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Street Vendors In China 1

Professor Arnie Greenberg

It comes with the territory. You see it everywhere. Many get used to it and others never do. Street hawkers abound. There is no place a tourist can walk without being hounded by someone selling something. I an reluctant to list all the things you can buy but if it’s in Beijing or Xian, on the Shanghai Bund or on the Great Wall, you can better your bottom grain of rice there’s somebody selling something. The people don’t speak English but the know a few catch phrases like ‘good price’ , ‘bargains’ or ‘how much you pay’…

And the few rickshaw drivers offer to take you where the bargains are found.

Having been there before I was certainly not going to be taken in. Yet, I bought paint brushes, Rolex wrist watches, miniature terra cotta soldiers, cigarette lighters, baseball caps, paper umbrellas, silk ties, jade statues, chopsticks, tea, spices, cookies, purses and even slippers and carvings from a boat tied to our ship.

Rickshw…to ‘cheap places”  

Attached to our ship…

They accost you when you enter your hotel or restaurant or when you come out again, even if you’ve already purchased something or said no. Could it be that we all look alike?

 One day I went for a walk in Xian. As I came out of the hotel an older lady jumped up carrying a shopping bag. She reached in a pulled out a scark. I won’t go into the whole spiel but I smiled and walked away. When I returned 20 minutes later she was there selling statues. I pointed to my face. Suddenly she realized I had just been there. She laughed and walked away.

I told my wife about her. She was determined and I felt a bit sorry for her. She was only trying to make a living and to her a one dollar sale meant much more than we can imagine.

Then, the next morning as we exited the hotel at 8AM, she was there again. Her tenacity was just too much. This time she was selling a box of paint- brushes.

“Three dollars, three dollars”, she repeated as she pushed them into view.

“Too much” I replied.

“How much?” she asked.

I looked stern. “I’ll give you four.”

She was dumbfounded. Then she burst into laughter.

I gave her the three dollars and turned away. She had already started accosting someone else. I hope I helped her. I still haven’t used the brushes.

Want to buy a Rolex?

Then in Shanghai we were asked for the hundredth time if we wanted a Rolex. Obviously they are knockoffs but they looked good and there were different colors, designs and bracelets.

We started our usual barter. I eventually bought four for $10. The one I bought my wife was lost after a few days. The clasp had opened. So, being the big spender that I am, I went out and bought her another one.

“Is there a guarantee?” I asked.

“Yes”, he replied. “One day. If it not work you come back.”

I’ve been home now for 5 months. My Rolex still keeps perfect time. I wear it all the time. I gave one of the others to a young boy who works in my bank. One day I walked up behind him and whispered, “What time is I”?

He turned; embarrassed. “I only wear it for special occasions.” He seriously replied.

A Rolex is a Rolex I guess.

On our boat cruise along the Li River two young men in a long narrow makeshift raft, paddled out to our boat in mid stream, tied themselves to our hull and proceeded to sell carvings. (See above) They did a brisk business. 

Another money-maker is selling group pictures. Someone at a tourist site greets you with a beautiful colored picture book of the site. It always sounds like a nice souvenir so we gather as a group and take a remembrance photo. I came home with one on Tien An Min Square, one in Xian with the Terra Cotta Warriors and the man they say unearthed the first one many years ago. We took one on the Li River cruise and another in Hong Kong. They turned out to be worth the price. The picture books are wonderful and a group picture is a worthwhile souvenir.

Chine is bustling and dynamic. It is growing faster that one can imagine but selling some knock off on the street still affords certain Chinese people a chance to augment their measly income.

Buying something is fun and the memories are worth the effort, colorful kites make good gifts.

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You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at


Over the past few years, Professor Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the globe including Italy and most of China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters from St.Petersburg to Moscow. 

"He took a group to Greece and another to northern Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico.  His newly found spare time is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders..  "So You Want To Be A Tour Leader." 

Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.  Keep reading his web for travel ideas.  His next novel HELLSTORM'S Folly, will be available this fall. He now lives in British Columbia.

Go to: or contact him directly at

(More about the writer.)


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