It’s a teapot, not a real cat. An ugly teapot. The kitschiest, nastiest thing on earth. It’s filthy, still has the tea ring inside proving it was once used as intended, and has a perpetual frown due to being hand painted by someone probably in the mist of a hiccups crisis. Otherwise it is in great condition, not a scratch, not a nick. We found it at a flea market in Beijing, more specifically the Panjiayuan Antiques Market, also called the Dirty Market. I had read about it in a travel book, and we rode the scooter to get there. Actually no; the first day we took an Uber cab, who couldn’t find where to pick us up, nor could it find the market, and we reached 30 minutes before closing time, which meant that most stalls were empty. The next day we took the scooter, under a light misty rain. Most stuff there is about as antique as me (no comments there!) and it’s not dirty at all. It might have been decades ago, or maybe they refer to the dirty tactics. In any case, we loved it. And we love that nasty cat!
We are mastering the art of the one-minute friend: make contact with a random stranger, preferably a merchant, or a family with a tiny kid, and “talk” to them. Since my Chinese is non-existent, that makes for interesting conversations, but the main point is that we both are trying to connect as humans. I tickle the babies, I make faces, I make a fool of myself. It works. I have yet to be thrown out, or spit at, or any nasty thing. I am still not very good at haggling. I still hate it and I know I am being rooked at every corner. I actually paid more for a hairpin at this market than at the tourist store downtown. Frown. But I made a minute friend, and that is priceless (or so I try to convince myself!). My mother was a stamp collector. Like everything she did, it was splendid. Her collection spans at least 150 years. So, when I found a raggedy plastic binder full of stamps arranged in a willy nilly fashion, I bought it. The haggling went something like this:
Old lady: Ah, yes, stamps, good. Many. Look. Ah.
Me: Yes, what price.
She gets her calculator out and types 350. I take the calculator, press the “C” key several times and type 200. She takes the calculator back. 300. 220. Shakes her head. 280. At this point I am already bored, but I want to win the game. 279. She looks at the number and bursts into laughter, opines, and laughs some more. You can hear she’s telling all her friends around about the foreigner’s tactic. The funniest thing she’s heard this week, haggling for a measly yuan, about 15 cents. I give her 300, she gives me back my change: 21 yuan. Uunlike India, they do have change here. And we both leave happy. This morning I took a detailed look at those stamps and I am proud to say that I believe I got an incredible deal. Most of the stamps are Chinese, or other communist countries such as the USSR, Cuba, Vietnam, and some African countries which political regimes I need to check. Many are first editions in excellent condition. E. bought, and haggled over, Mao’s Little Red Book. Viva El Capitalismo, Chinese style!
In the meanwhile, our big one decided to express her discontent at being left in the house by tearing our rug apart. That’s ok, it’s just a rug.