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June 9, 2010

Surprising China Part 2

Tom McLaughlin

Chengdu, China – I have always been an antique seeker, and to my delight, my wife also enjoys the challenge of finding treasures. We are always aware that fakes are often sold both here and in America and follow the age old adage of “buyer beware,” one of the many sayings of Confucius.


The antique area, concentrated near the river, holds upscale stores and people selling goods spread out on a tarp. I always enjoy buying from the ground people as it provides them with an income plus I feel, rightly or wrongly, that I am not paying the higher prices to cover the rent for a store.


We always seek out the different and unique. Most of the items we had seen before and quickly passed them by. We did spot a bronze statue of a very skinny man that we had not encountered in our other travels. We gave the lady our always available calculator and she punched in a price, I feigned a heart attack, divided it by two and we went back and forth until we settled on what I thought was a fair price. I enjoy this encounter as it great sport as we trade eye contact, smiles and laughs, neither of us understanding a word of each other’s language.


The brocade and embroidery concern that produced items for sale supposedly woven from an ancient hand loom. I was not sure whether the items were actually constructed on the ancient structure or mass produced by machine. They were expensive, by our standards, which is a few dollars above very cheap. The brocade had two butterflies woven and depicted a Chinese version of Romeo and Juliet. Still romantic and madly in love, I had to make the purchase, but alas, no bargaining.


We visited a living museum about the size of two football fields under a roof and walls protected a site currently undergoing archeological excavation. An entire village had been exposed and over a hundred thousand artifacts, many of gold, ivory, jade and other precious materials, were continually being retrieved. Small flags indicated valuable sites. Numbers ran down building walls showing depth and burlap covered floors keeping the dust down. A large two story museum housed the more valuable discovered artifacts.


The city also sported three very touristy streets, highly recommended in the guide books. They informed us that we had to sit and drink tea for an afternoon in one of the many teahouses. I saw no sense in spending the time drinking tea and staring at other tourists, expecting something to happen.


We did hire an English speaking tour guide for our trip to the panda reproduction center. From her, I learned, the women control the money in the family, the only province in China that follows this custom. Local Chinese eat in western restaurants, i.e., McDonalds, Pizza Hut or Starbucks, only once a month because they are too expensive. Because of gendercide, the termination of pregnancy in order to get a male heir, has resulted in an 118 to 100 ratio of men to women, a result of China’s one child policy.


Our guide also related secret dating, meeting guys at movie theatres or malls begins at 12-15 as parents try to break them up demanding they spend time on their studies. Parents also worry when their kids are not dating thinking there might be something wrong with them. Couples usually live together before marriage and are sexually active with the female responsible for birth control.


Chengdu, a friendly, vibrant city filled with surprises, tasty foods and affordable prices introduced us to western China before our visits to the major cities of Sahng Hi, and Beijing further east.


…life is good!


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