Wednesday, April 11, 2012


I remember from school in England learning about the Industrial Revolution, and Britain becoming the “workshop of the world.” I suddenly get an inkling of what that may have been like, because in China, I do feel like I am right in the middle of the workshop of the world. 

Places I’ve been to so far:
  • The toy market at Hongqiao Market. Wow. Every single toy under the sun for sale, and for a fraction of the price they go for in the US or Europe. German wooden dolls houses, American Barbie Dolls, Wii’s, tennis rackets, roller blades, gorgeous wooden puzzles. I really felt like Charlie entering the chocolate factory, like all my wildest consumer dreams had come true.
  • The Silk Market, Yashow Market in Sanlitun, Hongqiao Market. The clothes you can buy for very little money – gorgeous cashmere sweaters, silk dressing gowns, beautifully embroidered shirts, incredibly cute cotton children’s dresses - just blew me away. (Bargaining can be a bit exhausting though.)
  • The Fabric Market. This was like a sight for sore eyes to me. Clothes in the West are so cheap these days that no one makes dresses anymore, and I wouldn’t even have known where to buy fabric in upstate New York where I live. Here in Beijing's fabric market there are shops selling every type of material – cotton, t-shirt, fur, rainproof, curtain material, bedding material. There’s also every kind of button, including, for example, cute ones in the shape of flowers that the girls and I made necklaces out of. Then there are shops filled with every colour of thread under the sun. There’s even leather and buckles you can make belts out of. The wonderful Sophia – wife of FT correspondent Jamil Anderlini – also introduced me to her tailor, so I am going to get clothes I’ve always wanted -- but never been able to find -- made. I can also finally afford  curtains for our house in upstate New York and sofa covers to replace the ones the dog chewed up.
  • Wooden furniture. Thanks to Yvonne, we found this amazing place selling not only old Chinese furniture, but new furniture made out of old wood they get from old houses in the countryside. We bought cupboards, a wooden table, wooden benches. There were literally warehouses full of stuff I really, really liked. This is quite a big contrast to my experience in the West, where I always have immense trouble buying furniture because I don’t like much of it in the mid-price range. Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel don’t seem to be much better quality than Ikea, just a lot more expensive. In China, I’ve found something matching my own aesthetic. Not super-cheap, unfortunately, but not too bad either (RMB4800 for a big wooden dining table)
  • The flower market. To be able to fill our living room with fresh cut flowers every week, without being a millionaire, is, quite frankly, amazing.

And all bought locally! No more carbon footprint from this stuff going over the ocean in order for me to buy it at ten times the price from Toys R Us or Banana Republic! (True, the flowers are flown from Yunnan…slight guilt there...)

P.S. I’m not as excited about pirated DVDs as last time I lived here. Yes it’s great being able to watch lots of movies, but in the US we now have Netflix, whose choice is – now I’m one of those 40-somethings who watches documentaries and isn’t that interested in the latest Hollywood blockbuster – quite frankly better. 

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