There is rive famous for its jade. Everyday people wade out knee deep in the water searching the stony riverbed for jade and other precious stones. The men then set up stalls after stall along the road bartering with tourists and selling their most recent find. These men are known for working together day in and day out standing shoulder to shoulder arguing on each other’s behalf about how authentic the necklaces are with the untrained eye of the shopper.
My latest tour group and I stopped to admire the stones, without any real intention of buying anything. In fact some of the group hadn’t even brought their money with them since shopping wasn’t on our agenda. One of the women picked up a dark emerald green bracelet and with ease slipped it on her wrist. After admiring it for a time she was disturbed to discover it took a little more work to get it off. She pulled and tugged and twisted before their piece of jewelry finally popped off. However, it did so with such force that it slipped through her fingers, bounced off the table and went crashing to the ground. He husband retrieved it quickly, but there was a small scratch on the surface.
Seeing the damage done the husband bravely admitted that now they had to buy it. I asked if they had found out the price before trying it one, which sadly they hadn’t… I don’t really know the price of Jade nor how to judge its quality. Since the damage was already done the seller could name any price and I would have no idea how exaggerated it really was.
He seemed to know it too. “I would never sell that bracelet for less than $500 USD,” he said.
I laughed. There was no way we were paying that price. I asked the cope how much money they had on them. When all pockets were turned inside out the totally only added up to about 7 bucks. I knew that was way too little to come with as a counter offer, so I checked my own wallet. I had about $75. (While to be honest I had a lot more. In the front part of my wallet I had $75, hidden in the zippered pocket behind I had another couple of hundred that was already ear marked to buy our bus tickets home that night).
I showed him the seventy five in my hand “This is all I have, big brother” I said with a pitifully forced quiver in my voice.
He scoffed and complained that he could have sold it to some unsuspecting tourist for $700 dollars and that I was just out to cause troubles.
At this point I had a decision to make. I could match him angry word for angry word, letting my voice join his in rising to an emotional frenzy. I often call this getting my fight face on. Arguing with vengeance for what I see as my right. If I had one this all his buddies would have taken his side and it would have escalated into an intense me verses them situation. Or, I realized, I could become vulnerable and try to win him over.
Those of you who know me well know I am not much of a crier, I also don’t often resort to tears as a means to get my way. But desperate times call for desperate measures. I held out the $75 dollars a little further in my shaky hands and with a weak voice I entreated him again. “This is as much as I can give you. I don’t know what else to do.”
Other men started gathering around us to see what all the fuss was about. They looked from my pale face and moist eyes to his stone cold stance. Lying between us was the offending bracelet. Some of them picked it up to examine the damage… I heard them muster under their breath that it was a good quality one. “Oh dear,” I thought “now comes the time when they all gang up on me.” My tears were getting to be a little more real by the minuet.
The seller nodded that the damage and reported for all his friends in disgust that I was trying to pay $75 dollars for something he could easily sell for almost $1 000.
“There is nothing I can do” I stated again weakly “I have no solution.” To my surprise many of the on looking Uyghur men sided with me. Some of them even put their fight faces on and jumped over the table so they could stare down the seller more intently. Since I now knew that it was high quality jade I asked some of the others how in our group how much money they had. Between all of us we collected $160USD, way more than I would ever spend on jewelry from a road side stand, but by this time I looked at it more as stopping a riot and avoiding being dragged to the police station.
The crowed had grown to over 50 men by this time. They were taking sides against each other. Thankfully the majority of them seemed sympathetic to my plight. They yelled at the seller:
“Look at her, you are making her cry”
“She is a good girl; she wears a head scarf and everything”
“She’s learned out language”
“She says that is more money that she makes at her job in a month”
“And you call yourself a good Muslim; you ought to be ashamed of yourself”
They grabbed the money out of my hand and started forcing it into his.
“No,” he said, weakening slightly. “I would have tried to sell it for $1 500.”
The next thing I knew men all around the circle started digging into their own wallets and pockets and adding money to the pile.
The hard hearted seller lost face in light of his coworker’s generosity to me. I have no idea how large the total pay off sum was, but the seller was forced to accept the offering and reluctantly shake hands with my biggest advocate.
One of the men laid the slightly damaged bracelet in the palm of my hand with a brotherly “Don’t cry, it’s all okay now. You guys can go”
As I backed away I put my hand over my heart and repeated again and agian " Thank you. Thank you all. Thank you big brother. Thank you God. Thank you. Thank you."