By akiba


I’ve been getting some questions on why a calculator is included in the hackercamp package. There’s actually a pretty interesting story behind it. A lot of people new to the electronic markets in Hua Qiang Bei quickly realize that no English is spoken there. Bargaining is carried out in Chinese and you actually have to have a good mastery of the number and counting systems. A good dose of humor is also always appreciated. Actually, if you watch closely, the pros in the market will mainly use hand symbols to indicate numbers and price and the transactions almost look like they’re in sign language.

Bargaining is kind of a game at a lot of the Chinese markets and if you only speak English or a non-Chinese language, then many of the vendors will either refuse to bargain or not engage with you at all. The process of translation, looking in a dictionary, or trying to decipher meaning on both sides is a frustrating experience and interrupts the natural rhythm of a sales transaction. A lot of the vendors are busy, taking care of children (yes, the markets are also like a huge daycare), or are simply not making enough margin on their products to bother with the additional frustration of language barriers.

One way to get around that is to carry around a large calculator with a big display. Almost all of the vendors will have a large desktop calculator and they’ll use it to calculate the unit price of the components you want to buy, multiplied by the quantity. Finally, they’ll turn it around to indicate the price you need to pay. It’d be considered rude to use their calculator to bargain, but if you have your own calculator, you can punch in your own price and show it to the vendor. This puts you on more of an equal footing with the vendor and removes the immediate need of hand signals or translating the pricing. Ian put a lot of work into researching this method of sales transaction and bargaining, which is probably the easiest way to go for non-Chinese speakers new to the market. That’s also the reason why we’ll be providing calculators in the package. You can use it to calculate per unit prices, convert price to other currencies, etc. They’ll be the desktop calculators with a large, easily readable display and once you have it, you can get into calculator battles with the vendors in HQB :)


Via Hacker Camp Shenzhen mini-site: Why Do I Need A Calculator?

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  1. First to build an English-to-Chinese-Sign-Language translating robot wins. Preferably including currency converter.

  2. Ian, it’s great that you’re doing this, but I kind of chuckled reading this and seeing a “forest-for-the-trees” situation.

    Any price we could get in Shenzhen is likely to be something so much better than we could get in the States that we’d say “Yes!” in a hearbeat, even without haggling. :)

    I *soooooooo* wish I could go. Regrettably, The Executive Finance Committee declined my request.

  3. Understanding and using a slide rule is priceless. Doing so will change the way your brain works when you consider and solve problems.

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