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Treasures from Dongtai Lu

I always find treasures at the antiques and curios market at Dongtai Lu, although it involves a lot of ferretting in dusty boxes, and very hard bargaining. This time it was a basket full of old silk embroidery thread bobbins. On some of the reels, the paper brand was just visible – Flying Wheel thread. After all these years the colour of the silks was as vivid as ever – reds, purples, golds, pinks. 
Now I can add ‘Wooden Chinese Bobbins’ to my growing collection of things picked up in dusty corners  of dusty antique shops. Add them to – a pair of wicker suitcases with really gorgeous paper lining (unlikely to ever get through the rigors of Australian Customs), a set of three long wooden sticks for bashing washing against rocks when doing laundry by the side of a stream (I know those will be useful), a couple of carved wooden molds for making mooncakes, and scores of black and white photographs of Chinese families I’ve never met. Possibly it’s an illness. I should just order the shipping container now.

Dongtai Lu Antique Market


I could quite happily go ferretting around antique markets every weekend of my life. An ideal Sunday for me  would consist of early morning coffee at Baker and Spice on Anfu Lu, then a cycle through the old town to the Ghost Market , followed by noodles on 
FangBang Lu, then a really thorough going-over at the Dongtai Lu 
Antique Market.
Of course, there aren’t that many real bargains to be had, but the fun is in the searching, and the haggling. There are plenty of ‘new’ antiques too, easy to spot because every second stall has the exact same genuine ming dynasty celadon bowl, actually made last week in Ningbo and buried in a mixture of soil and ash for an instant lived-in look. 

You’ve got to bargain real hard, and at the same time pretend you couldn’t care less whether you walked away with that Chairman Mao teaset or not. It works best if you have two people involved in the transaction, a double act like Laurel and Hardy. Or Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott. Here’s how to get the best price possible.


Kevin: (in fluent mandarin) Excuse me laoban, how much for this delightful Communist-era knick-knack?

Laoban: 6 million kuai. Very cheap! Best quality, only one in Shanghai!

Tony: He’s ripping you off mate. Walk away.

Kevin: I can see it’s well-made…..

Laoban: How much you pay? Verrrry cheaper for you. How much? How much?

Tony: Mate, there’s one over there for 50 kuai!
Laoban: OKOKOKOK, you friend, give you verry cheaper price. 5 million kuai. 

Tony: What the…..?!

Kevin: Yes, things are a bit tight this week, there hasn’t been much GST coming in since Fiona left the country….. OK, how about 3 kuai?

Laoban: OK, 3 million kuai. Very good price.

Tony: Not 3 million kuai! Three kuai! Quick, walk away! Walk away!

Kevin: How about four? Four kuai?

Tony: Mate, that was just insulting. Keep walking!
Laoban: (as they walk away) OK 2 million!……OK OK 5000!……Wait mister! 400!…….. Wait! Last price! 130! …………Friend! 20! 

Tony: (turning back) 5 kuai. Final price.

Laoban: OK OK. 5 kuai.

Kevin: Thanks, Tony. That was extremely impressive.

Tony: It’s all in the walk away, mate. It’s all in the walk away.