Today we stopped playing Civ long enough for lunch at Mexican Wave and a visit to the Guiyou silk market. (Stick’s discovered that if you don’t develop alphabet, but everyone else does, you really don’t need it to trade techs.) I suggest a couple margaritas before any shopping adventure.
Guiyou silk street is listed in Lonely Planet and so forth, and it’s enough of a landmark that I’ve used it to tell cabbies where Mexican Wave is, but I’ve never actually been inside. The first floor is a underwhelming mass of knockoffs, but as we made our way upstairs, each floor had better merchandise. We shifted through piles of injection-molded green plastic jade and mispelled namebrand clothes to find some great gifts to send home and some clothes for us. I think I’m more able to deal with the sensory overload of a Chinese mall nowadays but it could just be the margaritas.
Anyway, shopping with Stick is a laugh, because when the vendor suggests a three-digit idiot price, he responds with a single-digit counter offer. Bargaining is a crazy game; the vendor, Stick and I all know that the sweater’s worth between 20 and 30 RMB, but the vendor doesn’t know we know. The game is not whether we’ll pay the hilarious asking price, but will we pay 28 to be done quickly? Or hold out for 23? If she throws in something else, will we take 2 for 46?
There was a cool silkmaking demonstration on the second floor. Silk, like beer or bread, amazes me that it was ever first invented. I mean, who sees a caterpiller and turns it into a qipao? The demonstrator pulled the silkworm cocoons out of bucket of water and spread the wet silk over an oval frame. There was also a spinning machine but no one was using it when we were there. I thought of Seneca the Younger condemning silk as un-Roman luxury for immoral women.
The fourth floor of the mall was full of jewelry, stalls selling endless strands of pearls, coral, and jade, blown glass pendants, carved cinnabar bracelets, cloisonne hairsticks. I picked up some nice bracelets and showed them to Stick.
“Nice beads,” he said, “I’ll trade you Manhattan for them.”