Saturday, October 6, 2007

Panjiayuan Market: The Quirk-Loving Shoppers Heaven

Panjaiyuan Flea Market has quite the reputation as the best market in Beijing (if not the world) for Chinese and other Asian pottery, stonework, woodwork, fabric, paintings, calligraphy, etc, etc, etc. Word has it that even Hillary Clinton has shopped there. Let me confirm once and for all: Panjaiyuan rules.

We got up rather early to the sound of rain beating on the roof, got dressed, grabbed a backpack and headed out the door to catch the subway. This was the first time we had taken the underground, and it was clean, rapid and cheap. Since the rain had only been an early-morning phenomenon since we arrived in Beijing, we ignored the guys hawking cheap umbrellas for 1 yuan at the subway exit and took off south towards the market... after all, we're Oregonians right? As we walked the mile+ from the subway stop the rain only got worse, leaving us thoroughly soaked when we finally arrived. Rather than jumping right into the semi-covered market, we decided to dry off for a moment, and had breakfast in the vendors cafe-- fry bread and millet porridge-- the perfect way to gather our strength for a big morning of heavy duty shopping.

Panjiayuan is huge. Four football field-sized permanent awnings cover the majority of the stalls, with two-story rows of small shops surrounding them. Vendors are roughly divided by the type of goods they are selling, creating huge sections of pottery, beads and the like. It took us a good three hours to scan the majority of the stalls before even buying anything. Once we had some conception of what we were interested in, it was time to get down to the business at hand, namely haggling. Although research had told me that there was a basic formula for success with Chinese vendors, the truth couldn't be further from the truth. Some vendors would knock large chunks off their prices if you so much as hesitated, others weren't interested in dealing with you at all if you looked down your nose at their first price. Most would laugh and say "cheaper, cheaper" at first, but then act dismayed and upset and in some cases simply wave you on if you asked them to knock too much off the price. It was a hugely engaging challenge to pick a low number that would make them hesitate for just a second, and finally agree if you let them tack a few yuan on to leave them with "the upper hand."

Anyway, we shopped for hours, and left feeling as if we'd found everything we wanted without spending much money at all. Here's a little sample:

These two original oil paintings were too cool and quirky to pass up. They are part of a series depicting babies in the roles of generals, dictators and the like. Can't wait to get them framed!
Andrea got this carved horn bracelet for a song... sometimes walking away pays off!
Asian spaceman tin toy. If we ever go back to the market, someone is going to have to physically restrain me from ruinous debt at the tin toy stand. Some very cool stuff there.
These were the surprise find of the outing: Chinese serialized versions of Tintin books. $2.50 a pop, and found under a stack of Cultural Revolution posters (got a bunch of those too!) in a mini-shop on the periphery of the market.
The always-popular Chairman Mao watch with "wave-to-the-people action." Sorry Ben, no snowglobes.
Tibetan-style wood box with elephants and Tibetan script. Sturdy enough to stand or sit on (as demonstrated by our vendor mid-haggle) and hand-painted. Sadly, shipping costs will pad the otherwise low-low price. Still, a sweet box... especially for this elephant lover.
So, there's more including several packs of playing cards (including the Iraq Most Wanted and "Red Memories"), the afore-mentioned Cultural Revolution posters (repros), silver jewelry, and a few gifts which shall remain nameless so as not to ruin the surprise. All for well under $200. Not too shabby.

1 comment:

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