With work taking up my weekdays and rain taking up my weekends, I have turned to excessive shopping to get through the weather setbacks in Hong Kong. It's not hard. Every 10 feet there's a mall, shop, market or something that you can indulge in, especially since my office is IN A MALL. These people don't joke around.
I've noticed a problem, however. Sure, you expect the hard sell at the trinket markets where they try to bargain you down so you leave with SOMETHING, but I wasn't expecting it in normal malls.
A week or so ago I went to a street market, basically like the fashion district with some Chinese tchotchkes thrown in, and all I had to do was TOUCH something and I had a saleslady breathing down my neck. "Only $200, look so pretty on you." I'd try to explain I was just looking, and keep walking through the stall. She followed me within 2 inches. "Ok, ok, $150, I go 150 for you." No, I'm not interested in the panda keychain I merely touched for 2 seconds upon entering your place of business. I politely say "no thank you" and walk out of her stall.
Here's where it gets weird. She GRABS MY ARM. "OK OK $100! I give you for 100, special price just for you!" Dude. No. I don't want it for any price. I smile and shake my head no and get the hell out of there. This happened at least 5 times, every time I forgot that touching something meant I obviously want to purchase it. I had at least two women grab my arm to keep me in the store as they constantly lowered the price of something I didn't want.
In the cheap "malls" which are basically indoor stalls to sell uber cheap clothing (see my engrish tshirt posts), I walk in a store and once again, touch something. "That's only $79." Touch another item. "That's $79 too." YES I SEE THE GIANT PRICE TAGS THANK YOU. "Just browsing" is a term they've never heard.
The absolute CREEPIEST part is the silent stalker. Today I went to a nicer mall with mid-range foreign stores (plus a Haagen Daas, since they love their ice cream), and EVERY SINGLE TIME I walked into one, a salesperson would immediately start following me around. The store would be about the size of a small shoe store in the US, where you can easily see everything and offer sizes standing next to the counter. I started testing this girl out, because I thought being followed was freaky. She said nothing, but literally followed me in 3 complete circles of the store, stopping whenever I'd stop.
I know this is the customer service culture of Asia, which I was told by my Chinese friends, but sweet lord, it makes me feel like a criminal. If someone were to follow you around a store silently about 2 feet behind you every step of the way in the US, you'd be convinced they thought you were about to shoplift. And having been a prosecutor, this is EXACTLY what they ARE doing.
It got to be a game, where I'd try to move quickly in odd directions to see if they could keep up, like I was being tailed in a car trying to lose them. The ways they compensated made me giggle, as I quickly dodged in and out of racks thwarting their creepy sales stalking. They were so persistent! They never gave up their chase, but they also didn't do the things the salespeople in the cheap places did - they just remained silent.
My last stop was a cheap Chinese trinket shop that sold everything from jade to dresses to Chinese print glasses cases. I was just taking it all in, enjoying the masses of random things, when I noticed someone close behind me. The passages were really small, so I stepped aside to let the person pass me while I looked at something so I wouldn't be in their way. She stood there. Ok...I did it a few more times to let others actually pass, but she never did. I didn't catch on that she was an employee until I'd done this at least 3 times, then I started to get pissed off. I wanted to browse, look at all the random things, pick up bracelets, touch fans, shuffle through dresses on the rack. It's like some people with peeing in public. I'm sorry, I don't shop with an audience. It's fucking weird. I did finally manage to get her stuck behind a dad and his son looking at some toys, where I bolted out of sight to continue shopping in peace.
In a place where everyone pretty much ignores each other (on the subway, on the street, in restaurants, in any other public space), this kind of attention bothered the shit out of me. And it wasn't because I was a westerner - I saw it happen to Chinese shoppers too. I couldn't wait to get back on the glorious anonymity that was the MTR and get the hell back to my tiny prison-cell-sized apartment to hide from people. I'm taking a break from shopping for a bit.