“I have a confession to make. This article is not about strip clubs of Beijing. I have never been to a strip club in Beijing, or anywhere else for that matter. No, the reason for the title is not to shine a light on the seedier side of the Chinese capital but to discuss the main difference between what male and female traveling marketeers are sometimes expected to do overseas to bond with our agents.
I know I’m lucky. Being a woman in this industry means that I don’t have those horror stories that so many of you men have, when an agent winks at you and says “I want to take you to a club,” and you know what sort of club and you don’t fancy it but you’re worried that if you refuse you may offend. Us ladies don’t even have to drink our own body weight in vodka with agents to prove friendship. (We don’t HAVE to…) No, we have something that I consider much scarier than all that. We have female agents offering to take us shopping.
It sounds harmless. Nice even. But just as men are judged by other men by the amount of drinks they can handle, when an agent takes us shopping, we are also on trial. Now I love shopping. I love shopping alone. Shopping with an agent is a completely different experience. My house is strewn with jade bangles and ill-fitting shirts that I bought in a panic with an agent. Do I try stuff on? What should I look for? How long should we shop for? Do I have to buy something or can I just browse? What if I hate what she’s recommending?
It’s not that these agents aren’t lovely and that the gesture of spending their own non-work time with an overseas visitor isn’t touching, I’ve just had too many bad experiences. From a shop in Santiago where my agent got the exchange rate wrong and I ended up spending £250 on a blanket, to a clothes shop in Thailand where my agent translated the exclamation of the shop keeper as we walked in as “we have nothing here in HER size.”
Recently when a Chinese agent said “I’m going to take you to the Pearl Market tomorrow,” I panicked. I asked a colleague working out in Beijing. His advice? “I always buy a belt. It’s quick, easy, inexpensive.” Brilliant, I thought. So when my agent picked me up in the morning and greeted me with “What are you going to buy?” I confidently replied “a belt”. I may as well have said “a drill bit” by the withering look she gave me. A look that told me that I had betrayed my sex and didn’t get this shopping trip. “Or pearls,” I said hopefully.
I did buy pearls and a pair of Converse for a fiver. I never did get that belt.
So dear men of the industry, next time you are feeling sorry for yourselves as you are bullied into going to that club, or poured your eighth vodka shot and all you want to do is crawl into your hotel room and watch “Click”, on BBC World, remember that somewhere out there, your female counterpart is shopping, with an agent, in a night market, sober.”
Hannah Alexander – woman of the world but based in the UK.