Go to any tourist spot in China and you will be attacked by aggressive street vendors. Climb the Great Wall early in the morning, and when you finally get to the highest tower, huffing and puffing, they will be there waiting. Step out of the Forbidden City, and they will be there. “Hello, hello,” they call, and we instinctively turn toward them. They step in front of us, blocking our way, and hold up something like a silk fan and quote a price. “Thirty-five yuan!”
“No, too expensive,” we reply, and they have us. We have indicated the only problem is the price. “Twenty yuan!” they suggest. As we take this in, they type “20” onto a calculator and hand it to us. “What, what?” they ask. We enter something we think is ridiculous, like “5.” They counter with “10.” “Good? Good?” they say, and we think actually that is pretty good, and are soon walking away with a fan we did not know we wanted.
There is something admirable about this. It takes a good deal of initiative to buy up a stock of trinkets at wholesale, then go out each day to sell them knowing most people will consider you a pest and some even physically push you away.
I saw one skinny woman tourist running—running!— through the crowd, flapping her arms yelling, “Not negotiable, not negotiable,” to no one in particular. Vendors and tourists alike looked at her in surprise. Get a grip, lady. This is not America. They’re just making a living, not trying to rob you.