Thursday, November 20, 2008

dirt market

On Sunday, we decided to go to the Panjiayuan Antique Market, known to the locals as the "dirt market." A place called "dirt market" didn't seem exactly appealing (especially after you've been exposed to some of the bathrooms here in China), but we were told it was something we shouldn't miss.

The first thing I couldn't miss was the thousands and thousands of carts and bicycles that lined the streets up to the entry way of the market. As the procession of carts grew longer and longer, I realized that these were all carts of vendors--that the scale of this dirt market would be immense.
And it was. There were rows and rows and rows of stuff that seemed to go on for miles. You could easily get lost amongst the goods. From antique robes to ceramic vases, everything and anything old(and not that old) you could imagine seemed to be displayed and for sale. Even used and polished gramophones.
There was brightly colored-jewelry being sold by ethnic minority Chinese, dressed in their traditional costumes.
And lots of jade. I was finally given the reasons why jade is such a precious stone in Chinese culture. Symbolizing good luck and longevity, many elder Chinese used to use jade rings in marriage (now the younger generation has embraced the western diamond instead) and the jade bangle bracelet as a health indicator. Apparently, if you wear the jade bracelet continually on your left hand (as it is directly connected to your heart) and are in good health, the bracelet will slowly turn a darker green and the lines or branches in the jade's surface will grow. It has to be real jade though, not those $2 green glass imitations you can get in Chinatown.

The market was really a slice of Chinese history. At one stall, we stopped and looked at these tiny, beautifully embroidered shoes--small even for baby shoes. In horror, I realized these are the shoes that the grown women wore after their feet were painfully bound. I always knew about the custom, but I never realized just how small their feet were made. At first, we tried to believe the shoes were for babies, but a nearby photo showing a women wearing the same shoes quickly dispelled our optimism; and I felt glad that this tradition was one that had passed.
But with all this stuff for sale, it was quite intimidating to try to buy something. I was tempted to get one of the many statues...
...until the puppets caught my eye. They reminded me of fellow blue rose girl Linda...
...and when I saw the shadow puppets, I knew I had to give this bargaining/buying thing another try. The young vendor poured on the charm, telling me how his grandfather hand made each one of these puppets from leather. I'm such a softie, I probably would've paid his asking price. But, lucky for me, Alvina is not such a sucker and got the price to about a third of what he originally asked for. But even then, she told me she suspected it was still way higher than what a local would've gotten. Oh well, I don't mind--I got my shadow puppet and I helped pay for this guy's rent...or maybe a hot date with his girlfriend. Somehow, I have to think it's good fortune for all.

Which is how I felt about our day's experience--the market was a fascinating place and I think we were dirt lucky not to miss it.