我们原本应该在附近的一家熊猫快餐店（Panda Express）停下来吃顿午饭，但大家一致否决了坐下来吃饭的计划，主要是因为担心它会缩短购物时间。户外商场里挤满了中国游客；Sino Coach、Lion Express和Eagle Tours等旅行社的旅游巴士都停在外面。我们的大客车在一个下客点停下时，大家都赶紧起身。我努力地跟上了一对老夫妇，他们是钟道（音译）和狄平（音译）。我跟着他们跑向拉尔夫·劳伦（Polo Ralph Lauren）的一家门店。
Halfway between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, the Tanger outlet mall appeared in the distance, its towering sign beckoning like an oasis. The people on our bus started to titter with excitement. I was sitting with 52 Chinese tourists, mostly elderly retirees from Shanghai, and very few of them spoke English. But as we pulled into the mall's parking lot, they leaned up against the windows and called out familiar words: "Polo! Tommy! Reebok!"
We were supposed to stop for lunch at a nearby Panda Express, but the group unanimously vetoed a sit-down meal, fearing it would cut into shopping time. The outdoor mall was packed with Chinese tourists; buses from Sino Coach, Lion Express, and Eagle Tours were parked outside. As our motor coach lurched to a stop, everyone sprang up. I struggled to keep up with an older couple, Zhong Dao and Di Ping, as they bolted toward Polo Ralph Lauren (RL).
As soon as we arrived, Zhong Dao, a retired teacher with a haircut like Liza Minnelli's, began riffling through a rack of polo shirts. She plucked a lavender one and pulled out a scrap of paper with her daughter-in-law's measurements. "We had great expectations for this," she told a staffer from our tour company, who translated her remarks for me. She asked him if it was possible to bargain down the price. He shook his head ruefully.
The couple, both 66, bought 12 polo shirts -- a relatively modest haul. Outside, dozens of tourists rested on benches surrounded by mountains of shopping bags. Zhong Dao told me that this was her and her husband's first visit to the U.S. Before, they had only witnessed America in the movies. "We wanted to come see it with our own eyes," she said.
Until a few years ago Chinese tour groups were forbidden from traveling to the U.S. Then, in 2007, the two countries signed a memorandum that reversed this restriction -- and unleashed a tidal wave of tourism. More than 1 million Chinese visitors came to the U.S. in 2011, up from 493,000 in 2008. The Commerce Department expects arrivals to rise 259% between 2011 and 2017. As more Chinese people join the middle class, they are embracing the concept of leisure travel. Tour groups from China are now ubiquitous in major cities, supplanting Japanese travelers as the world's most sought-after big spenders.
Advanced economies are reaping the benefits. Chinese tourists in America spend about $6,000 per trip, more than visitors from any other country. Because their expenditures are technically exports, the U.S. ran a whopping $4.4 billion surplus in travel and tourism with China in 2011, up from a $687 million deficit in 2006.
The surge in tourist spending offers an elegant solution to one of the economy's structural problems -- a way for the U.S. to tap into the growth in emerging markets while exploiting its own strengths, including its popular culture, its safety, and its large service workforce. More than 5.4 million Americans work in travel and tourism, and their jobs cannot be easily outsourced. Tourism is one of the few areas in which mature economies are still outperforming emerging ones, mainly because people from Third World countries want to visit First World ones.