Semester at Sea Fall 2006 Voyage banner



Jessica Von Wendel

            “Here missy, you buy handbag, watches, missy, missy, you buy!”  My arm is being grabbed and I begin to panic.  Every third step another sales person saying the same chant tries to bring me into their tiny shop at the shopping plaza in Shenzhen, China.  How did I even get here?  A Chinese man named Eddie said it was a great place to shop and offered to show us where it was.  He took us directly up to the fifth floor and into his own corner stall.  When we said we weren’t interested, a guilt trip followed in a high pitched whine.  He had brought us the whole way, and we weren’t going to buy anything?  I probably would have, but I had very little money.  The woman working there physically wouldn’t let me leave.  I had to push myself out.  To them a white woman in a shopping center just had to have cash to spend.  Why else would she be there? 

            This was my experience all over China and even in some markets in Hong Kong.   I was looking forward to going to these markets, but I had no idea that I would be bombarded in this way.  Every stall looks the same.  People sell the same mimic goods which results in a high degree of competition.  The sales people fight for every person walking the aisles and try their hardest to make you buy.  As an anthropology major I wanted to keep my eyes open, talk to people, and get a feel for the place.  But any eye contact I made, was an invitation for the sales people to grab hold and repeat the only English they knew, “Missy, missy, you buy!”  It was deafening how loud they would call.  I found my anthropological view narrow and close-in.  I could only observe a little from behind a wall I put up around myself while ignoring their chants.  At the time I couldn’t think beyond how rude I found these people, and how they were actually deterring me from buying anything.  It was only after I was away from the chaos that I came to realize how desperate the competition must be, and how they probably hate calling for customers all day even more than I didn’t like being called at.

              These hawkers are becoming the new entrepreneurs of China’s tourist trade, but any possible connection with the customer is undermined due to their ulterior, singularly minded seller mentality that they must adopt for survival.  Tiantian Zheng discusses in his article “Consumption, Body Image, and Rural-Urban Apartheid in Contemporary China” how waitresses involved in the sex industry struggle to maintain their own identity while conforming to the perceived wants of potential customers.  The sellers in The Shenzhen shopping plaza are similarly playing to what they assume are the customers wants, usually of a cheap Gucci bag or sunglasses, but they are unknowingly ignoring the customer's desire to shop without being bombarded and overwhelmed.

China has only recently opened up to a capitalist style economy resulting in the explosion of market competition that is very different from the socialistic goals of China’s past.  Combined with the largest population in the world, and a market flooded with the same goods, is the Chinese entrepreneur made to become mechanistic and overtly forceful?

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