250 ~ er-bai-wu

Unless you are Chinese, you might be wondering why I am titling a post 250. No, it’s not one of those wordpress glitches that happens when you forget to put a title on the post and wordpress asigns a random number.

250 – 二百五 er bai wu – has a special meaning in Chinese language.

There’s another way to say the number 250, and thats 两百五 – liang bai wu.

Notice the character 两 -visually it suggests “double” with the doubed symbol at the top. It could be suggested that  两 means “a couple of”  but it’s a bit more complicated than that.

I was walking past the sunday markets opposite my apartment the other day, and saw a couple of nice clothes. Of course, I got into bargaining – it becomes habitual, obligatory even, after a while. The stall holder wanted over 300 kuai for two lovely linen shirts. Okay, one was 手工 – shou gong, handmade. “handmade” doesn’t sound all that fantastic in English, but in China, especially Suzhou, it invokes painstaking handicraft to produce something fabulous.

Like this –

Hand embroidered skirt from the Miao people, Yunnan

– the lovely and incredibly intricate hand embroidered skirt from Yunnan.

I offered 200. Ridiculously low. 290 became his offer.

I suggested 250.

He countered with 260.

By this time, the passersby, also browsing his skirts and dresses, began to chuckle.

Why? Well, because 250 – 二百五 er bai wu has another meaning in Chinese. Usually shopkeepers will say  两百五 – liang bai wu if the total is 250.

You see, 二百五 er bai wu means a bit silly. Not the full quid. A 傻瓜 shagua, a dumb melon.

He stuck to his 260.

“I don’t have any more money in my purse,” became my next offer. I really didn’t. I showed him.

“You can swipe the card,” he countered, bringing out his card-swiping machine. That started a whole new conversation with the passersby, about the market stall holder even having one of those machines. He decided to milk the opportunity.

“Okay, okay, 二百五 er bai wu.”

hand-embroidered detail on shirt

Everyone laughed, he got some more customers, and I got my two new linen shirts – one with shougong – hand stiched embroidery. Everybody happy.

No-one     二百五 er bai wu !