Every day in another culture offers the frisson of adventure, even if it is merely based on the fact that I am out of my own. Every day there are such a host of peculiar and unusual things going on the heart and mind are continually refreshed with that sense of wonder we too easily lose when we are caught in our humdrum routines.
A ten year old Chen was the delight this morning. I snuck across to the park after breakfast to read some notes and take photos. Up he strode with his mate Pren and struck up a pleasant conversation in passably good English. Pren had a nylon line and his plan was to go fishing before school. Chen carried a little shoe shine box but the pitch I was expecting took a long time to come. We chatted about Australia, the size of fish in the pond over our shoulder, the going price of a two kilo fish , kangaroos and school before he offered a shine. I asked him “how much” but knew it was not going to be as easy as his counter “You tell me the price.”
Cunning imp – but don’t misunderstand me. I enjoyed his confidence and skill and the soft sell approach he had taken. And actually underneath it all he is just a downright pleasant lad with an equally pleasant mate. All shiny and bright(and sans the inserts he tried to slip in) the negotiations began. To his raised eyebrows and cheeky eyes I offered
His face fell, he pulled up his T-shirt and sucked in his tummy and the act started, with the English now very bastardised.
“Velly hungy, Velly hungy baby. No food.”
I laughed out loud and he sucked in his tummy again after taking a deep breath. Now an added layer of whining voice.
“Velly hungy, Velly poor. Velly hungy baby.’
Pause. Me laughing.
“Baby velly hungy. No food two days.”
His little pantomime was superb and through laughter I told him
“Hey, let’s haggle. You don’t have to put on this act, or tell me a story. The shoes are great, let’s work out a price.”
His fat brown tummy popped out again, he looked at me in surprise, took a deep breath, pulled up his diaphragm and tried again.
“Velly poor. Baby very hungy.”
“Stop telling me stories and give me a price.”
“Baby velly hungry, two hundred thousand.”
“It’s a great shine, one hundred thousand.
“Baby poor and velly hungy.
“No price while you tell me stories.”
The tummy popped out and he pulled his T-shirt down.
“Two hundred thousand.”
“No way. One hundred thousand. Pren here thought fifty thousand was a good deal. ( I am sure there will be some words about that later). Here, take one hundred thousand.”
Pren accepted the cash but Chen was not done yet.
“Paper, scissors, rock!”
“Paper, scissors, rock.”
“Ah, you want to compete for some more money?”
Okay, for fifty thousand it’s paper, scissors rock?”
He nodded. “That’s okay.”
“On the count of three then, for fifty thousand.”
“One, two, three…”
I threw out a rock and his open hand flashed paper.
“Yeaaaah.” He danced a little pirouette on the spot and laughed at the sky. I had to laugh too and handed over the fifty thousand.
We shook hands and they wandered off to look for fishing spots and other victims. A more pleasant and entertaining way to haggle I have yet to experience. Entertainment and shiny shoes all for the grand total of $7.00.
(Ho Chi Minh City)
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