Shanghai days and Sichuan spice

Shanghai days and Sichuan spice

First stop on my latest sourcing trip has been Shanghai, and it has been a good couple of days. I met up with Anita, our assitant from the workshop here, yesterday morning and headed off to a couple of the markets, starting with the main one at Yu Yuan. A very popular destination on the tourist map and located next to the famous Yu Yuan gardens, the shops and restaurants here are some of the only old style buildings left in the city (although I believe they have mostly been reconstructed). You can now find over a hundred shops and stalls, selling everything from silks, paintings, Chinese chops and traditional crafts, to bronzes, jade, furniture and Chinese medicine. On top of that you will constantly be accosted by hawkers offering you ‘rolex’ or ‘antique’ – neither one likely to be any more genuine than the other.

However, it is a great place to spend some time browsing and there are still interesting items to be found amongst the more general tourist tat. It’s also a great place to people watch over a green tea as the bus loads of tourists pit their wits against the stall holders for gifts and souvenirs. I picked up a few bits and pieces – brushes and silk items from a couple of the stalls that we have dealt with before. The work of negotiation with these stall holders has been done on previous trips so it is nice not to have to go through the whole time consuming process again to get to a price that both parties are happy with.

After Yu Yuan we went to the other very well know area for antiques and curios in Shanghai – Dongtai Road. This street is again full of small stalls selling all sorts of interesting and unusual objects – copper, bronzes, silks, coins, Mao memorabilia and other collectibles. Several years ago there were quite a lot of genuinely old pieces on display, but these days almost all are fake or reproduction.

Stalls at Dongtai Road

Yesterday I spent most of my time at the workshop where most of our reproduction furniture is produced – particularly our ‘Classical Chinese’ range. We have a container due to leave in a week from now and with one or two exceptions the pieces to go on the container are finished and ready to be packed. I was therefore able to check each piece myself, something I rarely get to do. It was especially good to see all the pieces that have been ‘made to order’ for particular customers in requested dimensions, finishes or designs. As usual the guys at the workshop have done a superb job in meeting specifications and keeping the quality high. There are a couple of beautiful dining tables made to size, a set of white lacquer painted cabinets and versions of our trunks, chests of drawers, wardrobes and cabinets each made to customers’ particular requirements. Among the finished pieces is also the bed for my five-year old I mentioned in my last post – only another month or so before he gets hold of it and I am sure he will be delighted!

Dinner last night was spent with Mr Zhang – the manager of the factory, and his assistant. We had a great time at a Sichuan restaurant that I had not been to before – a huge place, beautifully furnished, which had a stage at one end. Throughout the evening there was various entertainment including the ‘face mask changing’ dance (‘bian lian’) and fire breathing that are traditional to Sichuan opera. Dancers in brightly coloured costumes took to the stage, with the face mask of the central character magically changing many times throughout the performance – think somewhere between Phantom of the Opera, Chinese Circus and Paul Daniels. The food itself was particularly good. Sichuan food is famously spicy but what we had was not overpowering, although Mr Zhang had to ‘filter’ the heat through a bowl of water as he found it too hot for his tastes! A fish broth was excellent and even the tripe and pig’s blood tasted good given the Sichuan treatment!

Today gives me a chance to catch up with a few other things before I fly on to Beijing for the main part of this visit and to select antique furniture for our next container, so more to follow soon.

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