One of the challenges one faces when touring China is “running the gauntlet”. This refers to the horde of merchants who are always hanging around when a tour bus or cruise ship arrives at a tourist destination with a load of westerners. These merchants are some of the most aggressive sales people you will ever encounter. They are hawking all kind of merchandise. You can buy a genuine imitation Rolex watch for as little as $5.00 any kind of tee shirt for $5.00 or almost any kind of trinket or book imaginable of one of China’s tourist attractions.
They also offer all kinds of services ranging from “freshly” prepared fruits to offers to carry your bags. One of the most innovative merchants I encountered on our trip to China was the shoeshine lady. I first met her as we were debarking from our river cruise ship in Chongqing. She offered to shine my shoes but since I was wearing tennis shoes I didn’t see the point. She followed me for about a quarter mile and I thought I had finally lost her when I reached the promenade above the river.
There was a very nice view of the opposite side of the river and I stopped to take a few pictures. While I was taking a picture I felt something brushing against my shoes and when I looked down, there was the shoeshine lady “cleaning” my tennis shoes. I started hopping around as if someone had given me a hotfoot and began yelling; “what in the hell are you doing?” The more I hopped, the more she tried to “clean” my tennis shoes.
Fortunately I was only about 50 feet away from our tour bus and I made a mad dash for the door. I managed to reach the safety of the tour bus and when I got in, everyone was having a good laugh at my expense. A few people in our group said that my encounter with the shoeshine lady was one of the more entertaining events of the entire tour.
When I looked outside the bus I saw the shoeshine lady with a big smile waving at me. I decided that she earned a nice little tip for bringing some grins to our tour. I made a mad dash out of the bus and threw $2.00 to her and retreated back into the bus before she had a chance to “clean” my tennis shoes.
GERRY CLAES’ TIPS FOR RUNNING THE GAUNTLET IN CHINA
- Never look a merchant directly in the eye.
- Keep moving; once you stop they will be all over you like flies on cow manure.
- If you express any interest in their wares you will have a tar baby stuck to you for the duration.
- If you are really interested in an item ask the price and then offer 25% of the asking price. After that the best negotiator wins.
- You are not buying quality.
- The merchants do not have a return policy.
- If your watch works for more than 2 months you got a “good” deal.