Two Bowls for the Price of One

Tibet – July 2006

I am not a very good haggler. My general approach is quite simple: After asking for the price, if it is good, I buy; if it’s too high, I walk away. This often leads to the seller haggling on my behalf until the price drops low enough for me to buy. It’s not sophisticated, but it has served me well. Though I do need to be able to walk away for this method to work.

Lhasa’s Barkhor is a public square and area of narrow streets located around Jokhang Temple. I’ve got an hour to kill before attending a chanting ceremony in the temple, so I wander about the stalls that line the narrow streets. In my wandering, I make a wrong turn in search of something cold to drink and end up down a very aggressive lane. I notice a man sitting in the middle of the road and, as I approach, he greets me and reaches out his hand. I greet him in return and shake his hand. Without letting go of my hand, I am led to his stall where he wants to know what I’d like to buy.

Seeing I am looking about for an exit, his grip tightens while another vendor comes up and holds my opposite shoulder. I’ve never been held in place while shopping before and figure I’m going to need to buy something to get out of this situation. I notice a singing bowl that I quite like and ask how much. The price is too high, but I can’t walk away, so I start to haggle. As the price begins to drop, another bowl is added and we’re back to the price we started at.

Sometime during our prolonged negotiations, another vendor has come and is now holding on to my elbow. As I start to get the price for the two bowls down, a mantra bracelet is added and we’re back to the original price. Starting to see the futility of my predicament, I accept this price as the original vendor has a lot more bowls and bracelets that could be used get back to that price. I advise him that I need to be let go in order to pay and all three relent. I am finally free and make my purchase.

I still have the first singing bowl and bracelet. The second bowl was donated to a Buddhist nun I knew at the time for her meditation center, which I had helped her move into. I also added a new tenet to my haggling method: No shaking hands.

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