As I’ve mentioned before, the vendors in China are unbelievably aggressive. It can be overwhelming at first, but after a while (once all sympathy for other human beings crumbles beneath the soul-crushing despair that comes from living in a crowded city surrounded by people) you start to figure out how to get rid of them.
I had gone with another student to what she said was the fake market. There is a fake market in Shanghai where people can allegedly shop and bargain, but I have no idea what that’s like because I haven’t been there (I later learned that it’s on West Nanjing Road, which is not where this girl took me).
This was a shopping center located above one of the metro stations and, to be fair, there was a market and they did sell fake things, but this place seemed like a small market geared more for local Chinese people than for tourists. I had spent four weeks hearing about all the things that tourists can find at the fake market, but the booths in this place sold three things: purses, shoes, and fake watches. Which is funny, because that’s all this girl really wanted to buy. I admit, it’s possible that there had been a miscommunication when I asked her if she knew where the fake market was and she said yes (maybe she didn’t know that The Fake Market was one specific place?), but it honestly felt like I had been conned into being her boyfriend for the afternoon. I quickly lost interest in looking at the merchandise and I ended up holding her purses while she looked at other ones and tried on shoes because I couldn’t figure out how to get the hell out of there without being rude (we had, after all, made plans to hang out for the afternoon).
A word of advice: If you’re alone in a foreign country, do your own research as much as you can. It’s almost impossible to survive without some measure of trust (if you’re in a pharmacy with a migraine and all you know how to say is “head hurts,” you either have to trust that the employee just put headache medicine in your hand or you don’t take medicine), but if someone tells you about a cool place to explore, it would be wise to read up on it before going there with someone you’ve known for about five days. Trust is important, but don’t blindly trust someone just because they speak your language and have been in that country longer than you. Fortunately nothing bad happened with this girl, although there was an incident with a taxi driver that could have turned ugly (another word of advice: don’t yell racist things at the taxi drivers, even if it looks like they’re ripping you off). If I had bothered to type “fake market in Shanghai” into Google before going with her, I would have known instantly that she was taking me somewhere else.
Anyways, my “buddy” was looking at purses and I was bored out of my mind (and more than a little disgruntled), so I decided to wander around and look at the shops on my own. While I was wandering, I noticed that there were people standing in the middle of the walkways handing out what looked like brochures. One of them noticed that I was looking and made a beeline for me, yelling something in Chinese. He waved the brochure in my face (in China, this is the most effective way to get someone to read something) and told me to follow him. The brochure was actually a homemade collage of expensive-looking watches, which were probably fake. I said no and tried to walk away, and then he switched to English. “Come,” he said, gesturing for me to follow him. I shook my head and tried to get away from him, but it was a while before he left me alone.
This happened at least three more times before I decided to give up and go back to that one girl. By then, I had learned that the men standing in between the shops were all selling fake watches, and if you so much as glance in their general direction they’ll chase you down. One time I wasn’t even looking at them; I was looking at the store behind them, but it didn’t matter.
After fighting my way through the crowds and salespeople, I had almost made it back when I noticed an old lady standing all by herself. The fact that she was alone isn’t what caused me to look at her. It was the fact that she was staring at me as if I had suddenly sprouted tentacles all over my face. It was extremely uncomfortable and I looked back at her with an involuntary “What?” expression.
This was a mistake.
She, too, was selling fake watches, and me making eye contact with her gave her permission to harass me. Again, she showed me the collage of watches and tried to put it in my hands. I backed away and said “No, I don’t want any,” in both English and Chinese, but she wouldn’t give up. She actually grabbed my hand a few times and pulled me after her, and when I tried to get away she followed me. Every time I looked at her she would say, “Lai! Lai!” (Come! Come!) and gesture for me to follow her. She actually chased me through the shopping center and somehow we ended up near the escalators on the opposite side. Upon seeing the escalators, she pointed to them and tried to grab my hand again, saying, “Shang qu! Shang qu!” (Go up! Go up!)
At this point I had started to feel the slightest bit of sympathy for her. She was old and clearly desperate to sell something, so I started to follow her toward the escalator. She got on and waved to me again, jabbering in Chinese. She was a few steps ahead of me, but I did get on and ride for a few seconds, wondering how the hell I was going to get out of this. Yes, I did feel sorry for her, but I most certainly wasn’t going to buy any fake (or possibly stolen) watches. Then I saw my chance.
I waited until she was almost halfway up the escalator, then I turned and jumped off, leaving her to ride the rest of the way all by herself.
As I walked away, free at last, I thought to myself, “Well, that escalated quickly.”