Chances are most of us have heard of China’s rising economy in these recent times and also their development in pretty much everything! According to many researchers, China is the next big thing so make sure you’re brushing up on your mandarin, you might end up using it sooner than you think.
I was commissioned to go out to Shanghai to film the ‘World Solar Congress 2012’. It was for clients who got in contact after seeing my previous work. The crew and I, Keko and Prince who I had worked with previously in L.A were really excited. China was definitely a place that was on my life’s to do list.
Even though I had never been to China before, the culture already had a significant impact on me since I was a kid. I basically grew up watching Hong Kong cinema movies probably more than your average Asian kid. The early Jackie Chan films were my favourite; the action and the comedy just resonated with me as a child and for a long time I wanted to become a stuntman in the ‘Jackie Chan Stunt man association’. Fortunately I grew out of that childhood dream and decided to become a filmmaker instead. In a lot of ways I do owe my passion for my job to those early Hong Kong Cinema films. They really were inspirational to me.
So here it was, the chance for me to go out to Shanghai for a shoot, Not exactly on a Jackie Chan movie set…but a shoot none the less.
The World Solar Congress was pretty much exactly what it says on the tin really. It was about solar energy in the present day and for the future. In short it’s basically an event where the worlds leading solar manufacturers and industry leaders get together, share ideas and do business with each other. It doesn’t really do it justice explaining about it here, but when you’re there listening to these professionals, you can see the exciting potential of what Solar Energy could bring to the world and the benefits it has for everyone. Even if you are a beginner to the subject like I was.
It was early morning when we landed at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport. Our client met us there at the exit. His name was Salah; he was a 6 ft 4 Moroccan guy with the big build of a mixed martial arts fighter (which I later found out was his previous profession!) He was a really cool and down to earth guy. He was the host of the solar congress as well as the person in charge of the event. Salah wanted us to check out the hotel venue as early as possible as the event was taking place the next day. To take us there as quickly as possible he bought himself and us tickets for the Maglev train. If you’ve never heard of the ‘Maglev’, it’s a train that goes over 300 mph using high-speed magnetic levitation. In other words it’s a bloody fast magnet train!
The hotel was absolutely amazing. The lobby had ancient Chinese artwork displayed all around it and the whole place had a relaxing feel to it. We started checking out the venue rooms and planning where and how we should film the speakers. It was pretty straight foreword but we wanted to be prepared nonetheless.
Once we got settled in to our rooms, Salah introduced us to another member on his team, Kevin. He was also a really cool guy; very friendly and from London like Salah too so it was really easy to get along with them both. While we were planning the shoot, they told us that they wanted us to wear all black clothing. However there was a slight problem. All three of us didn’t bring anything black to wear, as we weren’t told before hand. Salah found a quick solution, which was to send us to the fake market in town to quickly buy some black shirts and trousers for the job. He made a phone call to someone at the market whom he knew personally and who would take us around market and make sure we got good prices for what we needed. When Me, Keko and Prince got to the location, Salah’s friend greeted us as soon as we got out of the cab. He even opened the door for me and then told me to follow him through the streets, which was just full of tourists shopping left right and centre. He seemed very eager to take us to his particular store very quickly. Once we got there we went inside… and the hustle began.
I quickly began to realise that Salah’s friend had no intention of getting us good prices on the shirts and trousers. In fact he was there to try and get every penny out of us that he could. The prices he was charging for the trousers, which were high quality, but fake’s of the real expensive brands was insane. I mean the prices were so high that we might as well go and pay for the real things. The man clearly had an agenda to try and get us to buy from the shops that he either owned or was associated with. In a way we didn’t have a choice, we couldn’t walk away from these stores, as we needed to have something to wear, the congress was starting in a few hours, but at the same time we knew we were getting hustled. So we made a decision and we decided to hustle them back even harder.
They would tell us the price using a calculator to show us. As we were foreign they thought they could take advantage by assuming we were ignorant to the exchange rate, but lucky for us, we knew the exchange rate extremely well. We were recent graduates and it was something that stuck with us from university, We had to make sure we knew how much money we had at all times, it was the student way of thinking as I call it. Every price they threw at us, for fake Armani trousers and fake ted baker shirts were constantly high, so we had to keep bringing them down.
The young woman who was selling the fake trousers to us, “400 yuan”, she would yell while writing it in the calculator and looking really confident as if to say we wont eve try and haggle. “No no no” I would say. “That’s too high, bring it down”. We took the calculator off her “250-Yuan, No more!” I said while pressing it into the calculator. When she saw the figure on the display, her face dropped in sheer disappointment as she realised that this wasn’t going to be easy. She looked at the fella who brought us there and he also didn’t look happy at all. To infuriate them even further and add the cherry on the cake, Prince took the calculator and said, “250 Yuan, and I want another shirt for free!” I said to prince “What you doing”, “don’t worry” Prince said, “I got this”. Now they just looked confused and even angrier. They probably thought they were going to get three scientists from the solar congress that wouldn’t even argue with them at all; instead they got three recent university graduates who were going to fight for every penny like them. The next two hours were just a constant battle between prices going up and down for trousers, cufflinks shirts, shoes and the occasional big brand DJ headphones. The market owners were seriously not happy; it even got to a point where some of them wouldn’t sell to us, they were getting really annoyed. I feared we were crossing some serious boundaries and had to be very careful that we didn’t offend them. After all we were in a secluded underground fake market with no other customers around and surrounded by angry paranoid sellers. Who knew what could have happened.
After we were finished, the guy who brought us to the market with such enthusiasm was now getting us a cab and looking really pissed off. The cab arrived; as we were getting in I said “xie xie” to the guy, which meant ‘Thank you’ in mandarin. I felt I had to as after all we did ‘counter hustle’ them very badly and probably came close to getting lynched for it once or twice.
The fake market hustle was a quite grim part of the Shanghai shoot at the time we were there… but every time I look back at it now, I always end up laughing.