Rhyme time with hawkers proves big fun

By Raymond Zhou ( China Daily ) Updated: 2007-07-17 13:59:47

Rhyme time with hawkers proves big funStreet peddlers are often the target of harassment in China. I once wrote a column condemning the urban management officers who crack down on their hawking with no regard for their right to subsist on a meager but hard-earned income.

But I never knew street hawking could be so entertaining.

On my first day in Xining, capital of Qinghai Province, I took a stroll along the boulevard outside the railway station. I was not in the mood for shopping. Besides, about a quarter of the shops specialized in a local delicacy called "Winter Worm Summer Grass" - a snack said to morph from fauna to flora in a season. Don't ask me how it works; I'm no expert in herbal medicine or the Transformer mystery.

The sidewalk was lined with all kinds of peddlers, including a middle-aged man reciting a doggerel in a hearty voice. Two-dozen bystanders crowded around him.

I squeezed in among them to get a peak of the scene. He was demonstrating the usefulness of peeling boards - a cooking utensil intended to make meals' preparation less burdensome but for some reason never gained a foothold among many kitchens.

The board was sold for 3 kuai. Instead of shouting "Cheap! Only 3 kuai!" the guy rolled this couplet off his tongue: "You guys save three cigarettes; you ladies draw three fewer black rings around your eyes; this wonderful thing will be yours."

I must apologize for my inability to render the original form, rhyme, pun and all. But trust me, it was the funniest marketing slogan I'd heard in a long time.

Then, he went on, in verse, to elaborate on all the seemingly magical attributes of his ware. While peeling a carrot into long strips, he compared them to the length of the Silk Road.

The most amazing thing was his use of political allegories in his nonstop anti-epic. With just one stanza, he somehow took a shot at many of China's dynasties and most of the political leaders of New China. You know what about the current administration impressed him most? Its abolition of agricultural taxes.

Think of it. This was social commentary at the most grassroots and could be considered a barometer of public sentiment. And take note, Maureen Dowd, that this hustler incorporated just as many jibes at Bush as a typical New York Times column.

His long "poem" also raised the bar of innovation. Unlike traditional poetry, which changes its rhymes at clear-cut transitions, he would jump from one rhyme to another within one couplet, creating a comic effect through his clever arrangement of proper nouns.

But that's enough flaunting of my linguistic aptitude. A member of my journalist group whipped out her notebook and started jotting down his prose. This made the salesman's wife suspicious. I considered presenting a formal interview request but decided against it in the end. I'm sure doing so would have worked all the vendors into a panic and they would have vanished around the corner.

Maybe I should give him a little coaching about the use of Windows and MS Office. That way, Bill Gates could hire him as the Chief Marketing Officer of his China operation and legal copies of MS software would become very affordable.

(China Daily 07/17/2007 page20)

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