasing funds, inevitable homesickness, and food poisoning I have deduced that the two main banes of travelling are most definitely the outrageously long journeys and the uncomfortable, debilitating backpack. So I'm here offering a few tips on how to lighten the load, excuse the pun. 
Luggage
  • First listen when I say NO, a wheelie suitcase is not the way forward. We have all considered it, but a night arrival on a rain flooded island made of mud and sand will have you cursing yourself that your neat, compact, easy wheeler hasn't got two big straps to fix it onto your back to escape the torrent of filth. You will find your way into these problematic situations and you will realise why backpackers are called backpackers and not suitcasers. 

  • Clich├ęd golden rule.. Pack light. By light I don't mean two pairs of jeans instead of five, I mean.. Do you actually need jeans? At present my backpack is still bulging despite my three ruthless cleansing sessions. You may treat yourself to a bargain t-shirt or bottle of booze, you may adopt clothing from a fellow traveller's chuck away session, you may savour ticket stubs as souvenirs. Your backpack WILL grow. My all knowing wisdom suggests to start off as light as humanly possible. Remember the majority of what you want to pack you can buy over there. Try not to ignore this advice like I did or you will spend far too much of your budget posting back beloved items of clothing you will never need, cannot bear to throw and would not give away. 
Journeys
I am writing this advice on a two day train journey from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok so this is as fresh as it gets...
  • Prepare for arctic conditions on trains and coaches. Though you may initially welcome the icy breeze gushing from the vent above, after an hour or so you will be dreaming of a blanket and a warm fire. So as well as your compulsory iPod and earplugs pack a hoody and trousers in your day pack. 
  • Bring gallons of water! If you don't you will end up grouchy and dehydrated or paying prices so inflated they could probably fly you to your destination.
  • Bring snacks! I don't care if you're trying to lose your beer belly, after watching everyone else munching down lays crisps and Oreos you will want them. 
  • Delve into a good book or watch something on your laptop/iPad/phone. Make sure you have lots to do to fill the time and stop you clock watching.
  • Take a travel pillow everywhere you go. Invest in a comfy one, not a cheap blow up plastic one which will melt onto your face. My mum bought me one as a travelling present and it is my best friend on journeys! 
  • Make sure you have some cash on you. This is my current mistake, planning my money so well that I have no ringgits left leaving Malaysia, but forgetting to pick up any Thai baht. Consequently I am being forced to watch a group of smug Thai's tucking into their hot chicken and rice while my stomach grumbles like my hungry boyfriend beside me.