Beijing ShoppingOur major mission was to shop for furniture and interesting accessories for the shop. One of our Chinese partners, who's western name is Eric, met us and helped us to arrange our plan of action for the next few days. We decided to visit five furniture vendors, the Hongqiao Market and the weekend flea market for crafts, silk, jade, porcelain and antiques. There are numerous other markets but we just couldnít visit them all.
Shopping in China is still a bargain but is less so. This is due to their rapid economic development that is causing inflation, increasing fuel costs, and the devaluation of the US dollar. As for antique Chinese furniture, the Chinese themselves are becoming the biggest buyers.
Jennifer and Auntie Erika joined us for some of our furniture treasure hunting in dusty and hot warehouses. Jennifer has a good eye for style and design while Erika has a good eye for bargains. They both found and selected furniture to beautify their homes.
We had another one of those adventures when we say to ourselves "what were we thinking?" One of the furniture shopping times when Jennifer and Erika did not join us, Eric, his friend ďthe driverĒ, and Robert and I traveled far into an outlying suburb of Beijing. We four were scrunched up in a very small car without A/C. After traveling a while, we got off the main highway and traveled alongside a canal, on a dirt road. After about 15 minutes of this dirt road, we seemed to be driving in a pasture adjacent to a wooded area. Now Iím thinking, "Are they going to kill and rob us and throw our bodies in the canal?" Maybe jetlag was rearing its ugly head in my mind? I know Eric, who has been our friend for years, would never hurt us or let anything happen to us.
After the pasture area, we turned onto a muddy road with deep ruts. In fact, the car couldnít make it way through or around these mud ruts. So we got out of the car to lessen its load. Then it was able to make it through. We traveled a little further to a quasi industrial-residential area. Eric thought he has been here before but asked for directions. No locals can really help him. Thanks to his instinctual navigation, we happen upon the warehouse of where we wanted to be.
The man and woman owner of this furniture warehouse were delighted to see us and show us their furniture. We did find nice pieces here. To leave the location the man and woman told Eric and the driver to go one block to a major highwayónot the way we came. The man and woman were very gracious and insisted that they treat us to lunch at a nearby restaurant. We said yes and enjoyed the food and our time with them, even though we spoke no Chinese and they spoke no English.
The other furniture vendors we visited, Ms. Hai Fenh Lui, Mr. & Mrs. Cao, Mr. & Mrs. Ge and Mr. Guo Yu Qing were all very gracious but shrewd business owners.
Our most pleasant antique furniture shopping experience is when we visited the showroom of our friend and partner Lily. She owns and operates one of the largest antique furniture businesses in Beijing. Many pieces have to be repaired and restored which she does in-house. We are always amazed with the skills of her artisans.
Her showroom is well lit and clean. Her prices are higher than some of the others but she is delightful to work with and to learn from. She is also the partner we trust to gather, process, package, and ship all our other purchases back home to us. Her people gather all our purchases from other vendors and consolidate them into our container.
Lily informed us that the Chinese government would no longer allow export from China of architectural pieces like wooden doors, and windows. It seems some people were dismantling homes and shipping them overseas. This means that our existing inventory of antique wooden rooms dividers that were made from wooden doors are now rarer and more valuable.
The Hongqiao Market is a 5-storied building filled with hundreds of small, medium and large vendors. Some vendors have only a few square meters of area and a few have beautiful showrooms. We go here for the frenzy and excitement of the place and for the variety of items we can find. Every vendor offers us a special, cheap, cheap price--"right."
We know that "special price" is still 4 times what we should agree to pay. Itís all about the bartering. Bartering is a custom and must be done. Robert has evolved in this custom better than I have. I just canít continue bartering for $1 or 10 cents. For a previous explanation of bartering read from our Shanghai travel log.
The weekend flea market is huge. It covers acres of land. It used to be totally outdoors but now it is roofed, open-air and in perhaps 20 gigantic sections. Everything old and new can be found here. Itís hard to describe without using superlatives but it is huge, everything is available, itís crowded, itís exciting, you get caught up in the shopping frenzy, and there are good bargains.
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