Salesman gets to run for his money

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 November, 2010, 12:00am

Chen Jianli , a 26-year-old salesman, followed the Beijing Olympics torch relay to different mainland cities in 2008 to peddle copycat souvenirs to onlookers. He did the same during the Asian Games torch relay this month.

In how many Guangdong cities did you go to peddle souvenirs during the Asian Games torch relay?

I went to all the 21 prefecture-level cities along the route when the relay began on October 13 in Zhongshan city. I followed the entire relay and had no time to rest during the past month. Now it is finally over and I can take a rest.

When did you realise it was good business to follow torch relays and sell Games-related souvenirs?

It was in mid-2008. A friend followed the Beijing Olympics relay and came to Guangzhou to peddle souvenirs. He told me it was good money. I learned from him that it was cheap to buy souvenirs from a wholesale market and they sold well. It was a perfect part-time business.

So on the day the Guangzhou leg of the relay began, I spent about 300 yuan (HK$350) to buy badges and flags from a wholesale market. I began selling them several hours before the relay arrived at Pearl River Square, and all were sold out in less than an hour. My profit margin was 100 per cent.

You can get all sorts of copycat souvenirs at the wholesale markets and even fake certificates to prove your souvenirs are genuine. But the certificates are too expensive and I did not get any.

Did you make a fortune from the 2008 sales?

Of course not. But I like being a part-time street vendor as it gives me a chance to travel around the mainland and visit many places. It has widened my horizons and enriched my life. I am a full-time salesman with a mainland cookware company and can travel outside the office any time. In 2008, I followed the relay for about three months, from May till August. I have been to 90 cities in various provinces, except Tibet and Xinjiang .

Was it hard to keep up the work for three months?

Yes, but it is worth doing. Small street vendors like us are always on the move, making our way to the next city. We travel by bus, train or other modes of transport. We have little time for meals and sleep only six hours a day. The hardest time for me was in Jinan , capital city of Shandong . It rained cats and dogs. All the hotels and guesthouses were full. My shoes and jeans were soaking wet and I had to sleep under a plastic roof attached to an ATM that night. I was lucky not to have fallen sick in those three months.

Can you compare the torch relays of the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 and the Asian Games this month?

The Beijing Olympic Games was the most important event for the whole nation in 2008. It was perceived as the glory of the Chinese and we could tell the world how great China is. The onlookers at that time were full of passion. That meant good returns for souvenir vendors. For the Asian Games relay, I must say the onlookers were only one-tenth as enthusiastic as those in 2008. People were less interested in the stadiums and mascots. The national flags were the most popular.

Which city along the Asian Games relay do you like most?

Dongguan was the best. The route was close to Central Square, one of the largest squares on the mainland, and I think about 100,000 people gathered there to watch the relay. I earned more than 1,000 yuan.

In terms of hospitality, small cities such as Shanwei , Jieyang in eastern Guangdong and Shaoguan in the north were the nicest. Shenzhen residents were not very enthusiastic. The relay took place in a suburban park and the revenue was bad: only 80 yuan. It could not even pay for my meals and transport.

Shenzhen will host the World University Games next year. Will you do it again?

Certainly, as long as I have the time. For us, employees in a company, life is mundane and we hardly get to express our feelings, shout or laugh loudly, or go a little crazy. But during a torch relay for a sports event, we can experience all these. It is another kind of life and takes my stress away.

I am still young and energetic and I enjoy being part of the event because I like the atmosphere.