Sunday, March 10, 2013

My shopping experience in China

Two frogs.
Jade and wood carving purchased in Beijing.
Two frogs detail.

A vacation abroad always brings out the shopper in all of us. Even though we spend allot of money on transport and accommodation, including daily expenses, a certain amount is always earmarked for presents and one or two special purchases – those standout product/s that will be synonymous and commemorative of the trip abroad. 
Obviously each holiday destination is renowned for the country’s particular area of expertise in product design and excellence. Be it luxury goods, art and crafts and or designer products. However a trip to China increased the choice to one in a billion in a diverse range of masterly crafted and or manufactured products.  What to buy, where to buy it and when and at what price was a truly a daunting, tiring and mission impossible task. 

Especially when you are a discerning small-time collector and you were on your first trip to China – one week in Shanghai and two weeks in Beijing respectively. The size and weight of your luggage became a major concern. Being a ceramist and a small-time collector of glass made the task that much more demanding.

Hylton Nel browsing
The experience was further complicated by visits to the Chinese local and national museums; every artefact was a feast for the eye, collection upon collection representing centuries of master crafts people, all of whom had reached their full creative individual potential. From ceramics, to bamboo and jade carving including calligraphy, the wealth of demonstrated creativity extended far beyond what I could imagine and digest at any given point during museum visits, let alone craft markets with its row upon row of stalls of amazing artefacts. 

The degree of crafted detail manifested in one artefact after another had me exhausted – one had to call it a day after an hour and a half. Expanding the range of product options to an even wider selection of artefacts. This made this discerning consumer’s choice that much more difficult.
Then there was the copying synonymous with China; craftspeople are masters at their trade, offering replicas of the masterpieces in a variety of sizes, on sale at the museums and of course in antique shops, including tourist markets in Shanghai and Beijing. The authenticity of a carefully selected piece was therefore always in question. 
Taking a shopping break.

Doubt played a major role in bargain hunting as it became almost impossible to spot the difference between replicas and that rare collectors find – if they are still available without the support of a specialist adviser and or in the shop of a trusted antique dealer.

Yixing clay teapots were a very popular choice. The teapots date back to the Song Dynasty and were made from clay mined in close proximity to the city of Yixing in the Jiangsu province. The unglazed wares are normally red and or brown in colour. They are mostly slip cast and or coil formed, however the one-of-a-kind wares, created by masters of the craft, are slab-constructed and are very collectible. 

A few shown here were photographed at a Yixing clay teapot specialist (images above). They vary in form and shape and from very small to medium sizes, their refined forms and pristine finish make them very desirable.
Jade carvings were an even a more difficult craft form to choose from as there were many more shops and the product range and variety even greater.  Photographed here was a jade trader’s shop showcasing stunning pieces – waiting to be carved and or displayed just as they were. 
It was very important to set aside enough time for browsing, as there was so many shops stocking the same craft form and offering a even greater variety of product ranges, making the choice that much harder. Browsing through antique markets and individual stalls and or shops was an experience in itself and collectors like Hylton, spent much time engaging the owner and his ware before a purchase was made. 

You get offered tea in a Yixing clay teapot of course, whilst the trader tries to determine your need and want, by showcasing a variety of desirable products. All the time he or she was observing your every move, mood and emotion to be in a position to put forward and even better product, to not only keep you as long as possible, but to hopefully secure that sale. It was very hard to communicate – and trying to establish a product’s authenticity made the task even more difficult. 

All products, even the replicas were phenomenally crafted, and as long as you were happy with your purchase, then the experience was worth it and the memory will last a lifetime.
I enjoyed the time walking in the older parts of the two cities. The small quaint little antique shops are vanishing, making way for the new, something bigger and better. It is truly an end of era and I was happy to be able to witness and experience both worlds.

1 comment:

Wyn Vogel said...

Your eye Eugene is just very discerning - the pieces you have shown are just enough to wet the appetite and make one want to book a ticket - just beautiful!!