Monday, November 24, 2008
(Based on a true story).
JANE CHANG, an American, is browsing the toy section of the Shanghai #1 Department Store. A SHOPGIRL, in a navy blue skirt and blazer ensemble sees her from afar and slowly approaches. Shopgirl, in a blunt red-guard bob, is humble and earnest, but slightly tentative, like a countryside girl in the big city.
Shopgirl (in Chinese): These cars are very popular.
Jane Chang (in American Chinese): I'm just looking.
(Shopgirl flicks the switch on one of the cars. It flashes like a disco with upbeat music.)
Shopgirl: So many people like this.
Jane Chang: Do you have something without music?
Shopgirl: Over here. All of these don't have music. This one. The doors open.
Jane Chang: That one is nice.Shopgirl: BMW. And look, it goes.
(Shopgirl kneels on the ground, revs the car backwards and then lets it rip.)
Jane Chang: O! That's pretty. I like how it is red and a 'convertible' (in English), ah, open. Can I see? How much is this?
Shopgirl: 147 yuan.
Jane Chang: And how about this one. The VW Beetle police car.
Shopgirl: 158 yuan.
Jane Chang: I mean, does it go too?
Shopgirl: Yah, yah. Look.
(She kneels again, revs the car backwards and lets it rip.)
Jane Chang: Can I try?
(Jane Chang tries. It goes. She tries again. It goes again.)
Shopgirl: The doors don't open on that one.
Jane Chang: That's OK. I want both of these.
Shopgirl: O. They don't have lights or music.
Jane Chang: I know.
Shopgirl: I have to make sure. Because there are people who buy this kind of car, and then when they get home, there is no light or music, and then they come back and yell at me for having no light or music. (She's a li'l teary)
Jane Chang: They couldn't exchange?
Shopgirl (immediately sober): We don't exchange.
Jane Chang: Even if they have a receipt.
Shopgirl: We don't exchange.
Jane Chang: What if they call the manager?
Shopgirl: He will tell them that all sales are final.
Jane Chang: All sales?
Shopgirl: That is our policy.
(Jane Chang looks at the red convertible BMW and the VW Beetle police car.)
Jane Chang: I want one more.
Shopgirl: How about the one with light and music.
Jane Chang: It's for my nephew. He is going to be three years old, so I want to get him three cars. Or how about this truck. He likes trucks.
Shopgirl: The back opens. Or how about this oil tanker. But the back doesn't open. This one has ice cream on it.
Jane Chang: My sister doesn't want her child to eat too many sweets.
Shopgirl: This one has fruit on it.
Jane Chang: How much?
Shopgirl: 78 yuan.
Jane Chang: Good.
Shopgirl: The truck doesn't move. You have to push it by yourself. The other two can move by themselves, but the truck you have to push. By yourself.
Jane Chang: Yes, I understand.
Shopgirl: There are customers that think the truck can move by itself, and when they get home, it doesn't move by itself, and then they come to the store and yell at me, that it doesn't move by itself.
Jane Chang: I want these three.
Shopgirl. These...three. (She takes the shelf tags of each of the three.) Your nephew is lucky.
Jane Chang: I can't be there for his birthday party, so I have to send a good gift. From Ah-yi.
Shopgirl: Ha, Ah-yi.
(They walk over to the shopgirl counter. Shopgirl starts filling out forms, many forms, very diligently. Jane looks at a Mini Cooper while waiting. She picks it up and examines it.)
Jane Chang: How much is this one?
Shopgirl: O that one doesn't have a tag.
Jane Chang: My nephew knows this car. It's one of his favorites. When we are driving on the freeway, he excitedly shouts 'Look Ah-yi! Mini Cooper!' and points to it. He knows it. I want to buy this one instead of the BMW.
Shopgirl (with a bit of nervous fear): I've already filled out the form for the red car.
Jane Chang: You can fill out another form.
Shopgirl: We can't sell that one. It doesn't have a tag.
Jane Chang: Where is the tag?
Shopgirl: There is no tag.
(Jane notices that Shopgirl is sort of shaking and uncomfortable. She puts the Mini Cooper back on the shelf.)
Jane Chang: Well the Mini Cooper in real life is smaller than the VW Beetle. And this Mini Cooper is bigger than that VW Beetle. It might confuse my nephew. I'll stay with the BMW. (Shopgirl continues to fill out forms, imperceptibly sighing with relief). Why do you display the car if you don't sell it?
Shopgirl: It's new stock.
Jane Chang: You Chinese have a funny way of doing business. Someone wants to buy your new stock, which is probably more expensive, yes?
Shopgirl: The tag isn't made yet.
Jane Chang: Just because there is no tag number to copy for your form, you don't want to make money. But you still display it to show.
Shopgirl: I can't do anything. It's our instruction.
(She continues to fill out forms.)
Jane Chang: Do you have a box or something to wrap it with?
Shopgirl: O. They come in a big box. I don't have a box for each car. Only the big box which they all came in. We don't have enough room to store them if each car had it's own box.
Jane Chang: That is so opposite of the U.S. There, it's all about packaging. The prettier the box, the more they can charge.
(Shopgirl goes to the storage cabinet.)
Shopgirl: See, it's just one big box.
Jane Chang: That's OK. You are saving paper.
Shopgirl: I can give you gift bags. These.
(They are 3 Burberry-patterned gift bags.)
Jane Chang: Well, these are nice. But I just need a box to send to the U.S.
Shopgirl: I have this big bag.
(It is a large Burberry-patterned gift bag).
Jane Chang: Yes, the big one is fine. How much?
Shopgirl: It's free.
Jane Chang: For the 3 cars.
Shopgirl: 283 yuan.
(Jane hands her three 100 yuan bills.)
Shopgirl: Please take this slip and pay at that station behind the stereo case.
Jane Chang: O, ah, over at...
Shopgirl: Straight ahead, behind the stereo case. Just go straight.
Jane goes. Shopgirl wipes each of the cars and then carefully puts each in the big Burberry-patterned bag. Jane comes back. Shopgirl takes two copies of the forms and then gives Jane hers.)
Jane Chang: Can I have these three small bags too? My nephew loves to play grocery store.
Shopgirl: Do you want me to put it in the big bag?
Jane Chang: Yes, thanks.
(Jane takes the big bag.)
Jane Chang: Thank you for your help.