Honestly, I was perplexed by this sign when I saw it a couple of weeks ago in the Beijing Airport.
I’d been gone too long. In Shanghai once more, it all came back.
I was standing on a corner along the river squinting up at an old colonial building when he made his move. He almost nailed me. Apparently, my reflexes hadn’t forgotten, because when the man standing next to me suddenly scrunched down, both my hands jumped to his sweaty chest and gave him a good shove while I bellowed, “Don’t touch me!” (My instincts still come out in English, and loud.) He actually smiled and stepped back as I repeated myself in Mandarin. I like to think he respected a worthy combatant.
He is a soldier in a guerrilla army of would-be shoe shiners who squirt first and ask questions later. There is absolutely nothing more annoying than an intentional plop of greasy gunk on your shoe, especially if your shoe is of the no-polish variety. And these soldiers are really sneaky, standing around marking you, looking all innocent before they dive-bomb.
Last year, one got to a woman waiting next to my husband to cross a busy downtown street. She let out a blue streak of f-words and then caught my husband’s eye by chance. At that moment, they were miles away from the school where she had, just a few days before, provided us with an assessment of how our son was doing in her 11th grade English class. She seemed terribly embarrassed to find herself next to her student’s dad. But believe me, he understood.
In Beijing for the Olympics, I kind of missed the liveliness of the street vendors whose traffic in pirated DVDs was shut down for the duration of the Games. When it rained, I longed for the cheap umbrellas peddled at subway exits. Here in Shanghai, I am reasonably tolerant of the guys who languish on the street corners near my home ready to jump in my face with worn pictures of Prada and Louis Vuitton bags in the hope that I will follow them down some alley to view their merchandise.
But the shoe polish ambush marketers. Grrrrr. I’m girded for combat.