Electronics Shopping in Beijing

We need a printer. I also needed a computer case, but my cousin was able to help me procure one. Granted, it’s MUCH smaller than the one I was using in the States, so it barely fit everything I wanted. I had to take some “creative” measures to get all the parts in. But it works, and that’s the important thing. I also needed a keyboard, but found a random one sitting in a box on the floor of the weird little “storage” room where the water heater is. I still need a mouse despite my father’s efforts at having a wireless keyboard with a built-in mouse to me; I couldn’t get the damned thing to sync, and I’d like to think I’m not computer slob. I’d like a better monitor, because we’re using an old one that my cousin pawned to me. I’m thinking of just hooking it up to the TV, which means we’ll need an s-video cable because the TV’s a little old and doesn’t accept HDMI or DVI.

So…we need:

Printer – I’d prefer a laser printer, black and white only as it’s more utilitarian than anything else.
S-Video cable – short length, maybe two feet at most.
Wireless keyboard/mouse – there’s gotta be a good bundle, though this is China…
Bigger computer case (ultimately) – everything does fit right now, but again, ultimately, I’d like a few more terabytes of data.
Speakers – um…obvious reasons.

The place to go for electronics and such in Beijing is ZhongGuanCun (should I adopt the Chinese practice of leaving out spaces…?). It’s in the Haidian district, you can take the newly opened line 4 subway to right in the center of it. It’s a large “square” for lack of a better term, of “shopping malls” filled with nothing but electronics. And I’m talking about 12 floors of electronics. The specific place to go to in this specific part of town is HiLon (as it is on the side of the building), or HaiLong (as I’m pretty sure it ACTUALLY is), NOT Hilton (as I thought it said when we were walking towards it).

We were wandering around, looking at Tsinghua and Beida, the two schools Maria wants to apply to for her MBA. They’re all in the same general area. As soon as we started approaching ZhongGuanCun, you realized you were walking into an electronics oriented district when the street vendors stopped selling food and socks and began selling computer parts! Literal pieces of torn apart computers, on display, with people rooting through motherboards and hard drives on the side of the street! Monitors strapped to the back of bicycles! People sitting inside cubicles made up of printer boxes on the sidewalks, saran wrapped together, hawking their wares (should I spell that with a “z?”)! Suffice it to say, we were feeling adventurous. I gotta tell ya, my adventurism took a nose dive as soon as we stepped inside that monstrosity of a shopping mall.

First thing that happened, we were accosted by four different people, all very outwardly friendly, asking me if I wanted to buy a laptop, or what I wanted to buy, or “why don’t we just go and chat about what it is you’re looking for.” They followed us to the escalators they were so persistent…And I’ll be the first to admit, my Chinese is not that great. It’s getting better, with time, but it’s been a while and this new vocabulary is absolutely beyond me at the moment, though I take pride in remember how to say “printer” in Chinese: da yin ji, or “machine that strikes ink.” Then we were accosted on the escalator, though before I threw up my hands in utter frustration, I noted this guy was wearing a HiLon vest which meant that unlike the other people, he was actually there to help me and not sell things to me. I asked him where the printers were, he said sixth floor.

Maria had the very practical suggestion that we find the little stuff first, like a mouse, cables, etc. So we picked the fourth floor that said “Peripherals” and began to wander. You have never seen so much electronics in your life! It makes you wonder just where the hell they got all this stuff! It’s like going into a Costco in the States, and seeing the pallets of alcohol, and you think, do they really need to sell alcohol in pallets? Well here’s pallets of printers, hard drives, mountains of cables just threw together. Completely incomprehensible in essence. We couldn’t find anything. And the sales agents, always asking me if I wanted this or that, or what I wanted, or “why can’t we just chat;” a real high pressure situation actually.

So we found a lady selling mice, found the cheapest one for 150 RMB. I said I’ll give her 100 RMB because that’s the price my cousin said I should expect to pay for a mouse. She went down in increments of 10 RMB before finally agreeing to my price as we were walking away. This, incidentally, is the standard price haggling strategy. I still didn’t want it though. I wanted to see more.

We found people selling printers, for exorbitant prices, way above US ones. We wandered around some more, found a Brother HL2410 laser printer, the same model I had in the States, selling for 1100 RMB. We found it selling for 800 RMB elsewhere. I got into a discussion with the guy about why it was more expensive than in the States. I said I could get it there for 560 RMB, which I think is actually accurate, about 80$. We got into a discussion about special “premiums” to insure that the product is genuine, that their storefront was the most “honest” in the entire HiLon complex. We talked about international trade even, if you can believe, and how his theory is that the US/Japan relationship is better than the Japan/China one so the premiums on printers is less. Whatever. First he asked me if I wanted a receipt.

Now to clarify, the receipt he’s talking about, “fa piao,” is not the actual receipt that you get with your every day purchases. This is a official government document that indicates that you spent such and such buying so and so. It’s for businesses who want to keep track of their expenses through the year and submit them for tax purposes and such, and it actually costs the party ISSUING them money. There’s even a rampant underground of people selling fraudulent “receipts,” not something I personally condone. But the point is, if you don’t need one or don’t want one, you can usually get a better price by indicating so.

I was completely unwilling to pay what he was suggesting. So I walked away. He countered by asking if I am buying that day (another point of negotiation: they can give you a better deal if you buy it “here and now”), and I said yes, so he gave me another 20 RMB off. So we’re at 780 RMB, still like, 200 RMB or 30$ more than I’m willing to pay. We weren’t desperate, so we left.

We wandered around some more, looked at some wireless keyboards. I kept scanning everything to get a sense of what the prices for things are, and you know, in general, they were either the same as US prices, or a tiny bit more expensive. You can save on the tax because there isn’t any, so that probably evens the prices out.

I was sweating then. And actually reasonably so because it is warm in the building, but I wanted out. I decided I’ll just tell my cousin what I’m looking for, give him a price range, and have him deal with it for me. Or at least, I’ll have him come along next time so I won’t have to navigate this maze on my own. Mind you, HiLon is just one of MANY such malls in the area. It’s just too much for one with limited Chinese vocabulary to navigate.

But that doesn’t change the fact that we still need to go electronics shopping. Hmmmmm. I wonder how long we can survive without it…I will revisit this topic later, upon our eventual success.



emily | October 21st, 2009 

Ooo, I want to see pics of giant mountains of mice and printers! Would be very entertaining but perhaps would have made an awkward situation more awkward for you :/

sean | October 21st, 2009 

I’ll get some for you! I wonder if they’ll mind if I take random photos? We’ll be going back anyways ’cause I didn’t get what we needed heh…You get to be the first non-author commenter Emily! Woot! Talk to you soon elsewhere, or here; I’m diggin’ you reading our blog.

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