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#112 Cheapness

Posted March 20th, 2009 by Peter · 37 Comments

Here’s a story from Emily that we found particularly interesting about the “cheapness” of Asians from an inter-racial perspective. It’s really great to see that we can help break racial barriers through SAPL. Hope you enjoy the article!


“My mother is Chinese, while my father is a typical white guy. My mom is the stereotypical CHEAP asian woman. Once, while we were on a vacation to Thailand, a man with no legs rowed up to us in a boat. He was selling hats. My father agreed to buy one at full price, which was like $5. My mother thought this was ridiculous, and continued to haggle with the legless man until the hat cost only $2. My father paid him full price anyways. “Bob, why did you pay him an extra $3?!” “For Jesus’ sake, honey, the man had no legs. He was rowing around in a beat-up rowboat!” For this, as well as many other reasons, my father calls my mother “pake”, which, here in Hawaii means both ‘chinese’ and cheap’. This is not a coincidence.”

Is there any way to encompass the South-East Asian continent without saying “slanted eyes” or “chinky” ? If so, it has to be: Cheapness. Asians are inherently cheap. They will, as you’ve seen above, put away their shame and/or feelings in search of products. Whether it be by haggling, bargaining, or the ever popular “pretend-like-you’re-not-interested-and-walk-away-so-the-shop-owner-calls-you-back-and -agrees” tactic (deep breath), they usually get their way. How can Asians live with themselves after acting so thrifty and cheap even to a crippled old man?

The typical Asian Person knows the true cost of products. They know the price of menial anike-sweat-shopnd hard labor (sans advertising and hype). They’ve also produced (or at least know first hand of the atrocities of industrialization) purses, shoes, shirts, and many other products for pennies on the dollar. Do you expect for them to purchase something for retail knowing that their aunt, uncle, or 12-year old nephew spent hours on it only to come home with a few dollars a day? That’s right (heck no).

Let’s then, analyze Emily’s anecdote: Old crippled man sells hat for 5 dollars. He probably bought it for 5 cents and will be happy if he receives anything over a dollar (20 times his initial investment). Mother realizes this and bargains it down to 2 dollars. Father doesn’t understand, but feels pity for the man and pays 5 dollars anyway. End of story.

It’s something that happens all to often to travelers in Asia. Even in America, some Asians will try to scam or deceive you by any means possible:

The other day, at the Bolsa shopping center in Little Saigon, I was asked to change a Wheelchair Monk’s diaper pad (right on the street! scary, I know). I did it, and he offered to read my palm for free. I denied the palm reading though because it’s pretty easy to understand that if you have a lot of wrinkles in your hands, you use them a lot and are thusmonk a hard worker (lol). When I told my mom the story, her friend was also sitting there. Of the monk, she said, “He’s been doing that to travelers a long time. I saw him walking around without a wheelchair and getting some food the other day. Don’t help him next time.” (I failed to mention to them that he asked me for two dollars and I gave it to him as well, I just felt so darn bad for him).

My mom’s friend was born in a time where Vietnam was peaceful and serene, only to see it transform to a war state: family against family, North vs. South. It’s only been 36 years since that happened, so you can see why so many Asians (Vietnamese especially) have a hard time trusting anyone: be it an old crippled man or the nicest looking person they’ve ever seen on the street. Now, whether the advice was to tell me not to help strange old men on the street or it actually was true, I personally found that the cynicism was rightfully merited later on. As a matter of fact, I did see the “wheelchair monk” sporting a nice car later that day buying some sandwiches at Lee’s. Guess how stupid I felt. This takes us to the end of our first SAPL post in two weeks.

Due to their history, knowledge of production, and true taste of the real world, most asians have the gift of being cheap. They’ve had to use it for so long just to survive, and it keeps them financially sound because they’re not willing to make any bold purchases or stupid decisions. Even though the occasional slip may happen, this defense mechanism protects Asians from being taken advantage of (consequentially by taking advantage of others). It’s safe to say that for all these reasons and more, Asians are rightfully cheap.

TravelTip: The next time you think that you are getting something for cheap, remember that it was probably made in Vietnam for 25 cents (as is the case for Nike shoes). The next time you see an old man on the street begging for money, realize that he might be making more than you just on “the goodwill” of others. The next time you go to an Asian country, don’t buy that purse for 70 dollars just because it’s 120 dollars in America. You can probably get it for $5.00 (as is the case with my sister in Shanghai, China).

I hope you enjoyed this post, Emily. Thanks for your suggestion and story.
Peter and the SAPL Family.

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Tags: Activities · Culture · Environment · Habits · People · Relationships

37 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Peter // Mar 20, 2009 at 11:03 am

    They are gangster. They put The Mob to shame. Their strategy has three operatives: 1) Scare the sales person into lowering the price 2) Belittle the merchandise so much that it looks like she is doing them a favor by purchasing it 3) Do it loud and proud. If crying ensues from the sales person it is a sign of a battle waged and a war won. Once my grandmother saw a kid outside the grocery store selling candy bars for two bucks a pop. Even though it was for Veterans or Cancer, or something like that, she insisted that a Hershey bar was not worth two bucks. She kept saying “In store cheaper! Only 50 cents! I give you one dollar for two!”.

  • 2 Heat Moon // Mar 20, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    walking away and pretending that you’re not interested so the shop owner agrees and calls you back… man, does that ring true.

  • 3 Anonymous // Mar 22, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    This is so TRUE!!!! lol

  • 4 haolepake // Mar 22, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    I have a similar situation as Emily, but American mother, Chinese father. I’ve witnessed my dad trying to sell my brother’s old used bike to the bike shop owner- more than just walking away and not looking interested, it got somewhat nasty and my dad made a scene. All the other patrons and employees stopped to look at us and in the end, my dad sold the bike for the price he wanted. When we got home, I was still mortified, but my dad was quite jovial- truimphant, actually and explained to me that essentially, “That’s how it’s done!”

  • 5 dbals // Mar 24, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    I don’t see anything wrong with the mom’s bargain in the first example, assuming $2 is a good price for that hat. By paying an exorbitant price you are only yielding to the person’s exploitation. The dad had only
    made the matters worse for other western travellers who are likely to be charged twice/thrice the good price by every merchant (even those with legs). The dad could have instead given some extra money as donation.
    Now if the good price for that hat is about $4, then what that dad did is right.

    You see, growing up in Poor-Asian countries we know how to distinguish an exploitation from donation. We’ve seen it all: small kids begging money for food, ladies carrying babies begging for money etc…

    And about N*ke. It produces T-shirts at one of my friends’friend factory in South-India for $1 and sells it for $20 here in US. Remember, $20 is a profitable price for that T-shirt if it had been manufactured in US. If you had bought a N*ke T-shirt for $20, don’t feel stupid. You have an elder brother. The same N*ke T-Shirt is sold in the metro-cities (about 50 miles from manufacturing factory) in South-India for $25 (Yes, that’s $25). All that extra money is just for the logo – a tick mark.

  • 6 some sysadmin from Australia // Mar 24, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    You may be right about Asians knowing the true cost of things, but does that necessarily cause the inclination to haggle? A lot of Westerners also know these things (anecdotally), but don’t haggle.

  • 7 dbals // Mar 25, 2009 at 7:51 am

    Haggling comes from our experience buying everyday stuff like vegetables, common household items from street sales men, who followed no rules. We used our power of judgement to see if the milk we’re buying is thick enough to be original or was it diluted with water. If the toothpaste tube really has all the paste in it or some of it has been squeezed out and puffed with air (even worse mixed with chalk paste). If the colour of the clothes we bought will last or will it keep changing after every wash. If the weighing scale is really weighing the said weight or it has magnet under it. If the pack of 50 really has 50 or 1 has been removed.
    Note: We didn’t have big stores or chain stores back then. So the price varied depending what you’re wearing and what you’re riding.

    Haggling is a useful skill to have even in US. You can use it at appropriate places. Ever bought a used car from a used car dealer in US?
    They hate asians. They will sell the car to an asian only if they couldn’t find any white person, who wouldn’t mind paying $2000 more.

  • 8 Toby // Mar 27, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    Just curious. Why did you but the asterisk(*) in Nike instead of th “i”. are you afraid of copyright TM infringements or something?

  • 9 Tina // Mar 27, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    I am Vietnamese-American. And I am CHEAP! Who’s laughing now in this economy? I hardly have any debt.

  • 10 Final Fantasy V Walkthrough // Mar 27, 2009 at 11:24 pm

    Thanks Tina, you make me hapopy today!

  • 11 Fred // Apr 1, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    If a lot of asians are cheap, why does it seem like a lot of asians also like to gamble? Is it just the big spender asians that gamble, or do the cheap ones do it also?

  • 12 Topics about Asians » Blog Archive » #112 Cheapness // Apr 18, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    [...] Stuff Asian People Like added an interesting post today on #112 CheapnessHere’s a small readingHere’s a story from Emily that we found particularly interesting about the “cheapness” of Asians from an inter-racial perspective. It’s really great to see that we can help break racial barriers through SAPL. Hope you enjoy the article! “My mother is Chinese, while my father is a typical white guy. My mom is the stereotypical CHEAP asian woman. Once, while we were on a vacation to Thailand, a man with no legs rowed up to us in a boat. He was selling hats. My father agreed to buy one at [...]

  • 13 GamblingInternet // Apr 22, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    Great article

  • 14 Veronica // Apr 27, 2009 at 10:22 pm

    Too true! I know an asian/american surgeon who goes to an “all you can eat Sushi” restaurant and throws away the rice so he can gorge himself on the (more expensive) fish. To top it off, he has to smuggle the rice to the bathroom so he can flush it down the toilet. Apparently, the staff will stop serving you if you don’t finish the (cheap and filling) rice.

  • 15 Qiutian // May 8, 2009 at 9:30 am

    My mother goes to Macy’s & finds something she likes, for example a pair of jeans at $60… she finds another pair of jean of similar style & cut for cheaper…let’s say $20. She then pulls the tag off the high price one & argues with the lady at the counter that they are the same & that it should be at the same price. -_-;;

  • 16 Qiutian // May 8, 2009 at 9:31 am

    Oh, & she wins. (:

  • 17 Lisa // Jun 23, 2009 at 5:36 pm

    agree, why are we so cheap. i mean i go to chinese restaurant and they barely give me duck sauce without giving me evil eye. also, why do so many gamble, i mean you go to vegas and it looks like china, if they are so cheap, why do they gamble away their money?

  • 18 Selina // Aug 31, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    IN CHINA they cut off their own legs to beg and sell things better! They kidnap children and mutilate them too to get the marketing/pity power. It’s really sad but true- charity sometimes is a bad thing!

  • 19 Pestho // Sep 9, 2009 at 12:34 am

    my mom can be pretty cheap sometimes. she doesn’t haggle (except for in taiwan, with the excuse “we haven’t been back here for years”) but she hardly buys anything that’s not on sale or has been discounted. it’s not like all the things she buys are low quality because she has gotten pretty good things at much more reasonable prices. but the thing is, she’s experienced the feeling of not having enough money for day-to-day things. when she first moved here to live with my dad, they were pretty poor because my dad never asked for any money from his parents before living. my parents have had to work hard for any money. so, my mom continues her habit of saving money. but she knows when to spend a little extra when appropriate. though her constant reminders that money isn’t easy to make can get annoying, I must admit that she has every right to say so. plus, saving money means having more money to buy other things.

  • 20 meh // Sep 20, 2009 at 2:14 am

    Well there’s actually two types of Asians: the big spender and the cheapass. The big spender is the label-wh0re who buys Gucci and LV, has a Mercedes Benz, etc…

  • 21 meh // Sep 20, 2009 at 2:16 am

    O and I agree there are some people who purposefully exploit children by kidnapping and mutilating them to gain charity.. I feel bad for them because it’s hard to distinguish which ones are genuine and which are working for some gangster

  • 22 got-rice // Oct 11, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    We’re still #2 as far as cheapness according to Russell P.

  • 23 Jen // Nov 12, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    I get why Asians might be cheap and I’ve seen how they develop their haggling skills overseas BUT I want to know why my local Canadian Chinese restaurant has cheaper prices on the “Chinese” menu than the “English” menu…

    there’s being cheap and then there’s being a crook.

  • 24 rex // Jan 18, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    @fred: cheapness is getting a product for a fair value. gambling is entertainment. cheapness and gambling are then not related to each other.

  • 25 julie // Jan 30, 2010 at 6:49 am


    most asians are cheap so they can pay for the important/expensive things.
    my parents were cheap their whole lives so they could save for paying off the house/cars.

  • 26 BatuKhan4 // Jan 30, 2010 at 9:08 pm

    Hahaha. Asian girl gets surgery to look like Jessica Alba. This was all over the news today. Crazy asian girls.

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  • 28 Jerik // Aug 2, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    Now, I have to comment on this. Although Asian people are “cheap”, they usually do it to the expense of themselves and their relatives. However, they are usually very generous to outsiders or friends of people they know for the first time. I would actually say that Whites are by far WAY CHEAPER as a race they they are not even blunt about hiding it. How do I know? When I hang out with Asian people, especially new people I just met, they always offer to pay my share. However White people will split the bill to the penny and sometimes I even buy my White friends drinks (I’m Asian) and they get so use to it. But it is very hard the other way around for them to buy me drinks. Why? Because they are always, always flat broke. Another thing to add may I say is the Whites are always in financial problems (paycheck to paycheck) whereas Asian always have many rainy days of money saved. So because of this, I don’t mind them not buying my drinks because they need that $5 to pay their minimum balance on their credit card….lol.

  • 29 Jerik // Aug 2, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    @some sysadmin from Australia, To this, I will again disagree as I have traveled to many parts of the world and say that lot of Europeans haggle alot. I do not and I’m in my 30′s. I believe it’s more of an age thing now because younger people who are relatively well off don’t haggle much but older generations (like a 40-50 Asian or Europeans….and lets not forget Eastern Europeans!!! tend to haggle lots more).

  • 30 Anna // Sep 6, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    My mum lets me buy branded goods since all of my Western friends wear them BUT only if they are on sale. I can safely say that EVERY SINGLE branded clothing I own I bought at a discounted price. We’re not exactly poor either, my mum is an ambassador in Switzerland!

  • 31 juicy couture // Jan 16, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    @Heat Moon,
    I think it is rather easy to see from the other comments as well that this post is well written and useful.

  • 32 mbt store // Mar 19, 2011 at 12:39 am

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  • 33 Lee // Jun 23, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    My dad is 2nd gen L.A. Chinese his wife (step mom) from Taiwan- when visiting she will bring bananas that are getting old and food in plastic bags that are reused a 1,ooo times. At least you guys are getting knockoffs, I’m talking used old things that I’m suppose to act excited over-I don’t know if it’s more Taiwan, but if you don’t act grateful, she gets really pissed!

  • 34 Warren // Oct 11, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    So… the deep layers of motives and intentions beneath the behavior of millions of people are over-simplified so I don’t have to think critically about anyone who looks like one of them? Thanks Peter! We should lump everyone into categories more often.

  • 35 trung // Jun 24, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    that is not considered cheap… remember we are raised in an environment where we bargain for items out whole life…. you’d be a fool if you don’t bargain in a flee market. lol

  • 36 dfs // Jun 28, 2013 at 3:20 am

    Who doesn’t like cheap stuff? I make sure everything I get is the best price. I don’t have debt and in fact, at age 30, I’ve already massed 1.5 million $ assets.

    Though I disagree with some questionable methods such as throwing away rice while eating sushi, swapping tags at clothes stores.

  • 37 ilovehorseyrides // Jun 9, 2015 at 3:15 pm

    They also complain that it’s too expensive even though it’s on sale!!!!

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