Thursday, December 13, 2012


I cannot say I know much about Taiwanese people. I do not have any close friends from Taiwan and I’ve only been to Taiwan a few times for vacation.
One time, I was in a quiet hot springs area in Taipei and as my wife and my parents decided to take a rest by visiting an ice cream shop on the side of the road, I decided I would skip the ice cream and take a peek at the teapot shop next door. I did not have any intention to buy anything, but thought I could pass some time and also step away from the scorching Taipei heat and into some air-conditioned facility.  

As I walked in and the cool chill of the air condition greeted my sweaty back, I saw a man in his 60s sitting at the side of a table meticulously painting a teapot using a very fine ink pen. Hearing the rings of the door chimes, he quickly looked my way and gave me a warm, friendly “hello and welcome” while heading towards the radio to turn off the sound.  He walked towards me and warmly told me to feel free to look around. 

Normally if I was in Hong Kong and was greeted this way in a shop, I would begin to feel a slight discomfort as the salesperson would begin to follow you around the shop making comments on each piece of item you are looking at and asking you to try it on should it be a piece of clothing. Most of the time, I would have lost complete interest in the items in the shop and would already be planning my exit strategy by making a quick tour around the shop and then ending with a polite “thank you” while walking out the door. Oh how I wished these so-called salespeople can leave me alone in peace to look at the items of my interest. 
However, after the warm greeting from this Taiwanese man, he surprisingly stepped back a bit and allowed me to wander to every corner of his shop. His shop was made mostly of teapots - half the teapots imported from factories from mainland China and half were pots painted by him and his wife. Along the walls of his quiet shop were photos of him and many foreign tourists who I imagined were his customers or perhaps his students.  

I began commenting on some of the items and he replied me always with a smile. He told me that he and his wife painted most of the pots themselves.  I countered by telling him how talented they were and how beautiful their crafts were.  I spoke more than usual as I wanted to use this opportunity to practice my mandarin and very soon the two of us were talking and laughing like two old friends.
Soon after, the man’s wife came out from the back of the shop and her husband instructed her to go prepare some tea for me. My wife and parents meanwhile finished their ice cream and walked into the shop to find me sitting and chatting away with the couple. I introduced my family to them and his wife quickly served up three more tea cups.

The couple was incredibly hospitable and at no point did they actually try selling something to me, not that there would have been anything wrong with that.  I myself had actually forgotten that I was in this man’s shop and his business is selling tea pots. Gradually as the rest of my family began to participate in the conversation, I took more notice of some of the imported teapots and grabbed a few to show my father. We both took interest in a couple of pots and as the conversations continued, we found ourselves pouring water into the pots and testing how well they poured out.   I finally inquired about the price of the pots and then swiftly told the man that I will purchase them as if it was some kind of huge purchase that would save his business.
Usually I would bargain a little bit when purchasing this type of item, but this time, I did not want to hurt the established friendly atmosphere with talk of money, and besides, my family and I have drank their tea and occupied about 1 hour of their time.

The man then went to the back to look for some boxes to pack the teapots in; his wife also went back to refill some tea to serve us. As the two of them were isolated at the back room, I noticed at that point, the man was giving his wife some instructions in a very serious manner. His wife was equally serious in listening to her husband’s instructions. I could not hear what they were saying, but they were indeed very business-like.
As the two walked back out, the husband with two boxes in hand and the wife with a pot of hot water, their hospitable smiles were once again visible on their faces. The man packed up the teapots and I paid him his money. We finished our tea and my family and I walked out happily from his shop with the couple seeing us off with a hospitable farewell.

As we walked out, my wife turned to me and told me how Taiwanese people sure know how to do business. I was not sure what she was talking about firstly, but then she told me how she noticed how the couple was all business-like when they were at the back of the room.  At that moment, I realized that they probably weren’t as interested in our conversation as I thought they were. I cannot say they were snubbing us by pretending to be interested, but I realized that that was their way of doing business. I must admit this form of sales is quite impressive.

                                                The purchase that saved his business

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