Direct Marketing.

Why is there a clown on a bus?

The clown is working. Earning his daily bread. Putting food on the table. He is a mobile busker of sorts. He is taking his product straight to his audience. Advertisers would call it direct marketing, and the passengers on the bus are a captive audience.

The clown performed his 3 piece set for the passengers before we set off for our intended destination, and asked for ‘propinas’, or tips, in return for the few moments of entertainment. He livened up a very boring and monotonous aspect of travel and distracted his audience from the chaotic, smelly, noisy and ugly bus terminal in which they sat.

The clown is just one of the many salespeople who ply their trade on inter-city buses throughout Latin America in an attempt to earn a living in a region in which employment is precarious.

Comida y bebidas

Salespeople will board buses at terminals and offer their products or services to passengers who can choose to make a small payment. Some people will sell staples such as food and drink at a standard price and will rush up and down the crowded aisles trying to entice every passenger in to making a purchase before scurrying on to the next bus and the next one.

Some vendors might stay on the bus. Their sales require more time. They might be said to invest more with their audience. Thus, they will remain on the bus as it pulls out of the terminal and continue their journey until the bus stops at the pick up point on the outskirts of town. At this point, they will thank the driver, alight, and connect with another bus heading back to the terminal and attempt to market their products directly to a new audience.

A Blessing

Other salespeople are not selling a specific product. They instead offer items to passengers. Many of them will place in the hands of each passenger a card with a blessing, a positive affirmation or a religious image imprinted upon it. Once they have given every passenger a blessing, they will walk back down the aisle and collect the cards from those who don’t wish to keep them, or accept money from those who wish to hold on to the blessing.

How much do they earn?

It depends. They usually earn a few coins per card. It might also depend on whether the food and beverage vendor is also prowling the aisle at the same time – it can get quite crowded.

Capitalists call this competition. The free market.

The Pen Salesman

The best sales pitch I ever encountered during my many bus journeys was the pen salesman in Guatemala. He gave the most impressive spiel about pens that I have ever heard. He awarded his pens a value more precious than gold and more vital than water.

What did he say?

I can’t repeat his pitch here. It would be a breach of copyright. At least, I hope he has copyright on his pitch. He should.

Did I need a pen?

No

Did I already have a pen?

Yes

Did I want a pen?

No

Did I buy a pen?

Yes

Advertising gurus will tell you that the best marketing convinces people that they need something that they don’t actually need. I didn’t need a pen, but I bought a handful because the salesman convinced me that I needed a pen.

Not just any pen.

Not just one pen.

I needed a handful of his pens.

Getting Around in China.

How do you get where you need to be in China? How do you negotiate your way around a country of more than one billion people?

You can cram yourself into an overcrowded bus. You can squeeze your way into the back door and feel it close on you as you are sandwiched between the door and your fellow passengers. Be sure to pass your 1 or 2 yuan bill to the front of the bus via the rest of the passengers. You never know which day of the year an inspector will board the bus, and if you’re found to have ridden without paying, the penalty is severe.

You could avoid paying altogether if you copy Tim. Tim, nice but dim, was a friendly but hapless ‘Gap’ student working at a private school in China, who discovered a novel way to travel for free. He ‘scanned’ his 1 yuan note on the ticket machine. He didn’t have a transport card to scan, and he knew that money sufficed in lieu of a card, so he scanned his money. It worked, until someone pointed out that waving a note over the scanner does not constitute payment.

The standard issue communist-era utility vehicle is a reliable option. Functional, easy to park, no-frills transport which was once ubiquitous on the streets of China. If you painted it blue, the three-wheeled mobile would look a lot like Mr. Bean’s nemesis.

Another mode of transport which was even more ubiquitous on the streets of China is the bicycle. Sturdy, heavy cumbersome bikes that carried citizens and their possessions from one place to another and formed a sea of two-wheeled humanity. The car has largely replaced the bicycle as Capitalist-Communism replaced Socialism, but the humble bicycle is still serving its purpose for many citizens.

You could drive a private car. If you can afford one, and if you’re willing to negotiate the notoriously dangerous traffic and ‘creative’ driving which always seems to find its way onto ‘World’s Craziest Drivers’

In Harbin, northern China, walking is not always an option in winter. The daytime temperature drops below zero and after the snow melts, then snaps cold again, the footpaths turn into ice rinks. Its better to take a taxi, and to take whatever taxi you can find. Even if that taxi is fuelled by coal. Not refined coal transformed into fuel and dispensed at a bowser of some description, but pure coal. Coal that is shovelled into the engine by the driver while he is driving. Coal that is inserted straight into a furnace sitting by the driver’s feet, and which exits the vehicle via a chimney running along the side of the vehicle.

Sorry I don’t have a photo. I was afraid my fingers would fall off if I’d removed my gloves to extract the camera from my pocket.

If you’re averse to suffocating on the fumes of coal-powered taxi, you could progress a few decades into a gas-powered taxi. You’ll have to get out of the taxi, though, when it fills up at the gas station. Sitting in the taxi while it fills up is too big a risk, in case the taxi blows up, but apparently standing one metre away from the taxi, while the driver smokes a cigarette and plays on his phone, is perfectly safe.

Advance a few more decades and you can travel in comfort and style in a far more sustainable vehicle. Hop on one of the tourist buses in Hangzhou and admire the impossibly beautifully lakes and gardens of this popular city.

Sun protection is vital. Protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays and prevent skin cancer. As you’re in China, it’s also imperative that you avoid a tan because you will never land yourself a wealthy husband unless you have fair skin. Also, it is considered chivalrous to provide comfortable seating for your female passengers.

A visor at the front of the vehicle doesn’t just look great, it also protects your eyes from the dust, and keeps your perm in place.

If you have a few goats to transfer from one place to another, why walk them through the busy streets of Xiamen? After all, if you can hire an Uber for your pet dog, why can’t you carry goats in a minivan?

What if you find yourself in a canal city? If you need to traverse a canal city such as Suzhou, which formed part of the enormous canal system that stretched from northern to southern China, how would you best get around? Driving could prove slow and frustrating in a city of narrow crowded streets, so why not take to the water, for a faster and more peaceful trip, perhaps in the company of some cormorants.

At times, speed is of the essence, and a water-borne craft with an outboard motor is the only vehicle which will suffice. Especially if you’re chasing the catch of the day or nipping between Gulangyu and the mainland.