One of the more common street side businesses that I notice around Shanghai neighborhoods are shoe shine stands. According to Fiona, my Mandarin instructor, one should pay about 5 CNY for a shine. Shortly after learning this I had a chance to use my new-found knowledge. I was walking in the area surrounding People’s Park–a location for numerous street hustles and pick pockets– taking pictures and not paying close enough attention to my surroundings. As I took the camera down from my face there was a middle-aged man standing inches in front of me, speaking and pointing; I followed his finger and looked down to see a huge glob of something white on my Doc Martins. I went to scrape it off on the bottom of the fence railing next to me, but he gestured excitedly, bent over and began rubbing it in with a rag he’d magically produced. I was getting played. I pulled my boot away and said ‘Wu kuai”–5 RMB– “No, no, no, no,” he shook his head and grabbed my ankle. Rubbing and buffing. I now had a white glob on my right boot. “Forty, forty,” he said, never stopping his polishing. I pulled my foot away again, a 5 RMB note in my hand. He waved it off.
Irritated at being played, I was in New Yorker mode, right index finger inches from his nose, leaning into his face as I spoke, “Wu kuai, take it or leave it!” He tried one more time to press his case for 40 RMB, but I ended the conversation by jamming the 5 RMB note into his hand and walking away.
Maybe I’ll just wear sneakers.