Sunday, May 17, 2009

Losing its Charm

Today I saw a dear friend who used to live in Beijing but moved back
to the United States almost two years ago.

She had a great opportunity to visit the Chinese capital again and we
met up today. And where did she want to hang out? At her old stomping
ground, Panjiayuan, the antique flea market.

In the past year the place has had a major overhaul, changing it from
the nickname of "dirt market" to gentrified entrepreneurial compound.

Almost all the areas are now under covered areas and there's even a
multi-level parking lot, where cars are backed into these elevator
things. Very high-tech.

And you can't get lost there anymore, with signs marking off which
area you are and even listing the kinds of things you can buy there.
For those more audio-visually inclined, there are giant LCD screens in
various areas, basically promoting the place, but no real message or
tagline, which is kind of a missed opportunity for a place that
encourages everyone to make a deal.

We tried to find her favourite paper-cutting shop but it seems to have
moved on. In the end we had to settle for another shop that didn't
have as much selection, but quite reasonable in price.

But we also stumbled across a great stall where a woman from Shanxi
was selling sewn handicrafts, from little toys like dolls to trinkets
that fit in your hand that were all hand embroidered. Many were old
and not in good condition, but also many other beautiful pieces as
well. My friend scored a pair of Chinese earmuffs, more like ear
covers, that had butterflies embroidered on them. She gave them a test
drive which sold her immediately.

I was tempted to buy a goldfish with intricate stitching and in very
good condition, but it turned out to be 450RMB ($65.92) which was way
too much for a little trinket. I sadly had to give it a pass.

Nevertheless, it was interesting but also sad to see our humble flea
market turn into a spruced up area that was quickly losing its charm.

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