'If you like it: it's worth it!'
August 17, 2012
We wander down narrow alleyways jammed with stalls selling mechanical birds singing in cages; the tiny silk embroidered shoes which presumably used to cover the bound feet of Qing dynasty ladies; bronze Buddhas and bamboo chopsticks.
This stall specialises in heavy silver necklaces and head gear from the northern ethnic tribes bordering Mongolia; and this stall is crammed with blue and white porcelain vases and rare pale green celadon ware.
There are endless replicas of terracotta warriors, and pottery camels from the Tang period. There are old clocks, and Bakelite radios, and painted fans.
I come across a stall selling leather shadow puppets and cannot resist buying a particularly fretful dragon, shimmering with red and green scales. And I decide I must buy a delicate jade pendant in the shape of a melon for my sister. But while I am being seduced like any other tourist, Niki is hard at work landing deals.
I come across her at a stall loaded high with embroidered fabrics. She has found some silk squares embellished with cranes, carp and qilin. 'They are probably for cushions, she says, but these would make wonderful mandarin squares, you know, the official badges in the Imperial court, which denote your rank.'
I am distracted by a tiny little puppy with black curly hair which the girl on the stall strokes and teases, and which flops on to the silk squares Niki is trying to bargain for.
Niki can't quite get the girl down to the price she wants but I am so enchanted by the puppy that I blithely proffer the extra cash. If the puppy was a vendor's ploy to charm the client, it has done its work. But as Xu says, 'If you like it: it's worth it!'
As we head out of the market, Niki makes one final purchase, a large bag to carry all her goodies onto the plane tomorrow morning.
by Greg Doran
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