Essential Shanghai vocabulary: ‘Bu yao’ and ‘zho ba’.

Those who think of China as having the austerity that comes with traditional communism should come to Shanghai. Capitalism thrives here at a level of which even a place like New York can only envy. And to be honest it’s driving me a little nuts.In fact capitalism here is practiced to a ridiculous extent. You can’t take a step out in the tourist areas (like Nanjing Road or the Bund promenade) without being practically assailed by people trying to sell you things. The thing is, though, that they’re often a mere couple of steps away from each other. Also what they’re selling is, for the most part, trite and useless gadgets that have nothing to do with Shanghai. And quite a few of them don’t seem to know the word “no”.

So, if you find yourself in Shanghai get ready to use the expression “bu yao, bu yao”. A lot. It’s Mandarin for “I don’t want this”, said twice. In an evening out to look at the marvelous buildings of Pudong you are sure to use it no less than 100 times. Sometimes it’ll be for those famous “cheap Rolexes” that people in New York City are already used to turning down. Oftentimes it’s for lit-up roller wheels you’re supposed to put on your shoes to make you glide along the sidewalk. Also photos. And beggars. If you learn no other phrase in Mandarin be sure to remember this one, because merely ignoring the enterprising salesman simply won’t do.

Sometimes you’ll find that you’re dealing with — pardon the term — an asshole who’s been told not to take no for an answer. Someone who grabs you (that’ll happen). You’ll then have no choice but to assume an aggressive stance, make a dismissive gesture, and say “zou ba”. This loosely means “please go away”. If THAT fails to work you can always resort to using “zou kai”, which is the equivalent of “fuck off”, but ever-so-slightly more polite. I find that my brother (who lives in Shanghai now) is a lot quicker to use this phrase than I am.

So, I’ve been shown by someone who knows the score how to deal with these aggressive salesfolks, but I have to admit that it’s taking quite a bit of enjoyment out of my visit to Shanghai because the phenomenon is making me paranoid. Why? Well, since these people figured I have money (being a westerner in Shanghai and all), it’s also natural to assume that thieves will also see me as a target. So I end up spending my evenings distractedly looking at the sights while fingering my wallet every 10 seconds. Not that I’ve gotten robbed so far, but I’m pretty sure that I’ve given at least two side glances tonight that prevented what would otherwise have been an attempt at picking my pockets, and anyway it’s always in the back of my head. In fact right now I’m devising strategies to minimize the robbery/pickpocketing threat in the days to come. However, that’s not what a guy on vacation is supposed to concern himself with.

So, I’m not quite enjoying Shanghai as much as I could. And in fact there is a good reason for me to be paranoid — but I’m leaving that for my next blog post.

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