Saturday, February 12, 2005

In China, Day 4: Shopping

[This is Julie, writing under Eliot's login.]

Yesterday was the day we set aside for shopping, with the plan that we'd go to the Antique Market (open weekends only), then lunch and shopping in the downtown area. The Antique Market included two locations: first an indoor space with individual rented shops (many of which were still closed for the holiday)and an open area with wares spread on the floor--kind of like an American antique mall, but with a lot more Mao statues. Mom walked into one shop, picked up an unusual bronze bird figure and asked how much and the guy told her it was one thousand dollars--so she set it down and got out of there in a hurry.

Just one or two purchases there, then on to the second location, an outdoor area under a big metal roof--more like an outdoor flea market. Here we found the prices to be much better and the array of merchandise for sale was overwhelming: stall after stall of carved jade, bronze and other metal work, silver jewelry, beaded jewelry, silk, embroidered fabrics, art supplies, lotus shoes, children's shoes, brightly painted masks, musical instruments, books and magazines, and more.

Eliot, who has been practicing his Chinese with Amy and Mr Liu (our driver) turned out to be indespensible for bargaining--we'd spot something, wave him over and he'd ask the vendor how much (the eagle-eyed vendors never missed the least sign of interest, so were always right on hand). The vendor either quoted a price in Chinese, which Eliot would repeat, or write it on a piece of paper or tap it onto a calculator. Numbers would fly back and forth, Eliot would say "too expensive" a few times, the vendor would proclaim the high quality and authenticity of his wares, and eventually a bargain would be struck. At some stalls, the transaction took place with the buyers sitting on tiny folding stools (thoughtfully provided by the vendors) but at others there was more movement, with buyers pretending to lose interest and wander off or declaring the item Just Too Expensive and leaving altogether, to be coaxed back by the vendor or not.

One guy was selling these wooden clappers, a type of percussion instrument, and demonstrated them, playing with great flair and verve. Eliot took an interest and underwent a quick tutorial, with Bill catching much of it on video. Eliot bought a set and even got the guy to throw in an instructional DVD.

The market wasn't just for local goods, either. Some of the goods were from Tibet and we admired some embroidery and silver jewelry made by the Miao people from Southwestern China--Eliot and I bought some adorable embroidered boots for Yuda, with little bells around the ankles.

By lunchtime, we were all frozen, hungry and loaded with packages, so we went off to lunch. The first restaurant we went to was packed, with a substantial wait, so went to a smaller place (still busy but with a table free) that Amy described as Chinese fast food. And it was fast indeed, with dishes appearing on the table at an amazing rate: noodles, preserved duck eggs (which are a blue-grey color and gelatinous-looking, so it's an act of faith to eat them--but tasty), and on and on. I magnimously paid the bill for all eight of us, for 180 yuan--a whopping twenty-some bucks.

By this time, Amy had to go meet another family at the airport, so we said goodbye for now and her friend Snow took over as our guide. We went to shop in the downtown area, which we found to be like Times Square or Picadilly Circus--throngs of people, tons of traffic, huge buildings, McDonalds, KFC, department stores, retail shops, rack after rack of bicycles and more. We shopped a bit at a department store but didn't stay long. A disconcerting feature is that there is no curb or other clear marker between the sidewalk and the street, so once or twice we'd look up to see a bus headed right at us--yikes!

[Eliot: actually, we were in the Artistic Mansion store for about an hour. It was several floors of all sorts of Chinese arts and crafts, tchotkes, bad art, clothes, and everything. We bought quite a few small things in fact.]

After downtown, we went back to the hotel, had a Mongolian Hot Pot dinner, and so to bed. We got our travel papers from the Chinese authorities, too, which is exciting.

Today we will take a longer trip to see the Great Wall at Badaling (which I keep hearing as Bada-bing, a name recognisable to Sopranos fans) and to see some ice sculptures.


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