Friday, September 15, 2006

The week - Part 2

I had to buy a suitcase. Not a good and expensive one just one of cheap generic kind that you see all over Asia. The ingredients are some wheels, a pull out handle, some of that fabric stuff, lots of cardboard, a zip or two and some seat belt but thinner type material with "Omega" or "Paris" or "Balrin" woven into it to make it look like a designer item.

A suitcase had broken in Poland and I was given instructions by that wife to buy one at the Pettah.

"I paid 2200 slr for 2 suitcases there last year so whatever you do make sure you don't pay more than that" she had barked before I left.

I had considered the very viable plan of going to PG Martin and paying about 6000 slr for a slightly better quality one and just lying about where I had bought it and how much it had cost, but this course of action, though not without merits, had a fatal flaw. If said item didn't fall apart after either one or two journeys then she would be onto me. The consequences could be painful and unpleasant. So I headed to the Pettah.

This was a job that I wanted to do as quickly as possible. I was in no mood to stroll around the area looking at all the traders' wares and being confronted every 2 yards by people trying to sell me stuff. Buy it, get back then carry on with my day was my general plan. But nothing in Sri Lanka is ever that easy and uncomplicated.

I walked out of my hotel and a tri shaw found me. A bad start, as I got stuck with the evil Mafiosa ringleader driver that hangs outside the hotel and organises the other 3 wheeler drivers.

I made a feeble attempt to establish a price with him. I know that this is a good way to begin any trip in a 3 wheeler and occasionally I actually pay the chap the figure we agreed. Usually I pay something closer to the original "Sudda" price he quoted me even though the agreed price is lower.

"How much?"

"Just pay me what you think, I'll take you there and wait and bring you back". says Don Trishaw.

Crafty bastard, he knew how to play me. This is a cunning move that forced me to guess what the journey is worth then of course adding a bit to absolutely ensure that I didn't pay too little. I knew full well that my original guesstimate will be far more than he would normally get but guilt, or the risk of it, is a powerful thing.

So off we chugged to the luggage bit of the Pettah. It's 9.30 AM and I'm in a hurry. He pulls into a gap and a pedestrian literally walks into the back seating area of the tri shaw because he was heading that way and hadn't seen it. In England there would have been a fight involving knives, gangs and Police because of this but in the Pettah everyone shrugs and gets on with life.

Into the first shop I go. The shopkeeper takes a glance at me and thinks all his wishes have come true. After a short icebreaker I manage to explain what I am looking for and three people are serving me and several more are watching proceedings.

A suitable suitcase is found, it looks good, there is a lot of plastic on it and it feels as if it will fall apart if dropped from a height of 2cm. It also has a "designer" name like Hochin or Gamma. Perfect.

"So how much for this one then?" I knew the score here and expected an opening price of about 2500 rupees.

"3900 rupees sir". He says.

Oh mother of god, this isn't going to be easy or quick. So I just tell him that he is way too high and has insulted me by asking so much and I'll go elsewhere. I meant it.

We to and fro for a good twenty minutes on this and I finally get him down to 2000 rupees. It's a slow and painful process and one that I didn't want to go through but, every time I try to leave the shop, he came back with an offer. At 2000 rupees I felt that we were getting somewhere. Then the tactical error came. I don't want to go somewhere else and this is beginning to feel like the haggling scene in Life of Brian. There is a win win scenario here and my brilliant mind has got it figured out. He wants 2000 rupees I think, I wouldn't mind a new rucksack too, so let's offer him 2000 for both.

But, before completing my SWOT analysis fully, before going through each of the 5 steps of the decision making process and before I had thought about what those mice with the moved cheese would have done, yes, I said it.

In 0.001 of a nanosecond there were 10,000 rucksacks on the floor blocking any potential escape and actually blocking any daylight too.

"This one Sir" he said, holding up a particularly pikey looking one with a vague star pattern and some writing on it, "is a genuine Benz one. It has full German engineering and quality."

This made me abandon the rucksack quest. It would have got far too complicated and I managed to steer our conversation back to the suitcase alone.

"Look, just give me your best price and, if it's too much then that's fine, I'll go next door." I pleaded with him.

"How much do you want to pay?"

"1500 rupees". Came my honest reply.

"Sir, for 1500 rupees I will make a loss but for you as it's my first sale of the day and that is good luck I'll give for 1800 rupees."

"Look" I pleaded again. "If you give it for 1500 rs I'll buy it now and go, I don't want to go everywhere."

I am plagued by guilt at this point, the 300 rupees we are haggling over wouldn't buy me a tasteless sandwich here in London. But I keep going, I am fighting for every tourist here and I owe it to all Londoners to get the best price. Or something like that.

"Sir, how much do you want to pay?"

"1500 rupees, I already told you."

Then he pulled off a stroke Tiger Woods would have been rather chuffed with. The end of my tether was about 15 minutes before, he knew he had a sale and was just playing with me, like a cat does with a mouse.

"Sir, I'll tell you, you have it for nothing. Take, have it for nothing."

He muttered something in Sinhala to one of the audience / staff. I laughed and said I couldn't take it for nothing but the stroke had been played, there was no going back. His sidekick took the suitcase and walked out of the shop and plonked it in the back of Don Trishaw's waiting wagon. This forced me to follow him, remove the case and take it back to him, all while telling him that I didn't want to pay nothing for it. He had the upper hand and we both knew it. Actually he had it from the moment I walked into his shop but I was in denial then.

"Sir 1600 rupees then, what's 100 rupees to fall out over?"

He was right, I parted with the 1600 rupees, about the price of a Tesco carrier bag, and then trundled off. Not before he had shown me how to set the combination lock to a number of my choice. We, that is me, the suitcase and Don Trishaw, went back to my hotel. I resisted Don's offers of weed and prostitutes and paid him, with some extra just in case he thought I was tight.

I took the case up to my room and immediately buggered the lock. It is now set to a 3 digit number and I don't know what the number is. 990 more attempts should just about see me crack it though.

There you have it, my second adventure in Colombo last week and it only took 3 hours and 20 minutes.
The suitcase got back to London with only one piece missing. It has now joined the other orphaned suitcases up in my attic.

It's a funny thing this haggling business. It's not really about getting a good price but more about enjoying the game. There was an English bloke on my flight back who proudly showed me a "label" T shirt, something like a fake Ralph Lauren, that he had "only" paid 1000 rupees for. Apparently the shopkeeper started at 2000 rupees but the bloke had got him all the way down to 1000.


I said nothing and smiled knowingly.

to be continued......


Anonymous said...

I discovered the wonders of Pettah during my sojurn in Sri Lanka last year and found any opportunity to go to Pettah.

Fabric, platic items.. cards .. all so cheap. we normally spend about Rs75000 on schools stuff for the charity kids from "normal" book stores but a trip to Pettah ensured we got the same for less than half that price.....

Pettah has some lovely books and crannies.. when it rains it is like a mudpit but other times it is wonderful.. Lovely duthc museum tucked away in a corner too.

Good book by Janet Cabraal Murder in the Pettah - read it is possible.

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Yep, read and enjoyed that book too. I found it to be very descriptive, it almost took me to Colombo.

Darwin said...

I really can't haggle. If I want it I pay the asking price, if not I don't buy it. But I rarely walk into a shop/mall without wanting something specific so I end up buying it anyway, and getting out asap because I want to get it over with. Quite the typical male attitude to shopping I reckon!

Did the tri-shaw driver haggle with you about the price at the end?

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

darwin - the trishaw driver didn't haggle but that waas all part of his method, I probably paid him about 4 times what he would have asked a local for!