It all started with the rabbit. Taking a bike ride through the old city on the weekend, we screeched to a halt next to an old guy in a cloth cap, wrinkled and surrounded by a cloud of cigarette smoke, selling a bunch of old stuff from the footpath, laid out on sheets of newspaper. Usually there are a few jade pieces, a couple of bits of old porcelein, and some Mao-era tin badges. But what we’d both spotted simultaneously, Matt and I, was a lovely little bronze rabbit’s head, a perfect fit in Matt’s large hands. He knows his bronze, does Matt, having run a bronze foundry for twenty years, and this little rabbit looked well-made and nicely finished.
It was likely a copy of an original antique, but that didn’t matter so much as the fact that it looked lovely and was well crafted. How much? we asked. By now, a small crowd of onlookers was getting in on the action too. 1200 yuan. 1200 yuan??!! What??
We were having a lost in translation moment, because the next thing that happened was another eleven animals came out of a non-desript box filled with newspaper. First a horse, then a monkey, a snake, a dog and so on. Aha. It’s a set of Chinese zodiac animals – the rabbit was on display only because it’s the Year of the Rabbit. You can’t buy just one, because a set of eleven is worthless. What he had been trying to tell me was that we could buy one, or all twelve, but the price would be the same – 1200 yuan.
So we did what any good bargain hunter would do. After intending to buy a single, small bronze rabbit, we came home with twelve bronze animal heads. They’re really quite lovely, but they weigh a ton! See if you can name all twelve.
Top to bottom, left to right: monkey, rooster, horse, snake, pig, goat, dragon, dog, ox, tiger, rat, rabbit