Compared to the famous Songxian Qiao market with its expensive curios and lavish antiques (as well as "antiques"), the less-traveled Gaosheng Qiao Market (高升桥) is refreshingly unassuming. While it has plenty of dedicated antique shops and outdoor dealers of old-fashioned curios and memorabilia, the market also offers a good selection of unabashedly new handicrafts, materials, and household items at a reasonable price.
On a wintry Friday afternoon, a wiry, mustached man stands at the top of a short flight of marble stairs with a plastic bag-wrapped microphone in his hand. Below him stretches a long red carpet, covered with thousands of mirrors, rings, bracelets, bangles, discs, eggs, and stylish cigarette holders carved from brightly colored stone. With shoppers crouched around the carpet rummaging, the man calls out his offers.
Three kuai apiece, three kuai apiece
Chuli, chuli, jiu hui jia
You xiqi you gusheng
You haokan, you haoyao
hong lv wu yan liu se
All the magnificent stones under the sky
Time spent selling at Gao Sheng Qiao 2 days.
Previous occupation I worked in a factory in Yunnan for 5 years that was manufacturing these things, but then I was laid off. The factory couldn't pay me so they gave me all these instead. Now I am going back home to Shandong and selling them along the way.
What do you plan to do when you run out? I'll probably keep selling more of whatever was the most popular.
The market itself exists in and around a cluster of white buildings with walkways between them, but the closeness of the buildings makes the walkways feel like an arcade. Gaosheng Qiao comprises an intriguing patchwork of old and new: Tables holding carefully displayed Indian tree-nut bracelets (RMB15 to 35), antique coins, Chinese war medals (RMB30), skeins of mohair yarn (RMB12), U.S. dollar bills (market price); racks filled with haphazardly hung children's winter coats, magazines, toys, socks, and underwear. And on at least this particular day, there are bright, glossy antique ceramic teapots, vases, and paperweights (Ming and Qing Dynasties, RMB400 to 800), laid out on a blanket nearby. Most of these are heirlooms bought, according to their peddler, from families in the countryside.
At the center of it all, a 60-something man sits on a stool behind a large glass case. The case is overflowing with ancient coins (real and fake), an abacus, an LP record of English lessons (lesson number 13-15), fragments of old pottery, bracelets, Chairman Mao pins (RMB5), watches, a mountain of wadded-up old-issue currency, silver hair clasps, a female army officer's cap (RMB7), and xiaorenshuo, the little comic books made from stills and subtitles of TV serials and other shows (RMB5).
Time spent selling antiques at Gao Sheng Qiao 2 years.
Previous occupation I was a farmer in Henan, but I had family selling antiques in Sichuan, so I came here.
Changes in the past two years Business was better before the earthquake.
About shoppers in Sichuan Sichuanese people have a habit. If the weather is cold, they don't come out; if the weather is hot, they don't come out. They only come out when the weather is good.
Most common customers Mostly locals between ages 50 and 60, plus a few foreigners. One 30-something foreigner often comes to buy wooden and leather boxes.
On American shoppers When Americans go back home they'll buy old coins and bills to show their friends.
Gaosheng Qiao sits on the southwest section of the First Ring Road. The market is just behind the Roman Holiday Plaza—高升桥罗马假日广场.
This article by Isaac Myers was originally published in CHENGDOO citylife Magazine, issue 30 ("Little Chengdu"). Interpretation assistance from Diana Zhou. Photos by #Isaac Myers.