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Antiques Flea Market

If there is one reason to brave the cold (11F/-9C today) on the streets of Beijing, Panjiayuan Antiques Market is it. Trading mostly in antiques, handicrafts, ornaments, and other collectibles by people representing minorities of China (Hui, Man, Miao, Dong, Uigur, Mongolian, Korean, and other ethnic groups), this bazaar is just a quick cab ride from my friend’s apartment in Chaoyang. Although it is known as the quaintly classical market of antiques and handicrafts, Panjiayuan does have a sizable book section with scores of stalls. Books, in piles and stacks that line the tarps sitting on the ground, assume no organization and order. You have to go through everything and try your luck. Books are priced as marked. The ones that aren’t marked, usually older with frayed spines, would be sold by weight. 5 to 10 RMB per 5 kilograms (11 lbs).

The laobans (owners) are very friendly and greet customers with smile. You can browse and read for as long as you wish, even if the browsing doesn’t amount to a purchase. With my cashmere scarf, down-feather parka and gloves, I’m geared for a thorough rummaging of the selection. A nearby tea stand also comes in handy for hot drinks. Since half the fun is browsing and that most of the books are in (simplified) Chinese, I didn’t attest high hope for finding anything to my extreme liking. Just when I thought there was nothing that piques me, I find a copy, the original hardcover, exactly the same edition as the one I checked out from the library on campus when I was an undergraduate, of Simple and Direct by Jacques Barzun. This is a classic text/guide to writing. His discussions of diction, syntax, tone, meaning, composition, and revision guide the reader through the technique of making the written word clear and agreeable to read. Out of all the places, I would never thought to have find this book on the streets of the Chinese capital. The price is unbelievably cheap: 10 RMB (USD1.50). Consider that you can buy 11 lbs of the other Chinese paperbacks for the same price, Barzun’s book is pricey.

The other find is more reasonable: Selected Stories of Lu Hsun (鲁迅) translated by Yang Hsien-yi and Gladys Yang. He is one of the major Chinese writers of the 20th century. Considered by many to be the founder of modern Chinese literature, he wrote in the vernacular as well as classical Chinese. Lu Xun was a short story writer, editor, translator, critic, essayist and poet. He wrote in a clear lucid style which was to influence many generations, in stories, prose poems and essays. Lu Xun’s translations were important in a time when Western literature were seldom read, and his literary criticisms remain acute and persuasively argued. 12 RMB (USD1.75).

Aside from The Likeness, which I am over 3/4 of the way, I started reading Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. This line can never come to me at a better time: “Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.”

3 Responses

  1. Great finds in a festive season. Enjoy your read.

  2. Very interesting and fun to read. Jaques Barzun: what a find, and how unexpected.

  3. Enjoy your treasures that you found!

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