Last year, around this time, my favorite purse broke. It was a grey leather bag that slung over my shoulder and ended level with my left hip. I found the bag, on sale, for $15.00 during my freshman year of high school and to this day I still consider it one of the best purchases I've ever made. It wasn't obnoxious in size, but it could hold more than it looked; it was neutral enough in color and went with everything and since I could wear it over my shoulder, I never had to worry about leaving it behind. I made use of it all throughout high school, but the summer before high school, the strap broke. I fixed it by tying in a knot, but every so often it would come undone. Day by day, it developed more problems. The front lining started coming unstitched, the strap had more and more knots, and eventually a small hole in the bottom made me give it up for good. At the time, a little after Christmas last year, I received a new purse as a gift from a friend. Though it was smaller than I would have liked, made of cloth (therefore, less durable) and more of a summer-y style, I figured it would work until I found a new purse more suited to my (very) specific requirements.
Before coming to China, I still hadn't found a suitable replacement (did I mention I also didn't want to pay more than $20, buy anything from a department store or find one online?), so I decided I would try to find a new purse while studying abroad. Since I would be using it so often, I figured it would be a great reminder of my trip and would have a cool origin story. The first week, I scoped out places near campus, but everything I found was either too plain or too busy. As I traveled to Chengdu and Jiuzhaigou, I was further disappointed to find bags I liked the design, but not the size of. I thought I found a good fit at a leather store, but rejected it because of the price tag and lack of haggling opportunity. While I was in Ningxia, my cloth bag began falling apart more and more, but I still couldn't find a replacement I liked. By the time Halloween came around, I thought I was going to have to buy a cheap, temporary bag because of how large the hole in the outer lining had gotten.
That fear ended yesterday though, I found a new purse that perfectly fit all of my requirements.
I'm telling you all this for two reasons.
1. I'm super happy I found a new purse.
2. Because of where I found it. I discovered my new bag at what is lovingly referred to as the "Dirt Market". It's off the PanJiaYuan Line 10 subway stop (Exit C2 and then to the right of the Mercedes Benz dealership--do NOT go to the Antique Mall, it isn't the same thing). Basically, it's like a giant flea market with different vendors in booths under a large tent. On the left side and all the way in the back there are rows of tiny antique shops and places that sell traditional Chinese art and calligraphy. It's by far been the best place to find souvenirs that I've been to so far. There are plenty of one-of-a-kind trinkets like decorative boxes, teapots, pins, posters, and jewelry--basically everything imaginable. I found my purse in one of the shops that sold Mao-Era propaganda collectibles and other items from the Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward time periods. My other purchases included a couple of animal shaped locks, vintage army pins and even an old vinyl record of revolution songs from the 1950s. It was the closest I've come to thirfting in months and I was overjoyed. My friends also found earrings, posters and lanterns from different sellers in the area.
Some Suggestions if you plan on going...
The people at these shops expect you to and you'll lose a lot of money if you don't. Typically the first price they give you is extremely high. They'll also refuse your first two or so offers, so don't be afraid to lowball them. I also recommend deciding how much you want to pay ahead of time. It makes it easier to walk away and you're less likely to spend more than you had planned on. Additionally, if you're buying more than one of an item, haggling is even easier to do. So if you and a friend or two are all eyeing the same type of item from a single vendor, you can strike a deal by buying three and then split the difference later.
-Have a lot of time.
I'm planning on going back because we only allotted for three hours of browsing and shopping and it was nowhere near enough. We managed to make it through most of the shops in the left row and skimmed over most of the individual vendors outside, but we had to get going before we could check out the rows of shops in back and get a good look over every section.
-Make a list.
Especially if you've got several people you want to get gifts for. It just makes it easier to keep track.
-Take time to look around.
Many of the vendors sell the same or very similar items. It seemed to be divided by sections (a few rows for paintings, a few for pottery, some for clothes, etc.), but it's worth seeing what's out there before you decide to buy something right away. Also, if you end up walking away from an item because it's too pricey or hard to haggle down from, there's a good chance you can find something very similar nearby, so keep an eye out.
-Eat ahead of time.
There were a few food vendors outside the Dirt Market area, but I didn't see any real restaurants. We hadn't eaten and were super hungry on the long subway ride home.
Other than that, have fun! It was a kind of treasure hunt for me and a great way to spend the day with friends.
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<p>My name is Kelly Cunningham and I am a Chinese Studies and English major at DePaul University. I love everything about languages-reading them, writing with them, speaking them, etc. I'm studying abroad to improve my Chinese and learn more about the culture.</p>