Olympic Athletes Bartering for Knock-Off Clothes
When I walked into the Silk Street Market this afternoon, the first thing I saw was Brazilian swimmer Henrique Barbosa, with a Silk Street Market employee pawing at the pins on his Olympic lanyard.
"It's mine!" she said, grabbing one of the pins.
"No, it's mine!" Barbosa said, grabbing right back.
Yup, the famously pushy employees of that famously cheap knock-off-selling barter market have met a serious foe this month, with highly muscular and highly competitive Olympic athletes parading up and down the narrow aisles, searching for bargains and declining to put up with the Silk Street act.
One saleswoman refused to give Algerian judo player Omar Rebahi the same 100 Yuan price for a woman's jacket she had just given to his teammate. Omar was getting increasingly frustrated. I feared he might deploy an Ippon throw on her. "Ok, ok, ok," the saleswoman finally said, "and two iced coffee!" although somehow the deal fell through.
A belt salesperson engaged in serious price wars with Hungarian boxer Paul Bedak, eventually slapping him on the arm in mock outrage. I'm not sure an extra 50 Yuan is worth slapping an Eastern European boxer. Swedish wrestler Jalmar Sjoberg, who was wearing a Swedish team shirt, had bought two sweatshirts for 100 Yuan apiece; "I think I can get it cheaper," he said, sadly, as another saleswoman approached.
"Are you from Sweden?" she asked.
"No," Jalmar replied.
She pointed at his shirt. "I like Sweden," Jalmar explained. She showed him her Sweden pin. "You also like Sweden," he said.
Some delegations were making serious progress. A Cuban athlete carted around a large piece of luggage and a flat-screen TV. New Zealand swimmer Orinoco Faamausili-Banse-Prince made off with a new suit, three pairs of shoes, some "hand-drawn artworks" and a stamp. Macedonian swimmer Mihajlo Ristovski bought two cell phones and then slapped hands with the saleswoman in celebration.
"I bought shoes with the Lacoste logo for eight Euros!" he said. "Probably it's fake, but it looks real."
"We bought this suitcase for 25 Euros," added kayaker Atonas Nikolovski, the Macedonian flag bearer.
Indeed, there was something very fitting about all these Olympians, representing dozens of nations and nearly every sport, coming together in a celebration of knock-off capitalism and $7 polo shirts. As if to drive home the point, the PA system played Olympic anthem "Forever Friends," even as the customers parried with the aggressive help, who approached the best athletes on earth in the same way they approached the flabby tourists: "Sir do you want pants? Do you want polo shirt sir? Hello sir, lady clothes for your wife! Hello, look this way, you need shirts!"
Venezuelan swimmer Octavio Andres Alesi Gonzalez came up with one solution, buying some nunchucks for about $7.50 and wearing them around his neck. "I bought these to defend myself," he joked, pointing towards the sales staff, who quickly grabbed the nunchucks and offered to demonstrate the proper swinging technique. Meantime, sellers swarmed around Gonzalez's lanky friend, Irish swimmer Andrew Bree.
"Big boy size! You're very tall!" one offered.
"I just put my sunglasses down, thank them and don't look them in the eye," Bree said after he had extricated himself.
Another soon approached, telling Bree "You're too tall!"
"Yao Ming!" he said in response. A true Olympic moment.
(For more on the Silk Street Market, including video, visit The Post's Postmark Beijing blog.)
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