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Take heart, hustling is a universal art

By XN Iraki | April 11th 2018
By XN Iraki | April 11th 2018
Cooking chapati on the streets

We have been writing about hustling for a year, but no one’s really defined who a hustler is.

We can try and define a hustler as anyone whose source of income is never guaranteed, who doesn’t enjoy formal social protection like a pension, and who has activities aligned to natural cycles, like the weather.

This definition excludes those formerly employed or those with a sizable fortune from an inheritance. The definition also means more hustlers are likely to be found in developing than developed counties.

But hustling is universal because rarely will any society ensure no one ever falls through the cracks. Money from employment is never enough and side hustles are common. Monotonous jobs also lead to hustling. Hobbies can become hustles. In fact, writing about hustling is my hustle.

It was, therefore, exciting to find hustlers in China. They include photographers at Tiananmen Square. They carry small albums showing you the photos they’ve taken to entice you to pay for one of your own. Anyone who’s visited KICC is familiar with this sales strategy.

On the last stop to the Great Wall of China, before you walk up or take a cable car, you’ll come across hustlers who are busy selling fruits, food, souvenirs (I carried a stone as my souvenir) and other items popular with hustlers. They try to entice you to buy with the price of one dollar, which I was told they later raise.

They are great bargainers. Without knowledge of Chinese or Mandarin, I used a calculator. They write, I write, until we agree on a price.

Being the Kenyan that I am, I kept multiplying the price by 16, the approximate rate of 1 yuan or RMB to the shilling. I was told once you bargain, you should buy, otherwise the hustler gets very annoyed.

Another man near the Great Wall carries a traditional Chinese sword. You pose with him for a photo and pay him. Does that sound familiar? Ever been to Narok or that neighbourhood?

Walk proud

What came out clearly from my sojourn in the East is that hustling, though popular with low-income groups, is universal. Hustlers, whether in Kenya or China, behave the same way. They set the price based on the day, and sometimes on the buyer.

I noted that wearing spectacles into fresh food markets like Wangige will raise your budget; there’s a belief that spectacle wearers are rich. Try it out yourself.

One would have thought China has no hustlers. But the market system is slowly setting in. Beyond Communism, individuals are realising they can make money in small ways.

I, however, didn’t find any hawkers on the streets as in Kenya.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development notes that in China, micro, small and medium enterprises comprised 97 per cent of all firms, and accounted for 80 per cent of urban employment and 60 per cent of total GDP in 2013. Beyond the big brands like Huawei and Haier are small firms ran by hustlers and contributing immensely to economic growth.

If you’re a hustler, take heart; you’re part of a bigger group that transcends borders and contributes immensely to economic growth. Walk with your head held high. The global economy depends on you.

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