First time on this blog? Beijing Traffic Lesson: Left Turn is probably a good place to start.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Our Musical Guest: Chairman Mao!

This is a long distance dedication not only, but ESPECIALLY for my buds from the former Sam Scratch. So Matt, Pat and Mike, get ready to sing along with the soulful sounds of Chairman Mao and the Cultural Revolutions!


Note: This turtle tank is NOT in the pet department.

My coworkers Andrew (my creative director) and Michael (an account guy) let me tag along on a day of shopping at the [somethingsomething] Wet Market, a giant free-for-all bazaar.

For reference, take the idea of the Minneapolis Farmer's Market and make it ten times larger and insane. Each aisle is probably 100 yards long, with a walkspace maybe five feet wide, and on each side are booths anywhere from 4-8 feet across. Call it 60 booths per aisle, maybe more, times 15 or more aisles, plus people who have set up shop in open areas - sometimes just setting stuff on newspaper on the sidewalk.

A lot of it is meant to look antique. Some shops specialize - Mao posters here, fans and chopsticks there, calligraphy scrolls, modern Chinese art. Others have what's supposed to look like a random collection of treasures - copper swords green with age, bits of jade, pottery that's been carefully dirtied to look ancient, and maybe one top-drawer watch sitting amongst the antiques, just looking for the sucker who thinks maybe that vendor doesn't know what he has.

"Just think of it as toys," said Michael, examining his 18 karat gold (HA!) Swiss-made (HA!) genuine Petak Philippe (HA!) watch that he bought for 250 yuan - about $20. "You'd spend this much on toys. I'm not going to spend $10,000 on a new watch. It looks good, yeah? Look at the detail!"

You haggle for EVERYTHING, and let me tell you, the Chinese are master hagglers. Andrew and Michael would laugh, argue, walk away, walk back, argue more, scoff at the counteroffer, shake their heads, walk away again, then go back and buy it for half or less of the asking price, which is exactly what everyone knew would happen from the start.

Now, I'm Minnesotan, so my idea of haggling is to passive-aggressively leave a 14.9% tip when I'm unhappy with service. So fortunately Andrew and Michael handled that for me.

It's easy to go a little overboard, especially with two pros telling you what you should get - what am I going to do with a set of 5 foot long crimson calligraphy scrolls? - but I spent a grand total of $67 U.S. and I got some cool souvenirs, some gifts and one-of-a-kind mementos that actually reflect some of China's culture.

And after all that? Pork chops at The Sizzler!

What a country.