As the days of Dong Tai Lu in Shanghai end….. I fondly remember my time spent there.
Dong Tai Lu………
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Yesterday, I met my friend Andrea, and her friend April who is visiting from Michigan, on Dong Tai Lu, or “antique street,” as we call it. It was an absolutely beautiful day in Shanghai, sunny and 60s, and great for a walk outside.
Dong Tai Lu is lined on both sides with tiny shacks that sell anything and everything that is old, or even “looks” old. Items are cluttered all over tables, on shelves, and on the ground, and are often dirty or tarnished. It’s like a giant garage sale with every shack competing for your business. Many of you know that I am not a garage sale-type. I hate searching through piles trying to find something I like, but Dong Tai Lu has plenty of entertainment to go along with the shopping, and I usually find a “treasure” or two anyway.
Up and down this little street, along with the shacks, are locals, usually grandmothers and babies. They are sitting on the sidewalk, on folding chairs, holding babies with split pants. Yes, little bottoms hanging out all over the place, at the ready for any necessary potty breaks. Smiling grandmothers, enjoying the company of neighbors, on a warm spring day.
It is common to find lots of Buddhist items on antique street. There are all sorts of Buddhas, prayer bowls, prayer sticks, jewelry, etc. There are also books, rugs, posters, porcelain dishes, vases, and figures. Ornately carved wooden boxes, old Chinese instruments, creepy old dolls, and bird cages.
There’s plenty of jade and bone in various forms, and this is where the “visual” entertainment comes into the picture. Along with charms, statues, and small swords and knives that can be found, there are also many things of a more “adult” nature. One thing that I purchased to bring back and show friends, merely for entertainment value, is something we like to “Naughty Fish.” It looks like a regular wooden Chinese-style fish on the outside, but if you pull its head off of the body, you’ll see “naughty” pictures carved into the piece that fits into the body. You will find similar Kama Sūtra-type pictures on bone panels that are strung together, a different picture on each panel, and on both sides. Things like this can be found on vases, rugs, and in figurine form as well. It always amazes me that they sell this stuff in such a public place.
At one point, not long after we arrived, Andrea saw a shoeshiner that she had met before, and asked him to shine my shoes. It turns out he’s a well-known shoeshiner, who has been featured on the news and in newspapers. He had a notebook with the names of many foreigners whose shoes he had shined, and had me sign it as well. He was a cute and animated older guy, and it was a fun thing to do. He also gave me a GREAT shoeshine for under one dollar.
Along our way down antique street, April accidentally knocked something off of a shelf, causing it to break a plate below it on the ground. The vendor wanted us to pay for it, but we argued that she shouldn’t have had plates on the ground. Andrea and I went back and forth with her for a bit, while April worried about being taken off by the Chinese police. Luckily, to our Michigan friend’s relief, the po-po wasn’t called. Andrea and I had a great laugh, as we knew that wouldn’t happen, and I think April joined in, once her heart rate went down.
Towards the end of our trip, I bought a small wooden boat at a stall, and a few minutes later, just down the street, another vendor came up to me with a much bigger boat. It actually was much nicer than the first one, and he started talking to me in Chinese. In the middle of his rant, he called me a “Ben Dan,” or “Stupid Egg,” thinking that I would not understand him. But I did, and knew that he had just insulted me! I started loudly announcing, in Chinese, that he had just called me a stupid egg, and I could not believe he done this. This resulted in a crowd, of mostly older Chinese women, forming. This always happens in China when something interesting is going on and can grow quite large, with people of all ages. I continued to rant back at him for the show. He apparently thought I paid too much for the boat (the reason for the insult), and I probably did, although I had looked for one all day, and it was the only one I had seen. In the end, I bought the bigger boat, even after the insult. Although, we did make him apologize. Maybe I am a Ben Dan!