I thought the US was the consumer capital of the world until I went to China. Shanghai is mind-bogglingly commercial. Everywhere I went, I was sold to. The hawkers were relentless. Walking down the main shopping streets such as Nanjing Road, I could tolerate it. I was there to shop after all.
“Hey lady, you want watch? You want bag? No buy, just lookee. Cheap today, just for you.” The litany of suggestions was repeated to me continually, by one salesperson after another as I walked the shopping gauntlet. It was crucial to not make eye contact and keep going. Making eye contact always guaranteed a longer pitch.
While I got used to the relentless offers on the street, it depressed me to be relentlessly sold to in a Buddhist temple. The instant I stepped into the Jade Buddha Temple, I was approached by a guide who attached herself to me with the intent to tell me a bit about the temple, but more importantly to sell me souvenirs. As soon as I bought, she moved on.
It was the same in the water village of Zhouzhuang. This beautiful water town is the oldest in China and dates back to 770-476 BC. It is appropriately called the Venice of the East (much in the same way that Stockholm is called the Venice of the North). You feel like you have stepped back in time to a kinder, gentler place. But don’t be fooled. The locals there expect you to shop, too.