The Price of Being a Foreigner in Asia

July 2, 2009 19 Comments »

I was out with a friend today shopping for camera equipment for my upcoming trip to Mongolia. I went to a local little camera ‘stall’ near/in The Tax Department Store (I won’t even get into what a terrible name that is for a store…that could be a whole post on it’s own). I was looking for a cheap shutter release for my camera as I intend to take landscape shots on a tripod. The store clerk said yes they had some, but they weren’t Canon. I said no problem as I’m looking for something cheap that will work.

Actually remember, I’m in Vietnam, so the conversation was more like….

Me: “You have no camera shutter button for canon camera?” accompanied by charade type gesturing of a off camera shutter button.
Him: “Have. No Canon”
Me: “I see?”

A woman went over and got a small box out of a case and brought it over towards my friend and me. As she was doing so my friend happened to notice that as the female clerk was bringing over the small box, she was taking off the price sticker and throwing it away. He said to me, “She’s taking off the price, but I saw that it was 300,000.” I was impressed by his ‘spy-like’ ways. I expected him to then say “I’m Bond, James Bond…”

We inspected the off-brand shutter release and tested it on my friend’s camera…all good. Now, on to the fun part – negotiating. Everything is a negotiation in Asia. I asked the man “How much?”

He thought about it for a bit and then said $30USD. For those of you who aren’t intimately familiar with the Dong to Dollar exchange rates, $30Us is about 525,000Dong. Of course this pissed me off. My friend quickly said, We saw her take off the price tag, it was 300,000 Dong. Ahhh – Score: us 1, mean camera store man 0. He looked at us, smiled, gave a bit of a chuckle and said, “Ok – 300,000”. Sold.

Does that make your skin crawl? Five months ago I would have walked away and tried to make a point as I would have been so pissed that he was trying to take advantage of us. However, after living here for 9 months, I guess I’m used to it. My blood doesn’t boil any longer when things like this happen…but it does still get warm.


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