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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 September, 2004, 09:07 GMT 10:07 UK
China diary: Shanghai shoeshine
Former BBC Beijing correspondent Tim Luard is back in China, 25 years after his first visit, to write a series of articles for BBC News Online on how much the country has changed. He will also be writing a diary during his trip, and this is his second instalment:

The traditional business flair of the Shanghainese - now they're again free to display it - is on show everywhere.

At its most basic level, it consists of sliding up to passers-by and offering all manner of goods and services.

You can get pretty much anything in Shanghai, but the most frequently offered item is the good old fake watch.

A girl of about 12 approached me with two - a Rolex and an Omega.

She wanted $15 for one, $20 for the other, or $30 for the pair.

We passed an elegant shop selling identical-looking watches for well over 1,000 times that, but, having no interest in buying a watch of any kind, I kept walking.

Ten minutes later she was still at my side, her prices having come down to eight and six dollars respectively.

Her parting, desperate shot was five dollars the pair.

As I headed for the sleek new metro station in the now partly pedestrianised main shopping street, Nanjing Road, two other, only slightly older girls approached, selling not watches but themselves.

Tired feet

Shanghai shoeshine man
My shoeshine man left his wife and family to come to Shanghai

But the prize for persistence and sheer ingenuity went to someone engaged in another trade which has resurfaced from the old days.

I'd never had a professional shoeshine in my life.

But after a day's walking in a hot and humid city short on public benches, the offer of a seat - even on the smallest of stools - was irresistible.

Especially since I had a moment earlier tried to rest on a low marble wall in front of a grand new office building in Pudong, before a security guard smartly moved me on.

Like most of the other street sellers, my shoeshine man was originally a poor farmer who had come to try to get a share of Shanghai's economic miracle, but was still struggling to get by.

He had been here for 12 years, he told me, visiting his wife and children in faraway Guizhou just once a year, at the Spring Festival.

Having cleaned my shoes, he proceeded to convince me they were coming away from their soles and needed mending.

As he handed them back, clean and mended, he noticed a small hole in my sock and offered to fix that too.

Then in a final, friendly bid to raise his original taking of 50 cents to a figure several times higher, he seized my tired shoulders and offered a massage.

But it was time to go.

I now felt ready for my interview with the deputy head of the Stock Exchange.

It was in a very grand-looking new building, indeed, protected by so many security men I wouldn't even have dared to think of sitting down.


Click on the links below to read other excerpts from Tim Luard's diary:




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