Trips and Tales: Part 133
If you think you are lost, you are probably close #4
The lively chatter and commotion of the Beijing market street is no surprise. In fact, its part of the reason that she is here: to see it, indeed live it if only for a few days.
SD along with the rest of us has already visited these avenues by proxy – care of the mainstream Western media and its unstoppable output. Traditions rendered to cliché in a clamour of bustle and colour, commotion and sound. But these renderings are actually true – at least in some respects – even featuring the musical backing of an elderly street performer coaxing traditional China-town scrapes, wails and plucks from his instrument. Possibly a Zhong Hu or Morin Khur by SD‘s description or at least from the same family.
She paints her picture in words: of the relentless market-place streets alive with expert hagglers and hasslers skilled in exchanging your money for their wares whilst lake-side buskers compete in volume with blaring shops; their doors open, serenading you to enter as if sirens of fast commerce.
It persists into the evening, the pace unrelenting, now under bright lights that add to the notion of a living film set decked with silks and ornaments, toys and knick-knacks, gifts for the folks back home that no doubt seemed like a good idea at the time (the gifts that is).
The sensory assault is all consuming with the urge to get the goods into the hands of the would-be customers forthwith, in the hope that they in turn will be unwilling to give them back. Get the ring on the finger -as every jeweller knows. The smells of scented wood and spit-roasted something – only occasionally identifiable – waft through the proceedings; the latter made visible by intermittent coils of roiling steam, and audible by the hiss and seethe of oil and broth.
Through the jewellery carts of patiently gleaming bracelets and rings, SD notices a phenomenon that has yet to reach us: the worked ornamental nuts that are massaged and smoothed by hand into décor to be worn as a polished stone. The sheer enterprise of forging something out of nothing is admirable, though our admiration is not required here: rather, the contents of our wallets – and on occasion the attempt to acquire these prizes borders on the roguish at best.
In an incident over some attractive cups, SD was presented with a seller that was frankly seeing just what he could get away with. Not only did he attempt to bump up the price mid-transaction, he also tried to withhold her change and keep her phone -that she had presented as an aid to maths and communication! And that’s where the solitude of the traveller seeking the authentic experience may fall down. Fortunately, she is with the guys from the Apricot Inn, and having someone to mutually bounce the question off: “hang on, is that right?” – frankly can just tip the scales in your favour. This is unless you are especially savvy, confident or thick-skinned of course. First-timers as green as the tea they serve here? Not so much.
But in spite of the hasslers, the warnings and nightmare stories –and, of course, the attempt to fleece her – SD is still upbeat about the nature of humanity. “Wherever you go, people are still people,” she says “and if you recognise that then they will treat you as a person. They’ll be rude if you affront them in some way. Then you can’t expect to be treated respectfully! So respect them first!”
Ah SD, but what about the out and out crook who lives just to do you over? What about him? Or her? They look and often act just like the good guys. And there I go again: the spectre at the feast.
More next time
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 134) Arrival Beijing #23
[Photo by James Trosh]