Friday, June 10, 2011

Have I become a Beijinger?

Today, Alison and I went to Macy's. Before China, going downtown on a single subway line downtown to Trader Joes was an ordeal for me--the subway took forever, it was packed, and Trader Joes was too much to deal with--so I was preparing myself for what I assumed would be a horrific experience, particularly since today was 95 degrees, we had to transfer subway lines, and kitchen ware is my personal nightmare.

We walked out of the apartment, got to the subway, waited three minutes for an air-conditioned train, walked 2 minutes to transfer lines, and sat both on both trains. 20 minutes later we arrived at our destination. (Keep in mind that in Beijing, 20 minutes was how long it took to get from locking the door to boarding a bus, so this trip felt like it happened in a blink of an eye.) On the way back, it was much more crowded so we had to stand on the trains. But no one was touching us, the train was still air-conditioned, people were very polite getting off and on at each stop, and no one was screaming into a cell phone. It was one of the most peaceful experiences in public transportation I've had in a year!

The icing on the cake of a wonderful day together (those zappy things made registering really fun...until I had to excuse myself when Alison was drooling over KitchenAids) was that we stumbled upon this Chinese antique store relatively close to our new apartment. The owner ignored us when we walked in, and we browsed beautiful antiques with well-documented authentication cards from Chinese and American experts. On the way out, we asked him how he managed to obtain Chinese antiques from as early as 500 CE considering export laws ban anything from leaving China if it was made before 1800. I guess he realized we knew what we were talking about or something, because we started chatting about Chinese antiques, Beijing, etc. Turns out, he's created a lucrative business by buying Chinese antiques from Americans (after proving they're legit) and then selling them to mainland Chinese for 10x more than he bought it. In essence, he plays directly into Chinese nationalism, as one manifestation of patriotism is purchasing "plundered" Chinese antiques to return them to China. Long story short, we made a friend and he offered to take us to his warehouse to show us his merchandise...and most excitingly, he also does antique furniture, which we decided not to buy while in China, as we knew we would get ripped off. (see, things work out!)

Another highlight was asking the lady at Macy's to see their selection of silk rugs. We had no intention of buying anything, but we wanted to compare prices as we bought one from the silk-rug factory in Xinjiang last October. She looked at us with disdain written on her face and said in a thick Jersey accent, "Real silk rugs start at $30,000. Are you sure?" And we laughed about what a great deal we got and walked away. Typing this now is actually really sad: one rug sells at Macy's for more than what the rug makers earn in their entire lives.

Over the next week or so, we'll be blogging more frequently about leaving Beijing, arriving in NYC before wrapping up the blog. I can't believe it's been 10 months since we left NYC! Feels like it was a dream.

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