Tiger Leaping Gorge: Worth It

So I cheated a little. I should get a t-shirt that says, “I climbed Tiger Leaping Gorge,” but with an asterisk noting that I took a 30 minute horse ride up the steepest part called the “28 bends.” I did make it about a quarter to a third way up the 28 bends before deciding to pay a Naxi local for the use of his horse for what could have been maybe 2 hours plus of uphill hiking. Maybe I should be proud that I bargained hard-core for the horse (I played the “student” card)?

When I reached peak at 2600 meters, a hobbit-like man charged 8RMB to people go out on this extended perch to take a photo of the gorgeous view. Now, it was free to look – such a tease – but just one photograph would cost you because he “made the path to the perch himself.” I doubt that he made the path himself, but even if he did, the land is public. I can’t figure out if this hobbit-man guarding his tourist-path is a clever chap or a cheat. Do you think I paid him or not?

On my second-day, I ended up hiking with an odd-collection of Asian people: a man from Shanghai, a Chinese mother-daughter pair, and a lone Korean girl. This group was so preoccupied with finding cheap transportation for the ride back to Lijiang that they ended up arguing for an hour at a rest-stop instead of actually continuing hiking.

What do the above three examples tell you about China?

The Chinese have a fantastic knack for monetizing (to use a Google Adsense term) everything. Identify a need and charge for it. Bathrooms? Internet? Napkins? Toilet Paper? Pay up.

Everything has a price and nothing is priceless. Want to bang the huge drum at the Drum Tower in Xi’an? Sure, 10RMB. Want to see a tigers attack and eat a cow at the zoo? Sure, 1400RMB.

And the result is a culture obsessed with comparative cost. It’s not really that much-criticized American consumer culture where people buy, buy, buy. Chinese people love to compare cost. It is: how much did you pay versus how much did I pay. The relative cost is much more important than the actual cost. As long as I got it cheaper than the next person, I can feel good. And this is built into a culture where prices are not fixed. You bargain everything.

Some people hate bargaining but one must admit that it is a luxury to have the knowledge that everything is negotiable. If you are at a restaurant and you like the tea cups, you probably can buy them if you ask. In America, you ask to buy a restaurant’s dishware and you might be thrown out.

So for kicks, here’s how I made out: I paid 40RMB for a horse compared to the standard 100RMB for white-people and 60 for non-white-people, so said my horse guide. I paid 5RMB compared to the 8RMB that my American companions paid to the hobbit-man, according to my ex-pat English teachers I met at the hostel. The Shanghai man said he paid 5RMB too. I ended up sticking with the Asian companions and paying 21RMB for a trip back to Lijiang compared to the 25RMB I paid going to Tiger Leaping Gorge.


3 thoughts on “Tiger Leaping Gorge: Worth It”

  1. United Airlines is learning from the Chinese… and announced that they will be charging $20 for a second checked bag (if you don’t belong to their elite mileage program)… I think the Americans are getting to bargain more now… you can do that at some of the retail places, like Best Buy and offer them something below the listed price and they will likely come back with a lower than listed price. Of course, this may only be done if you are buying a large ticket item… like a car or expensive electronics.

    BTW, since you are half way between white and non-white, shouldn’t you get a half way price? or are you more of a curiosity to them and you end up paying less for that?


  2. Wow, sounds like you’re getting pretty good at bargaining. It’s a skill I really should work at. I do think bargaining opportunities in the US are mainly limited to expensive items (and always in places I don’t expect to see people bargain). I watched my grandmother bargain at an expensive jewelry store once — but not in the traditional way of trying to lower the price. Instead, she bargained to get extras — by telling them she thought the price was too high on a necklace , she was able to get them to include a pair of diamond earrings for free. I think I’m going to ask her for lessons.

  3. Hi! I’m glad to hear your savvy-ness is still being well exercised over in the Motherland. At least we know where we are getting our street-smarts… our Asian side… although, I think your mom had a point about the half-way price… at the very least shouldnt we be half as savvy as the full Asians? I have to admit that when you first asked if we (the readers) thought you paid the Hobbit, I thought you did since I figured you’d be impressed by his craftiness. : )

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