Sunday, May 04, 2008

Shanghai hustle (my mastery of the two-step)

After the Cheung Kong mixer, the group decided to head down to the Bund, the famous riverside area of Shanghai. As was typically the case it was quite a trial to get enough cabs for our group. Of course, the standard way of travelling anywhere via cab was by showing the cab driver the guide book (the Chinese characters specifically) or having the hotel staff write up the address where we wanted to go. (The key here is not getting your cards mixed up but that's a different story for a different day)

We decided to meet at a historic spot named Bund 18. The landmark bar, Bar Rouge, was under construction so we went to Lounge 18 instead. The place was very impressive and clearly designed for an expat crowd. The walls were all marble and the walls were impressively upholstered. The drinks were about $10 US and seemed a little rich for my blood. I was more interested in walking the Bund and exploring rather than a mellow lounge scene (that was mostly empty).

Adjacent to the Bund is Nanjing Lu, a busy street with shopping and neon lights reminiscent of Times Square. Some classmates and I headed down the street but I grew impatient with waiting for them after the first two blocks. I knew that I wanted to see some specific stores (Li Ning, Nike vendors) and that they shops would be closing soon so I started to distance myself from the pack.

Because I've spend some time in Asia, what happened next wasn't a terrible surprise. I started to get approached by vendors of every shape and size. Vendors selling toys, vendors armed with little cards with watches/purses on them, and finally vendors offering 'beautiful girls'. Now I wouldn't recommend walking alone by yourself in a shady area but I felt comfortable to walk through one of the busiest areas in Shanghai on my own.

I was now in a situation where every male on the street who was "hanging out" was now offering me 'girls'. What was worst was their persistence. Even though I was ignoring them they continued to walk next to me for 2 minutes a piece sharing whatever English they had learned to convince me to join them. I knew that this was a good opportunity to think outside the box.

I started to observe that they would always approach from the side and then pursue in a 'chase' position walking directly alongside. I decided to use some basketball skill and begin to walk directly towards the tout.

The first tout that I approached was clearly unsure how to walk with me and started to backpedal as I got closer. Right before reaching him I took a sharp step to the side leaving him moving in the wrong direction. It was a beautiful thing. Time after time I was giving them the two-step and reducing my time with the touts from minutes to seconds. A couple of them were clearly annoyed with my tactic but I didn't care.
I was able to see the Nanjing Road and the Bund with minimal disruption after that.

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