The 5 Rules for Bargaining I Learned in a Chinese Market.

Having lived in Southern China for a number of years, I have spent what amounts to days of my life haggling over prices in local shopping markets. The markets of China are a mad world of cheap products and bargains galore. They are also a fantastic learning ground for the fine skills of bargaining that can be adapted to business anywhere.

The most important thing I have learned is that bargaining is a game, not unlike poker and here are the rules.

The Rules For Bargaining

Rule number one

Never let excitement show on your face. A cool, calm customer is going to have a better chance of striking a bargain, than someone gushing over a rare find.  So, wander around, look at things, pick things up, but keep your poker face on.

Rule number two

Never ask a price unless you are ready to start the game. Once you ask for a price you have entered the game zone. It is easy to spot the beginner who has randomly asked the price of something they were not really interested in. They are usually the ones with a shopkeeper attached to their arm trying to get them to return to their shop to continue the game.

Rule number three

Never suggest a price. The shop owner will always try to get you to suggest the first price. He is asking you to show your hand first. Resist. Ask the shopkeeper how much the product is. They will then take a moment to eye you up and down, taking in all visual information about your potential spending ability, and then suggest a ridiculously high price.

Rule number four

Never accept the first price. They are only testing your standing as a player of the game, and are simply signifying they are ready to play. Many new players will pay the first price and not only miss out on a great game, but will be the laughing-stock of the market for paying double or triple the price of an item. Don’t spoil the game.

Rule number five

Have a price in mind that you would be happy to pay, and then suggest a figure significantly lower than that. This signifies the game is now in full play. When you counter with a ridiculously low price, expect your opponent to pull a face and shake their head. If they are willing to play the game they will counter with a price slightly lower than their first offer. You can keep playing the price back and forth until you are happy with the price or until your opponent digs in their heels and refuses to budge.

This is where the game can get interesting.  When your opponent is no longer willing to reduce the price you have two options.

Option one

At this point, you can concede and pay the price they want. After all, you are probably down to arguing over only a few dollars. Smile, give in and pay the money. Good game.

Option two

If you have taken the measure of your opponent and think he/she is offering you an inflated price, you can try the old ‘walk away’ trick. Turn to walk away. If they call you back the game is still on. If they let you go, you have reached the final price. You can keep walking and look for another game to join, or swallow your pride and go back and pay the price they are offering.  Good game.

Most important rule

In bargaining anywhere, it is key to enjoy the game while remaining gracious to your opponent. The best win-win outcome is a price that makes everyone happy after a playful back and forward between buyer and seller. A well-played game ends with smiles and laughs as well as a good bargain for you so don’t get too hung up over the final few dollars.



48 Hours in Lisbon

As the capital city of Portugal, Lisbon is the perfect place to unwind for 48 hours before heading onward to one of the more usual beach resort destinations. After a few years of being ignored by tourists, Lisbon has come back in favor as a lively and picturesque city full of interesting history, traditional food and fantastic live music. We show you how easy it is to fill 48 hours in Lisbon.

Day One:


Spend the morning meandering among the shops and cafes the Baxia area of the city. If you are looking for something special the boutique shops of the Avenida da Liberdade are filled with designer goods. When you have shopped your fill, take a ride on the old iron elevator, the Elevador Santa Justa. A marvel of a past era this lift still carries visitors up the side of the hill to another higher districts of the city. From the elevator, you can walk along to see ruins from the major earthquake that struck the city in 1755. Wander back down the hill and settle on a terrace on Rossio Square, the traditional heart of Lisbon to enjoy lunch at one of the local cafes.


In the afternoon explore the older side of the city, Alfama. A maze of cobbled streets and stairways, the Alfama district of the city leads up from the river to the ancient castle overlooking the city. You can walk up to the castle stopping to see beautiful traditional houses covered in ceramic tiles, browse the boutique shops and perhaps quench your thirst in one of the many trendy bars of the area. If your legs are not up to the steep walk, jump on the number 28 Tram to Largo da Graca or hail one of the many electric tuk-tuks in operation ferrying tourists up to the castle.

The castle of Lisbon, Castelo São Jorge is well worth a visit, if not for the amazing history, most definitely for the views of the city from the castle walls.  Dating back to 1147 the history of this part of the world is a fascinating entwinement of cultures and religions. This castle was the location of the Christian Crusaders battle with the North African Moors in 1147. Over the centuries it has passed between religions and rulers and boasts a unique blend of architecture and design from many cultural influences. From the castle it is a short walk to the open-air markets, where you can lose yourself for an hour or two browsing among the many stalls selling traditional items along with tourist treasures.


After all that walking, it will be time to recharge. Head back down the hill into the flat area of the Baixa district to one of the excellent open-air bars for pre-dinner drinks. If you are looking for an authentic place to eat, pick one of the noisy and sociable Tascas. These are inexpensive traditional restaurants popular with locals. Here you can try unique Portuguese meals such as Bacalhau (salted codfish), which is said to have over 365 different methods of preparation.

For the remainder of the night, relax in the bars and late-night eateries behind Teatro Nacional D. Maria II (north of Baixa), watching the crowds go by while enjoying a glass of locally produced wine. If you want to experience the local Fado music, simply follow its haunting sounds to one of the small bars and restaurants with live music.

Day Two:


For the second day in the city, head in the opposite direction along the river to Belem. Belem is a picturesque district to the west of Lisbon, which lines the banks of the River Tejo. A must to visit is the Belem Tower, Torre de Belém which juts out into the river. This ancient tower is a Gothic designed structure that stands at the mouth of the Tejo river guarding the entrance. You can walk out to the tower along a raised walkway and climb to the top to enjoy the views out to the ocean.


For lunch head to the industrial chic area of the LX Factory further along the waterfront.  An old manufacturing hub that has been transformed into a vibrant complex of shopping and eating featuring small start-ups, boutiques, cozy cafes and one of the most unique book stores in the world. The bookshop, Ler, is situated in an old printing factory where books are packed from floor to ceiling around the large ancient printing machine in the centre with steel staircases connecting the bookshelves across the open space.


For the evening head back to the river to the Cais do Sodre ferry terminal.  Here you can catch a ferry across the river to Cacilhas for your evening meal. A short walk along the river you from Cacilhas port is Atire-Te ao Rio, a charming old waterfront restaurant with the perfect views of the sunset over the 25 de Abril Bridge. A fabulous way to enjoy the evening meal with a spectacular ocean view.

If you are still up for some late night entertainment head back across the river to the warehouses at the Santo Amaro Docks that have been converted into stylish bars and chic restaurants.  Music and partying goes on all night, most nights of the week and a lively crowd is guaranteed.

After 48 hours in Lisbon you will be vowing to come back to enjoy this special city again soon.

The Top Three Often Overlooked Social Media Etiquettes

We live in a highly connected and instant world. Communication flows at the speed of light. But, this is no reason to let all standards of polite behaviour go out the window. Even as we communicate remotely, through screens, we need to be mindful that we are still talking with another human being who also has feelings.

With this in mind, here are the most over-looked manners I have noticed when communicating on social media.

Tone matters.

It is important to ensure that the tone of the communication is clear and cannot be misunderstood. When you cannot see facial expressions to help explain the meaning of a message, clarity in tone is essential. Is there a way your words could be misinterpreted? What can you add to be sure they are not?

Be nice, be encouraging and be kind in your words online. No one wants to be put-down, discouraged or judged, especially in public online.

On the flip side, don’t be quick to take offence if the tone of a message you received feels arrogant or aggressive. Is it possible you may have got the wrong tone of the message? Clarity in tone is key.


Freedom of Speech Comes with Responsibilities

We are free to say what we want online. However, if we pride ourselves in being responsible adults, we will remember that outspoken and controversial opinions can hurt others. They can also be like a red flag to a bull and attract a lot of negative response in return. Words posted online have a habit of coming back to bite the poster in the long run, especially if the words are cruel or hurtful to any group of people. Share your grand statements in private with friends, rather than on the world stage via twitter.


Grammar and spelling still matter

Sure, short messages to friends and family can be full of abbreviations and emoticons, but emails and public posts in forums are much nicer when the correct spelling and grammar are used correctly. We aren’t teenagers anymore and shouldn’t try to keep up with text message generations who have forgotten how to spell words correctly and in full. Misspelt words and poor grammar only serve to dilute your message. Keep the focus on your message and not on a careless spelling mistake.


The more we communicate by technology the more important it is to follow these basic social media etiquettes and remember that communicating online should be no different to how we communicate in person. In doing we can keep our online interactions classy and kind, and hopefully remind others to do the same.



8 Star Tips for First Timers on a Business Trip to China

Having lived and worked in China for the last 8 years I want to offer my 8 top tips for ensuring your first trip to China on business is a more pleasant experience than it is for many first-timers.


  1. Book your own accommodation with a well-known international hotel chain.

Many first time visitors rely on local suppliers or business partners to book their accommodation. This is a sure-fire way to ensure a very uncomfortable stay. Chinese suppliers will book you in a local Chinese ‘luxury’ hotel. Unfortunately, many of these hotels have perfected the art of looking luxurious on the outside, while offering very little substance expected by a western business traveller. To begin with the reception staff may not speak English which will make it a frustrating experience when you find out there is no Wi-Fi service in your room. Through a series of increasingly frantic hand gestures you will finally realize the unthinkable, that this service is only on offer in the lobby. You might as well set-up camp in the lobby as the sofas there may be softer than the rock-hard bed in your room, the air is certainly fresher than the stale smoke smell lingering upstairs and coating your clothes. And, besides, with the level of noise coming from the karaoke bar in the basement, you are not going to sleep tonight anyway. Come morning, pray that by some miracle there is a real coffee shop somewhere in walking distance of the hotel, as you will not be getting anything resembling coffee in the breakfast service at the hotel. These hotels are built to cater to Chinese businessmen and you will not find fresh brewed coffee, toast or cooked eggs on the breakfast menu, rather cold sweet tea, Congee (stewed rice) and dumplings. Better to start your trip right and book yourself into one of the many well-known international hotels that bring a higher standard of hospitality, fresh coffee and soft beds.


  1. Pack lots of business cards (and some fake ones).

Since moving to Europe, I hardly see anyone use a business card at an introduction. So, perhaps it is worth mentioning how many business cards you will need on a trip to China. Everyone shares a card on meeting. It is a legitimizer, showing you really do represent the company. It also establishes the ranking order of the participants of the meeting based on their job title. Without a business card you are no one. When you are meeting a supplier at their office expect to exchanges business cards with every employee in the meeting. If you are visiting a trade-fair every vendor will want a card in exchange for his or her information brochures. Extra savvy business travellers will also carry cards with a fake email address for this purpose, which saves them from years of spam-like email advertising from each vendor.


  1. Download and familiarize yourself with the WeChat app.

WeChat is the Whatsapp equivalent in China. It is easy to use and will be the preferred communication line of your supplier. The bonus part of this app is that it provides an in-app translation. Your supplier can send a message to you in Chinese, you simply long press the message and it is instantly translated into the language of your phone. Easy, simple and the best download you can make before your trip. You can find out more information at


  1. Get on board with Uber

In most cities in China, the easiest way to get around quickly and cheaply is by taxi or Uber. It is simple to hail a taxi from the road with a wave of the hand and even easier to order an Uber car from your room. You will receive an alert when your car is close by which means no standing in the heat or rain trying to hail a taxi. Uber cars are comfortable, the drivers are friendly and many speak a lot more English than local taxi drivers. Payment is simple, as you do not need to worry about carrying small change to pay the driver directly. Upon payment through the app via your credit card an invoice is sent directly to your email for expense reconciliation when you return from your trip. Perfect!


  1. Pack lots of tissues

A simple tip that can save embarrassment. A packet of tissues in your bag is essential when visiting toilet facilities in factories and or at local markets. There is no toilet paper provided in the stalls, everyone brings their own. On a side note, be prepared for a shock in the toilets. You have probably read that most toilets require squatting over a hole. But what you may not be prepared for is the smell from all the accidents of people missing the hole. Enough said, bring toilet paper and hold your nose or develop a camel-like bladder when out and about!


  1. Skip the Baijou

Chinese suppliers love to take an unsuspecting foreign visitor out for a night of food and drinks. They enjoy plying you with the evil tasting rice wine called Baijou. No matter how well you hold your drink, this one will not stay down. Be warned, in this case it is better to be a boring teetotaller and still be functioning for meetings the next morning.


  1. Don’t expect vegan or vegetarian requests to be taken seriously

There really is no such thing as a vegetarian dish in a local Chinese restaurant. Usually an order of such a dish results in the bemused owner picking out the obvious meat pieces in a ‘vegetarian dish’. Better to stick to rice only and eat up when you get back to your self-booked international hotel where you can guarantee they know what vegetarian means.


  1. Finally, make sure you have the right visa in your passport.

All entry to China on business requires a business visa applied for in advance at your local Chinese embassy. Most visas are single entry only. The key warning for beginners is that Hong Kong and Macau, although officially part of China, actually require officially leaving China to visit them. Meaning your visa will be cancelled when crossing from Mainland China into Hong Kong or Macau and you will not be able to get back to the Mainland without a new visa. Keep this is in mind if planning a quick shopping visit to Hong Kong mid-business trip.


Enjoy your trip!