Shanghai: Day Three – Airybuddy in the house feelin’ sickly (brrrump-bump-ba-da-da-bump).
Yeah, something minor, yet annoying seems to have stricken all the inhabitants of the Shanghai grotto. Common theories point to the local smog situation, the allowance of smoking in restaurants, and, of course, too much gay sex and the bird-flu. Less prevalent theories exist, but they are not fit for even the depravity of the internets. So, we pop the vitamin C and zinc and look a little more tired than we feel – but all is well. It’s been a while since I “lived” with other dudes, and I gotta admit it has its charm. Guys are easy, not much phases us; a lot less demanding than cohabiting with the fairer sex, who have standards on all sorts of irrelevant and pointless things like “dust” and “hygiene.” Nah… I exaggerate, we’re all squeaky clean.
Last night we hit the local “fake” market. You know, where you can get a ripoff version of just about anything you want. The hot commodities this season seem to be bags, watches, DVDs, and scarfs. The entire experience was a little surreal and definitely annoying. White guys must have a huge only-visibly-to-Chinese neon sign flashing above their heads. We’re all rich to them, cast aside money with indifference. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that we arrived shortly before the market was closing, but within feet of crossing the threshold into the shopfront-lined streets we were literally assaulted with offers. “Excuse me sir! You want watches? Bags? DVD? Best quality, good price for you!” It didn’t end either. You weren’t just approached and left alone with a wave and a “mai-yo.” No, it was like a huge snowball, Chinese hawkers drawn to our white skin as if by magnet. They hit you and stuck with you, following you.
You know that cartoon where there’s two dogs walking down the street? They’re both caricatures of gangsters, one a large bulldog, and one a little tiny terrier, both wearing tiny dog-bowlers cocked to one side. The bulldog is obviously the boss, and the little dog is his toadie. The little dog, Chester, keeps jumping over the big dog, Spike, asking him what they’re gonna do. “What are we gonna do? Huh Spike? What next?” And then the big dog would knock him down and go, “Shet uuuup Chester.” These guys were all Chesters, stalking you, harping into your ear over and over and over. There was no “No,” no “I’m not interested.” At first I was put-out by it, at times I wanted to punch these guys, tugging on my shirtsleeves and looking up at me with puppydog eyes. But soon I was able to remove myself from the situation and look at it from the “outside.” As soon as I did that, the whole thing became utterly hilarious.
Snappy-dressed Chinese men circled around the small knot of foreigners like sharks, holding out glossy color printouts of the various fakes they could produce back at their store. A moving tangle of people strolling down the alleyway, English-speakers at the center of it all trying their best to act like nothing was out of the ordinary. All the while begging, pleading, competing vendors making competing pleas right alongside them. It didn’t matter that there were 1000 stores selling the exact same cheap knockoffs.
We ended up making jokes out of it. I’d stroll up to guys and ask them, straight-faced, “Excuse me, do you know anywhere where I could buy something like… ah… lemme think… maybe a bag? Or a watch or DVD or something?” After watching them cream their jeans in anticipation of the 70¢ they were about to make off me – I’d just laugh in their pathetic forlorn faces and walk on. I found this ultimately gratifying. You had to do this, or you would go insane. It was a little like torture… unending, unrelenting – but it was also so absurd you couldn’t help but laugh. I cursed myself for forgetting my cellphone, as I wanted so bad to record a snippet of the banter for hilariousness purposes.
The locals who took us actually apologized, and were really concerned that we’d tell others about the experience in a negative way. The people here love their city and their culture, and they really didn’t want us holding a bad view. They said we were only assaulted because the place was about to close and everyone was looking for one last big sale. That, and because we looked so “rich and powerful.” I dunno about “rich and powerful,” more like fat and lazy… but ahh well, such is life.