Friday 24 September 2010

Great Expectorations

The travel memories in this blog are stirred by all sorts of things in my everyday life: a news item, the weather, work, a chance remark. Today's madeleine however is a touch unsavoury, taking the form of the noises coming from the bathroom this morning as the Other Half performed his ablutions.
I was transported straight back to China. To Beijing, to be precise: the Dirt Market. That's the name we were given, though guide books more colourfully call it the Flea Market, or Panjiayuan. 'Dirt Market' refers to the goods originally being laid out on the ground, but it was gentrified five years ago and now the stall-holders have proper stalls under a roof, with a concrete floor.
You still have to watch where you put your feet, though, if you go in the early morning as we did because if there's one thing that Chinese men in particular are expert at, it's clearing the tubes - despite the warning signs put up no doubt by the tourism people. Honestly, I'm not squeamish, but it was revolting, especially at a time of day when I'm less robust than usual. You had to be nimble, I'm telling you.
That apart, it was colourful and interesting, and well worth visiting. It's a great place for souvenirs, if that's your thing: a little china (ha ha) Chairman Mao, maybe, or a strange painting of people with rictus grins, or a jade elephant, or some lanterns, or beautiful paintbrushes or an embroidered jacket.
I took photos instead, but there was a lot of vigorous bargaining going on as items were unwrapped from newspaper and put out on display, either on the stalls or outside for the big things like statues of horses and roly poly Buddhas. It's as interesting for the traders as the goods - I spotted Mongols with furry hats - and pretty much a must-see. Just be sure to wear closed-in shoes.

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