My friend and I were exploring Yuyuan Garden, which is a historic garden in Shanghai that was restored sometime in the last fifty years or so. There are lots of places for tourists to explore, and this was honestly one of my favorite parts of Shanghai (I was only there for five weeks, so it’s possible that there are better places that I missed. Still, I really liked going here). There were lots of old buildings in the ancient Chinese style and since it was January, all of the shops were preparing for Chinese new year. That means lots of red and gold lanterns and lots of horse-themed decorations (2014 is the year of the horse). It made for a very exciting atmosphere.
An important thing to note about being a tourist in China is this: everyone knows you’re a tourist. I was born and raised in America, but since I’m mixed Mexican and Chinese (surprise!), at the beginning I had hoped that I would be able to blend in. Two days in China and I knew better: unless you look like you’re 100% Asian, they know. Nothing you do will hide it.
Tourists tend to travel with money. Vendors like money. A lot. Since the vendors can smell a tourist before the tourist even knows there’s a vendor nearby, it means everywhere you go you run into exhaustively rehearsed sales pitches delivered in rapid Mandarin and broken English. These people are aggressive. They will harass you. They will wave and yell at you like lunatics from across the street. They will stand in your way to try and force you to look at their merchandise. They’ll put things in your hands. They’ll follow you if you try to walk away. Some of the more aggressive ones will grab you by the hand and try to lead you into their store.
This is the way they make their living, and nothing you do will change it. It doesn’t matter if you tell them you’re in a hurry, or that you have no money, or if you just yell nonsense at them in German (by far the best language for yelling nonsense). They see a tourist, and they want that tourist to see what they have to sell. Don’t speak the same language? No problem! They are perfectly happy to type numbers into a calculator to show you how much they’re asking for.
Despite this, I still had a lot of fun just wandering around and looking at stuff. My friend and I had been walking around for a while and found a booth on the street that sold some very interesting musical instruments. While my friend was haggling with the salesperson at this booth, I ended up wandering away to look around. I had already spent all of my money for the day, but I found a really neat Mahjong set that I wanted to look at (My grandpa taught me how to play the traditional Chinese way, but I’m not very good at it). As soon as I touched it, POOF! A salesman appeared in my face like a middle-aged Chinese genie.
Salesman: “Ah, you like this one? I give you good price!” He didn’t even try speaking Chinese to me. The fact that he started off with English meant that he had probably been dealing with tourists for a long time, which meant that he was probably very good at getting tourists to spend money.
Me: “No thanks, I’m just looking.”
Salesman: “I see you like this one. You take a look!” He picked it up off the table and put it in my hands. “This one very good. I give you very good price.” He typed a number on the calculator that he was holding and showed it to me. It was not a very good price.
Me: “No thanks, I’m still just looking.” I put the Mahjong set back on the table and tried to walk away, but he grabbed it and put it back in my hands.
Salesman: “This one very good! I see you like it. This original price.” He showed me the number on the calculator again. “But because you are pretty lady, I give you discount.” He divided the number in half, which was still not a very good price.
Me: “I was just looking, but I don’t want to buy it.” I put it back on the table. “Bu yao,” I said, switching to Chinese to hopefully drive the point home. It didn’t matter, because what he heard was, “Yes, I would love to buy it. Please tell more about this amazing discount.”
Salesman: “You see original price? I give you discount! Discount price very good.” As he was talking he typed the original price on the calculator, then typed the discount price and waved the calculator in my face to help me understand what a great discount it was.
Me: “I’m not going to buy it. Really. I don’t have any money.”
Salesman: “How much you wanna pay?” He held out the calculator to me. “Maybe we make a deal.”
Me: “The price doesn’t matter because I don’t have any money.” This whole time I had been trying to walk away from him and he had been stepping in front of me, waving the calculator in my face.
Salesman: “You tell me price and we make a deal. How much you wanna pay?” I took a few steps back because now he was trying to put the calculator in my hands.
Me: “It doesn’t matter what price I want, because I don’t have any money. That means, there is no money in my wallet right now.”
Salesman: “Oh, I see. No problem! There’s ATM right over there!” He pointed back toward the street. “You go get money, then come back and get discount! I give you very good price.”
At this point, my friend had finished her business at the music booth and decided to come rescue me. She grabbed my arm and said, “We’re leaving now. Bye!” She pulled me away from the evil sales genie and we started to walk away, but he wasn’t finished. He actually chased us to the street.
Salesman, yelling after us: “You come back and get discount! You are pretty ladies and I love you! I give you good price!”