A Tronkie Travellogue
Day 19: Hongqiao Market
Hand-carved seals and stamps at Hongqiao Market.
Click any image to enlarge.
Hongqiao Market: buyer's advice
In the afternoon, we visit Hongqiao, a large five-floor bazaar in downtown Beijing, again. I had been there on the 17th and come away with only a fleeting sense of the market culture here.
A few words of advice: Go in with a Chinese-speaking friend or relative if you can. Speaking English here is still an invitation to sharp dealing. Bring a good negotiator, preferably one who understands the real value of products and knows how to "flinch" properly at a quoted price - especially if you aren't of this type. I found that acting uniformly flabbergasted ("three hundred?!") was a good way to start off. Don't offer more than 10-20% of the initial price. Be firm with merchants during negotiation and nice to them afterwards; after all, you always want to create a win-win situation and the impression of potential repeat business. A good sign is when the merchant says "at that price, I should by from you"; a very good sign is when they ask you not to buy too much. The latter means that they have no profit margin or are taking a loss on the item as a "customer acquisition cost", i.e, to get you to buy more of other things (which you should consider doing if you really do get such a good deal).
The developing Chinese economy
The booming Chinese economy is quite a marvel. As I will write about in the weeks after I get home, one sees different facets of it in different contexts. The most vivid impression you get going into a place such as Hongqiao is that the country has become capitalist in all but name. That's a dramatic oversimplification, though. Hongqiao is the source of some very good deals for good hagglers, while the merchants are actually astute businesspeople by and large. They can drive a good bargain while still being fairly laid back compared to many Westerners.
Foreigners in Beijing
Speaking of Westerners, I've noticed that foreigners in Beijing, especially Americans and Europeans, tend to be a little high-strung. It's as if they are wound tighter than the average person on the street in a U.S. city. I suppose you have to be a little bit overclocked to live and work in Asia, particularly the capital of China, and if I had to guess, I'd say it's because non-native speakers of Chinese have to process thoughts more quickly, especially if they "think in English". Emigres are mostly a self-selected population, of course. They are interesting to watch, if only because Chinese people already speak rather quickly and seeing an American match their rate of speech - in English - is astounding.
Religious practice in China
China is religiously eclectic - while freedom of religion is neither total nor what most of us might consider satisfactory, things have opened up here tremendously in the last quarter century. The smorgasbord of faiths makes Bejing's occasional signs of religion very interesting. If you walk down the street outside Hongqiao, you may see women in full burqas, men with thick beards (which in China is still a fair hint that someone is Islamic), people wearing crucifixes, and the occasional bald Buddhist monk or Jewish person wearing a yarmulke. I expected to see this in Singapore or Hong Kong, but not in Beijing. Upon reflection, I realize that I thought Beijing would be more like Taipei or Seoul - a blend of Buddhist and Christian elements - rather than such a heterogeneous study in contrasts.
The Silk Road
Inside Hongqiao, you can get everything from hand-crafted seals to USB jumpdrives, from loose pearls to clothing of every description. Banamum and her sisters stick to the silk products, buying up pashmina-and-silk shawls and making a killing on scarves, bedspreads, craft baskets, and such.
I am surprised and amused by a copy of the Little Red Book in Cyrillic and by lighters in the shape of everything you can imagine: cigarettes, fire extinguishers, the Little Red Book, even adult toys. I bid on a pewter and copper chess set but don't get a reasonable enough price to justify buying it. Instead, I get myself a new name seal and have a pair of them custom-made as a present.
Images of Hongqiao
Left: The entrance to the famous Hongqiao Pearl Market. Warning to darana and anyone else with a severe seafood allergy: the smell of shrimp, crab, and fish is permeative for about a two-block radius around this building, which adjoins the seafood market.
Right: Remember how I said you could get a shot of whiskey at the tea and coffee stand? Well, here it is up close.
Banazir Galbasi's Excellent Haircut
Yesterday, my Fourth Aunt cut my hair, with a little help from her youngest niece:
Left: Hair styling courtesy of She Who Opens Her Eyes With Her Hands (SWOHEWHH).
Right: The result.