Mother Goose is full of wisdom for ages long ago. As a child, I learned that wool from black sheep should be divided between the master, dame and little boy down the lane. I also took precautions when sitting atop a brick wall, because I knew the king’s horses and men would never be able to put me back together again. And, of course, I am now well aware of the dangers of running down a hill with a pail full of water. While little of this information was relevant to me as a youngster, some if it just went into storage in the ol’ gray matter for the day it might prove useful. (Between Peace Corps and the Foreign Service, it really is a crapshoot what random factoid might be prudent on any given day.)
Not all nursery rhymes are outdated and out of touch, at least if you are living in the a not-quite-fully-developed country. For instance, “To market, to market, to buy a fat pig/Home again, home again, jiggety-jig” is a as much a part of daily life for some in China as swinging through the drive through of the Golden Arches is to some Americans.
Markets (and therefore nursery rhymes) are on my mind today as I decided to do a little last minute holiday shopping this weekend, braving the biggest wholesale market in Chengdu. The Christmas season is upon us, and while there are more decorations hanging from windows and adorning doorways than last time I was living in China, there isn’t the bustling of the holiday season that I love so much in the US. I knew a trip to the mall here just wasn’t going to do it, so I thought if it is people and a bit of chaos that I crave, Lotus Market on a Sunday morning is the best substitute available.
Since a couple of us were going to go anyway, I opened up the trip to the whole community, making it an official CLO outing. I figured anyone who wanted to jump into the madness of the market mid-morning on the weekend was welcome to join the fray. Several people quickly signed up, some who had been before and knew what they were getting themselves in to and some who would experience wholesale anarchy at its best for the first time.
After taking Chengdu’s subway from the consulate to the train station, we disembarked to a lovely maze of construction, blocking the easiest egresses from the subway station, but no one blinked an eye as we hopped over mud puddles, skirted the (possibly live?) wires hanging from the poles above us and crossed the pedestrian bridge lined with vendors showcasing photos of guns and tattoos. (I know the deal with the tattoos, but I am unsure what’s going on with the firearm photos. I didn’t hang around long enough to gage their clientele. Just keep moving…)
Once inside the market area, I was pleasantly surprised with the Christmas atmosphere that abounded. Shops that are usually filled with an abundance of red balloons, wall hangings, good luck knots and all manner of wedding decorations were overflowing with horribly tacky Christmas decorations. We all enjoyed the motion-activated, sax-playing Santa who could shimmy his hips right along with the best of the Zumba-fanatics. Knee-high artificial trees so fake the plastic was shiny sat in front of doorway after doorway, some covered in plastic bubs and others just joining together to create a miniature forest of bogus evergreens.
Not only did I enjoy a bit of the Christmas baubles and glitter that I had been missing, but Lotus Market provided the remedy for my missing the hustle and bustle of stores during the holiday season. Most of the market is outdoors, with stalls coming off of the main roads, so I got a bit of that “mall” feel. It was a perfect replica, except that malls in America don’t come with overloaded scooters honking continuously as they swerve in and out of the crowds; malls in America don’t have thin, middle-aged men carrying loads of good on their backs that weigh at least half their body weight; (I’m pretty sure these porters rival ants in their ability to haul huge percentages of their own weight.) and malls in America don’t allow for bargaining at decibel levels reserved for jetliners as I haggle over a few kuai while Psy’s“Gangnam Style” competes for ultimate earworm supremacy with “Frosty the Snowman,” blaring over the speakers setup outside each and every shop.
I came away from the market with an ugly sweater for next weekend’s Marine-hosted Ugly Sweater party, a few stocking stuffers for Thad and a birthday gift for my soon-to-be four-year old niece. (Sadly, I spotted a woman sporting the same sweater I bought for the upcoming party, which remind me of one I would have smugly worn for class pictures in about the third grade. She was middle-aged and proudly wearing the horizontal stripes, stars and bedazzling on the subway that very afternoon.)
With my canvas bag slung over my shoulder like an undersized Santa, overflowing with my day’s purchases (but no fat pig), home again, home again I headed, jiggity-jig.