January 3, 2008

Refusing 10 More Times

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In our five days in Beijing, which included visits to tourist sites and non-touristy businesses and restaurants, only two people approached us asking for money. We were regularly swarmed with people selling goods from fake Rolexes to Olympics swag (and once for a massage as we walked by a tattoo parlor at night), but there were virtually no visible beggars. Shanghai has been notably different. A short walk on the river front (the Bund) was filled with people asking us for handouts; some even tried to grab us to get our attention. As we walked out of a nearby bar later that evening, three well-dressed women picked up their small children and ran over to us to ask for money; a group of about six people swarmed us a block later. Like in the U.S., it is difficult — if not impossible — to tell which people truly need money and which people are simply trying to win sympathy. The presence of so many people asking for money, however, exemplifies the economic divide in Shanghai, and China in general; some people have accumulated immense wealth, but many more remain incredibly poor.