Here’s a picture book for your eyes and minds highlighting some illegal entrepreneurs, the business district of bustling Beijing and Walmart in China.
A common sight in Chinese cities are the street entrepreneurs, selling everything from produce to clothes to books to small electronics. Where I lived, many of these street salespeople were left alone. But in Beijing, police cracked down, making this Chinese woman and her booking-selling son the faces of outlaws:
The American in me digs their free-spirits, out to make their buck, er I mean, yuan. But the authorities don’t. A couple minutes prior to this picture, I was looking at socks from the nearby sock-selling lady. Suddenly, she bundled up her whole blanket of goods in professional form in like one second and was primed to bolt. But then she stopped.
No worries; false alarm. Pheww.
These prey always have to be on the look-out for the predators. (I heard the cops have plain-clothed officers mingling around whistling dixie for a sneak infiltration into these commercial zones, too. And I also heard the sales people have look-outs for police.) But for now, the sock lady put all her display back down–thank God–because I was eyeing a couple pairs for my own tootsies. I wanted to know how they compared to prices in Walmart, which interestingly, was within sight:
After getting the lowdown on what I’d have to drop for some street socks, I entered the Walmart for some comparison. Overall, I was eager for a more American-style shopping experience. Unfortunately in China, Walmart didn’t have the trail mix and other goodies I anticipated. It wasn’t the low-price leader, either! Those street salespeople were. Socks in the store were double what the sock lady had them for. Boy, I hoped she was still there when I left.
But Walmart did have something the street-sellers didn’t:
I left and went back to the outdoor entrepreneurs. I got my socks. And the book lady was still chillin’ with her son. My buddy from a couple posts back, Zhong Hua, happened to be with me this day so we asked the lady what was up. Why live this stressful life? There was a Walmart right there–couldn’t she get work?
Turns out she’s not from around here. She comes into the city in the summer to make some extra money and still be able to care for her son while he’s not in school. In the fall they go back to their province; the boy goes to school; and the mom goes to her other job.
It’s a real pickle of a problem: this mom and son aren’t hurting anybody, so why not let them be? But many consider the sight of poor folks a-peddlin’ to be distasteful. Plus, it’s not fair to the legit retailers who have to pay taxes.
I looked down again at her books and found a good one to buy. My best of luck to them:
And let me say this: though circumstances are unfortunate, an attribute I see constantly in China is the understanding that you don’t get something for nothing. Everybody pulls their own weight. And when a billion people do this…well, we hear almost everyday about China’s rise.
Later on, I jetted to see the other side of the business world–the shnazzy business district of Beijing. Though not as impressive as the skylines of Shanghai or Hong Kong, it’s no slouch. After all, Beijing is ground zero for the gargantuan government that is the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
I got off the subway and popped out right in the thick of things. I felt right at home as if it was any nice, large city in America:
Top brands, clean streets, nice-dressed folks. I felt a bit out-classed here. Made me miss the approachable alleys of pork buns and shirtless, smoking dudes near my hostel. But whatever, I hung in there and enjoyed it–though at a quickened, city pace.
Okay, that’s all for Beijing until my book comes out later this year. Oh wait, one more thing: there’s a lot of people:
And this scene makes for a nice segue into next week’s post all about train travel in China, on my way south to some beautiful, rural hill country.
Thank you, Beijing. The combination of your size, energy, growth, and spirit are un-duplicatable. You continue to lead a billion people to wealthier futures. You teach the whole of humanity about humanity through your rich and living history.
see you next week,