"Marketplace" is a regular column in which we explore Beijing's sundry marketplaces. Ta da! Here's to a little chaotic consumerism...
Chances are, if you're reading this, you’re a young(er) person living in rented accommodation in Beijing you’ve got fuck-all interest in amassing actual collectible stuff that “really ties the room together” and so forth. But you know who does? Your parents. And when they inevitably come to visit, they're probably not going to want to spend their trip staring into the throbbing face of armageddon at Dada at 4am. They're going to want to visit the sites, chew some dead duck, and score some totally ‘oriental’ stuff that they can bung in their house to prove they’ve really been to Asia.
And for when that time comes Panjiayuan will be waiting. Presented below is pictures and a lay-of-the-land of Panjiayuan if you've never been, preparing you for a journey down the aisles of history -- or the aisles of some reasonably facilitated history at any rate.
Panjiayuan (潘家园) is a huge outdoor antiques market in Chaoyang. It has it’s own subway stop on line 10 and when you walk out the subway you’ll be greeted with a sight like this:
You may also be greeted with a sight like this. That’ll let your mum know she’s totally in the right place. Just look at that plumage!
Inside the gate it looks like this:
What you're looking at is a huge, open-air market with permanent brick-and-mortar shops around the edges. It’s a 9-5 seven days a week kind of deal but the weekends are when it really goes off and most of the sellers will be open for business. We went on a Sunday and it was heaving. Haggling is the way to go, though by and by prices in the market will be lower than in the shops, while the shops sometimes have rarer, more expensive items. It’s kind of categorized into zones, which we’ll go through in a bit but you’re better off just diving in and wandering around. You’ll figure out where things are pretty quickly.
Or not. It’s huge. Like China huge.
Two more tips: to be a seller at Panjiayuan there is some kind of vetting process (no idea what that entails) and the basic rule is don’t buy from anyone inside the walls unless they have a seller ID card, as modeled by this handsome gent.
I guess this is to stop tourists getting uber ripped off. And as with any crowded joint in Beijing be sensible with your belongings as it’s crowded with a ton of people, some of which may not be as honest as you.
Alright, dad talk over, let’s look at some of the wares on offer. Through the gate you’ll first encounter jewelry and precious stones.
Are these real? No idea, but it looks nice and that’s the most important thing right?
If you’re in the market for an authentic blessing from a higher power, these pre-packaged Buddhist pendants were a steal at 20rmb a pop. I’m sure they totally work too.
The jewelry section kind of melts into the ceramics section which is packed with vases, plates, and tea pots mimicking various styles in China’s aesthetic history. It’s all super liable to get broken, so if you’re clumsy or drunk go some other place.
...And there's a bunch more stuff like this. We bought a new tea set including some of these fish tea cups. It’s like there’s a fish in the bottom of your cup without there actually being a fish in there. Genius.
Around the edges you can check out the larger, older, more expensive stuff on offer. It ranges from small knick knacks to full-on furniture pieces that you’ll either need to arrange shipping for or buy a house in China to permanently store it in.
There were no releases from Genjing Records in this pile. Missed retail opportunity me thinks.
Vases and heavy furniture soon give way to art and art supplies. Everything you could ever need to create your own masterpiece, including brushes, papers, inks and stamps to make your work all official like. However if you’re shit at art you could buy some pre-made jams. Y’know, chickens, dragons, Chinese characters you can’t read, all the kind of thing that looks great on a wall.
If you go on a weekend you might also encounter a wall of dog portraits that retail for 80rmb a go. The guy who sells them is only there on weekends because that’s when the most foreigners roll through. He’s like the Andy Warhol of dog art. Get on it before Charles Saatchi does.
Art inevitably gives way to fabrics and fashion. The kind of fashion that you might not be able to pull off but your dad/step-dad/weird uncle totally could.
Why heeeeeelo! Was someone pining for a new daopao with a sexy dragon motif?
At the opposite end of the market from the main entrance things get a bit more, erm, low key. There’s a smaller open air market bit that seemed like it was there for the guys who woke up too late. One of the stalls appeared to just be a fat man playing with his phone while some kids drew him looking at his phone. I’m not sure how much that cost but I think he’s onto something.
Also a bunch of stalls in this section had broken stuff on offer with the implicit suggestion that you could buy it and put it back together, like a 3D jigsaw puzzle. Is buying broken crap and mending it a thing in the antiques world? I doubt I’m ever going to find out.
Finally at the very back of the market you’ll find a covered book market. Which smells like rotting books.But is totally useful if you happen to want to buy stacks of magazines, hard cover art books, or posters of Mao Ze Dong annd Deng Xiao Ping looking stoked.
It’s also a good spot to pick up little comic books, playing cards and the like, which are awesome for little gifts for friends/relatives back home next time you’re there. The Journey To The West playing cards are tight.
So there you have it. While it’s not going to be a regular place to hang out (unless antiques/ faux antique tat is your thing) at some point in time you or somebody you love will want/need something from Panjiayuan and it’ll be sitting there waiting, with untold treasure stashed amongst row after row of stalls and merchants.
Like this Twista ‘Sunshine’ LP. Vintage 2004. Totally worth the trip down there for this bad boy.
“I keep my mind on my money, money on my mind,
I got my finger on the trigga', stayin' on the grind,
And when I wake up in the mornin', I gots to hit a lick,
Saw the two thousand and three Navi, on Sprees wit' a kit”
Panjiayuan is at No. 18, Huaweili, west of Panjiayuan Bridge. It's a stop on Line 10.