How Low Can You Go?

Five ploys street vendors use to steal your money and five ways to keep it.

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With thousands of Olympic tourists flooding out of China this week, now may be a good time to book a trip east. With the streets relatively quiet—well, as quiet as they get in Beijing—it is likely a great time to hit the markets and find a bargain. If you're adventurous and impulsive enough to strike out, a good place to start is the Silk Market in central Beijing, a sprawling collection of vendors hawking knockoff handbags, clothing, shoes and cultural knickknacks.

For a first time visitor, the atmosphere at the Silk Market or any other large market in China can be intimidating. Taking my visiting mother on a shopping spree a couple of years ago made me laughingly recall that scene from Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video. You know the scene, the one where he and Ola Ray were surrounded by ghouls and every step they took in any direction just brought them closer to a potential predator.

"Hello, ladies! Look, look! Do you like Dior? We have Louis We-ton. Cucci? You want Cucci? Come in, pretty ladies. Have a look, look."

I had become a fierce bargainer during my five years in China. My mother, on the other hand, crumbled under the pressure.

"Madam, I will give you a special friend price," a vendor called out, brandishing a handful of wallets. Of course, her "special friend" price was about 10 times what it should have been.

I stepped in, taking my mother by the arm. "No, no, no, let's go."

I offered $10, instead of $100, and was near closing the deal, when my mother stepped in offering nearly four times more.

Naturally, the vendor accepted her offer immediately. I gritted my teeth and shook my head.

My mother--a lioness who went toe-to-toe with my fourth grade teacher for threatening a failing grade over poor handwriting, the same mother warrior who wanted to sue a former ballet teacher for racism, the crusader who toyed with protesting at my college graduation ceremony when administrators said my matriculation might be delayed on a technicality--turned to mush before a woman with plastic Louis Vuitton wallets.

If the fierce psychological warfare needed to haggle in Beijing were an Olympic sport, most vendors in China would be weighed down with gold medals. To save yourself some frustration and humiliation, here are the five most common ploys market vendors use to get your money and five ways you can combat them.

1. "I can give you a little discount. How much will you pay?"