Thursday, May 9, 2013

May 2, 2013 Last day in China: The Silk Market, Peking Duck

(This is part two of my last day in China.  I figured the post was too long to have all in one!)

When I arrived at the Silk Market, I was supposed to go straight upstairs to Tony the Tailor to meet Dylan.  I had to laugh when I saw someone heading to the subway with one of their bags in his hand!

To get to the Tailor's on the 3rd floor, I had to go through the basement, the stairs which were also lined with goods, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd floors - I know that's an obvious statement - but doing it was not simple at all.  There were thousands if not millions of pretty things to look at on the way. 

To help you get a sense of this place - it is not an outdoor market at all - it's not like a Farmer's Market with sweet local farmers selling their wares.  No, not at all!  It is a very slick place with row upon row of class-walled boutiques crammed with goods - clothes, souvenirs, shoes, sunglasses, scarves, jewelry, silk rugs - you name it, they have it!  And most of it, I think, is copies of North Face or Louis Vuitton or whomever.  Some of it might be real, but I wouldn't bet on it. The prices are not all that great - this is, after all, where tourists come to shop - so they know what they can get!  There are 2-3 assistants in each and every 200 sq ft shop ready to speak to you in pretty good English.  They also seemed to know other languages, at least the numbers.  I just had to wander in and out of a bunch of them to see what was there.  When Dylan and I had been there before, we'd gone straight to Tony the Tailor without browsing much so, now that I was alone, I wanted to gaze and touch and explore!  One store I went into had silk jackets - just like the one I bought at 798.  I asked how much.  The woman told me $80 then immediately said she'd give me the real price - $40.  I felt sick - I'd paid $75 after good hard bargaining.  I knew in that instant I'd overpaid.  This store had some other colors of the same jacket.  Dylan called.  I resolved to come back later.

I met Dylan at the Tailor's where he was already talking to his friend, the tailor (I don't think his name is Tony - he just works there.)  He and Dylan have established quite a relationship since Dylan has bought three handmade suits from him and many, many shirts, plus has brought friends to have things made - including me!  I was fitted for a silk skirt my second day in town and was there then to pick it up.  I went into the dressing room to try it on, excited to see how it looked.  It felt divine.  I'd gotten them to put in a different colored lining - gold - and to make it reversible so I'd get two skirts, really, instead of just one.  The silk felt so smooth and lovely as it fell over my hips and swept my legs.  I left the dressing room and twirled for Dylan, imagining wearing it to Sufi Dancing and practicing being a swirling Dervish!  I realized that the cut was not flattering on me - there was no tailoring to it - just an elastic waist - so it makes me look a little bit frumpy/lumpy.  Not my favorite look if I have a choice.  I resolved to start working out.  And to make the best of it with the skirt.  It feels great.  Dylan admitted that it isn't the best cut for me - sorry! - oh well.  I'll wear a longer top over it and will focus on the feel of it.  Made me wish I'd gotten a zipper put in, but then I couldn't have reversed it.  It's tricky getting stuff made without being able to try it on - you can't know if the cut will be good or not...

I'd tried to get a different skirt made, one that my friend Kathy Benner had lent me - it's black, two layers, with the top layer being scalloped unevenly to give it an interesting flair.  I tried to describe it and to draw it, but to no avail!  The best he could do was quote me $300 to make it.  Dylan, of course, talked him down, but $120 was the lowest he'd go, if I remember correctly.  No thanks!  I had so wrongly assumed I could get clothes made for a pittance since Dylan's suits were only $150 for the suit and two shirts!  Another expectation dashed!

But overall I'm pleased with the skirt.  It is quite lovely, and I know I'll love wearing it and feeling it flow over my body and thinking about the fun of buying it with Dylan!

These pictures are of Dylan talking with the tailor, trying to help his friend Michelle get a better price for a silk shirt she was having made...  Of course the tailor told me what a great bargainer Dylan was, as  pretended he was gasping for his last breath from the loss of so much money!

Revelry in the midst of very serious negotiations!

They finally arrived on an agreeable price, and Michelle ordered a splendid red silk shirt.

 From the tailor's, we went out into the rest of the Silk Market.  My friend Joni had given me the task of finding some beautiful silk material for her for an altar cloth.  I had found a scarf that felt right to me when I was there before, but there were two other scarves we were bargaining for at the same time, and Dylan couldn't get the price down far enough.  I'd continued to think about the scarf all week and knew I had to go back to get it.  We found the place but they didn't have the scarf anymore, though they had others like it.  I described what I was looking for and, fortunately, he had another one.  When I saw it, it was every bit as beautiful as I had remembered - about 5 ft x 5 ft, aqua border with fabulous flowers in the center. I hope she likes it as much as I do!  I think it's gorgeous!  It's a tricky thing to get something so personal for someone else!

I also wanted to get some scarves for myself.  Dylan had done some great bargaining last time, but hadn't been able to get the price he/we wanted, so I'd ended up with nothing.  We tried again.  He almost got kicked out of the store again, but I pulled the trump card.  The saleswoman and Dylan had agreed on a price for several scarves.  We were still bargaining for one last one.  Dylan had her down to 70.  We'd gotten it down to 60 for two scarves at another place.  The sales person told us that must be one of a different quality and showed us a lesser one.  I didn't think so, but doubted myself because it had been several days before.  She turned to me and asked me what price I was willing to pay.  I told her I'd pay 60.  She said no, no, I couldn't be serious.  What would I really pay, last price?  serious price?  I told her to give it to me for 60 and I'd get Dylan out of there!  She laughed good-naturedly and sold it to me for 60!  (I checked later at the other store and saw that it was the very same scarf that I was going to get, with another one, for 60 - oh well!  It's impossible to know what things are really worth!  I'm thankful for pricetags here in the US!)

I also asked Dylan to come down with me to look at the silk jackets.  I couldn't find the same store, but I found another one with the same goods in it.  I found the very same jacket plus some others - a black one with striking red flowers was my favorite, plus a great silver silk skirt that twirled marvelously!  Dylan went to work on the price.  The skirt ended up being too expensive, but the jacket he got down to 200 yuan or about $32, less than half what I paid before.  That made me a bit ill.  Until the saleswoman asked if I wanted her to cut out the tag.  It said 100% polyester.  She said they had to put the tags into them because the officials came around to make sure they all had them in there - these were also re-makes of "real" fashions, apparently.  I tried on one thing that was very expensive and was confused by the price - she told me it was "real", not fake, that's why it was so much.  Again, perception is everything!  I realized that the jacket I'd bought before was silk.  This was polyester.  Both are stunningly gorgeous, and I love them, but at least I was able to ascertain the reason for the price differential so I didn't feel quite so foolish for the first purchase!    I realize I am probably not really cut out for all this bargaining!  I used to think I was so good at it!  I'm so grateful Dylan was there with me to help me out.  He seems to enjoy it - though he did say he gets exhausted by it too sometimes - he has to be in the right frame of mind to take it on or he isn't as good at it as he wants to be and feels like he doesn't get a good deal.  I can completely understand that!

From the Silk Market, we took the subway to the Hutongs, an area in the oldest part of Beijing, very old, low (1-2 story) buildings that form the core of the city.  There's a small lake there around which are many restaurants and night clubs.  Our plan was to meet lots of Dylan's friends, including one of his former teachers, WeiWei (I probably spelled that wrong) for a special dinner of Peking Duck.  One must have Peking Duck when one is in Beijing!  I read it on a shopping bad - "Climb the Great Wall.  Eat Peking Duck.  Shop at the Silk Market."  Thanks to Dylan, I was able to check all three off my list!

the magician
I can NOT do that!
The group ended up being smaller than we expected, but lovely nevertheless.  The restaurant we went to is supposed to be the best in Beijing for Peking Duck.  It's quite large - three floors, I think. We first went down to the basement to wait our turn. Then we were called and went by elevator to the third floor.  Below us was the main floor which we could see from the balcony.  That's in the picture below.  Next to all these tables, there was a round stage where entertainment took place.  Each act was only 3-5 minutes but was fascinating.  The first one I saw was Chinese acrobats doing those crazy contortions I'd only seen on YouTube previously.  The second one was a couple doing ballroom dancing.  The third was a magician.  Meanwhile we were working on ordering food.  We got one duck to share along with a vegetable dish and some rice and an appetizer.  Steven was with us so we wanted to make sure to get enough food!  The appetizer was duck skin served with sugar.  You were supposed to dip the very, very fatty skin into the sugar and eat it like that.  It was strange, tasty, greasy, satisfying, all at once. The other appetizer was one I hadn't expected - duck feet.  I pick one up with my chopsticks, thinking it was the duck meat and that I was so adventurous to eat duck, when Dylan, or Steven, mentioned it was duck feet.  I wanted to gag but didn't.  I figured I was too far in to back out, so I took a bite.  They talked about how we were lucky because these had been de-boned - they'd gotten them before with the bones in them and had had to work hard for each scrap of meat they'd gotten.  These were white with a slight pink cast to them.  They were chewy, like cartilage, a little bit, but mostly they were tender enough.  And they were surprisingly tasty.  I couldn't quite let go of the thought of what they might have walked around in or scraped up with those very same feet, but I also was aware of the fact that they actually tasted pretty good. 

The stage with the magician on it.
I expected the duck to come to the table looking like a duck for us to carve.  Instead I was surprised to see that it was served on two fairly small white platters with ceramic duck heads.  The meat was already very neatly carved, just the meat, no innards.  The vegetable dish was pretty spicy - some greens and mushrooms, very tasty, just spicy.  Dylan told me after the meal that he hoped he'd helped me expand my tastebuds on this journey. That's for sure! 

Nor can I do this!  She has cloth platters on her feet she is twirling while balancing on one hand.
After dinner, Dylan and his friends planned to go dancing or bar hopping or something like that so he walked me to a cab so I could get back to the hotel to pack and get a decent night's sleep.  I thought about going with them, but, again, I figured they'd have more fun without me, and it would be wise for me to get packed and not be exhausted the next day.  Good choice - Dylan only got 3 hours sleep, and barely got that!  He was tired when he came to get me the next morning in the taxi!

My hotel room with the thermos full for hot water, the comfortable bed, the nice space. 

So that was my trip to China!  I hope you've enjoyed reading about it.  I appreciate your taking the time to take this journey with me.  I've enjoyed reliving it and writing about it.  Now if I can just get over jet lag, I'll be ready to get back to my life here in Richmond!

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