Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Silk Road 丝绸之路

I love my silk rugs.  They have the beautiful patterns of their Persian cousins, yet not as heavy.  As they are made with silk,  it feels cool, smooth and soft to the touch, reminding me of stepping into a spring meadow, a summer brook or blankets of rose pedals.

I got them on a trip to Beijing (北京),  a giant empty suitcase in tow (seriously I could have fit comfortably into it).  I marched to the famous open air market (秀水街), where everything from crickets (蛐蛐) in golf ball sized grass woven octagonal cages, to knives, to pop and religious art, antique and modern furniture, designer and ethnic clothing, bizarre of bags, and of course, oriental silk rugs, mixed with the summer heat, street food cooking on portal grills, heavy perfumes, perspiration, rolling fans, and hand held misters to form a kaleidoscope of the twenty first century free market packed into a three thousand year old forbidden city. 

I followed my guide to the carpet and rug stalls.  It was a market in itself with dozens of vendors. A Russian visitor was speaking fluent Chinese and asking the seller to half the list price, and the twenty something young man behind the stall greeted his guest in what sounded like pretty good Russian, and then arranged his fingers to the new lowered offer.  And so began the favorite game of cat and mouse on this street, with the Russian walking away shaking his head, the seller wrapping up his large silk rug to hang back on the wall.  No deal today.


I walked up to touch it, it cooled my clammy fingers, smooth as a silk scarf I saw at Hermès.  I examined the pattern, a tight weave of animals and floral, not perfect but charming for my simple apartment and fitting with my love for furry friends.  I asked the young man back, and made a slightly higher offer.  He looked at me up and down, and started wrapping the merchandise for me into the suitcase.  I chatted him up, turned out he was from a remote town of north western China, where population was sparse, and opportunities were scarce.  I looked up to see his windburned cheeks, slightly chapped lips and other trademark features from there.  I asked if he had made his fortune here in Beijing, he cracked up and told me the competition was fierce, and sales were good this week but can ebb and flow between seasons.  As I was leaving, he handed me a smaller rug, "goes with the bigger one, you paid too much for it, though I can tell you are from America", he winked. I smiled in acknowledgment and gratefully accepted this generous gift.


Walking from the market, my luggage full, my tummies filled, my wallet empty, I swelled with pride to have survived my first bargain on the silk street 秀水街.

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