Caveat: My apologies for the lack of pictures, but Alison and I had gotten so used to navigating Beijing's hustle and bustle that we had long abandoned our habit of carrying around a camera with us wherever we go. We thought we were pros, but last Sunday taught us we've still got a lot to learn.
Background: We needed to buy a lot of silk fabric for top-secret reasons. Our friend the tailor asked us where we bought the prior silk we used and how expensive it was, and when we responded, he laughed and told us to go where he buys his fabric...and gave us a business card with a store name on it, completely in Chinese.
So last Sunday, Alison and I headed to what we thought would be a wholesale silk and cashmere store in southern Beijing. We took the subway to the general vicinity and then got in a cab. After the cabbie drove for 25 minutes, he dropped us off at the side of the road in a really old part of town we'd never been to before.
We were confused to see that, instead of a store, we were in front of an open air market. Before we got anxious though, we quickly realized that we had stumbled upon where the world buys fabric wholesale. You know that I tend to exaggerate, but honestly, if you can think of it, we saw fabric to make it. Some highlights were:
1) pre-faded denim to make trendy jeans
2) car upholstery
3) animal skins (with heads) to make fur coats...if you're Russian...or from Long Island
4) waterproof fabric for raincoats
5) sheets and linens
6) material for baseball hats
Of course, three hours of adventuring, including going into about 100 stores (often with a crowd of people following us as we were the only foreigners around) was all for naught as not a single silk store had what we were looking for (all patterned, mostly Chinese...luckily Alison was there to reign me in because after a while, some of it started too look nice). They also had silk for women's dresses, and I was really excited to see the fabric of the dress my mom wore to Emily's wedding!
Rubbing salt on the wound, we could not find a bus stop and there were no taxis. So we started walking down the smaller street to the main one and passed a side street where people were selling puppies and rabbits in small cages. We took a look to try to cheer ourselves up, but seeing dozens of parakeets crammed into a single small cage was almost as depressing as the poor golden retriever puppies crammed two to a small crate. So we booked out of there fast.
It was a very surreal afternoon.