Posted by: Sam Olsen | January 27, 2013

Shopping fun

 

The Chinese man with a broken front tooth and several unshaven chins cheerily greeted me as I came into his shop. I was after a specific bit of electronica but was absolutely unsure how to say it in Cantonese. I tried my luck.

 

“Do you have multi HDMI adapters?” I asked, perhaps pushing the linguistic boundaries a touch.

 

“H…D…M…I?” he replied, slower than a man on his deathbed.

 

“Yes, that’s right. An adapter, for two cables. One socket, two cables.” I held up two fingers and started pushing them into an imaginary socket before I realised that there was extreme room for misinterpretation. I put my hands quickly down.

 

“H…D…M…I? Two cable?”

 

“Yes that’s right, two cables, one socket. Do you have one?”

 

He looked at me still, his eyes unblinking, his smile unwavering.

 

“H.D.M.I”. A bit quicker this time.

 

“HDMI.” Faster yet.

 

“So you have an HDMI adapter for two cables?” Almost there…

 

“HDMI adapter? No, no have it. Try somewhere else.”

 

With that he waved his arm and went back to reading the paper, leaving me to do nothing but walk out, defeated.

 

The thing is, shopping experiences in Hong Kong are often quite infuriating like this. It’s almost as if they see a Gweilo and look to have some sport, like a particularly cunning cat playing with a small white mouse. On the other hand, sometimes the experience can be rather sweet.

 

I headed out into Caine Rd, a long sinuous street that caps the Mid-Levels and lies at the bottom of our building, to do some late Saturday afternoon shopping. If you want to know, I was still after an electrical appliance, but this time it was an extension cable., so nice and simple.

 

Just at the junction of Caine and Peel is the Wing Ying electrical and water store. Given that these two elements are not natural bed – or even bath – fellows, it seemed a strange combination, but it looked a well-stocked enough establishment. As I walked in the shopowner nodded at me, whilst a woman that had been sitting at his side leapt up. I say leapt, but it was actually more of a slow, stick-assisted rise as she was in her 80s. Dressed in a thick orange puffer jacket, with grey hair held in place by a slide,  she tottered over to me, but said not a word.

 

Knowing that many elderly Chinese, particularly low-end shopkeepers, are not quite on a par with Stephen Fry when it comes to mastery of the English language, I was wondering how I could avoid an HDMI conversation and actually leave with what I needed. I had an advantage as I could actually see what I wanted – a huge eight-plug beast more usually found at the winner of Essex’s largest domestic Christmas lights display – and I made sure I did more pointing than talking.

 

Sure enough I soon had the plastic bar in my hand and walked over to the cashier counter. As I handed over my money, using both hands of course, I did what I always do with the more senior of Chinese people and gave a sort of gentler nod of respect.

 

The old woman, who had by this time gingerly made her way back to her husband’s side, pointed at me, gave a little giggle, and cried “Very good! He nice polite boy!” The man thought this funny enough to give the desk a couple of good slaps and give off a snort or two. “Yes, very polite” she continued to mumble as she handed me the change.

 

I actually felt quite honoured to have made a good impression, although they may just have been actually laughing at me – who knows. They certainly had an animated conversation and pointed several times in my direction as I headed out. If only all shopping could be as cordial as this.

 

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