If you’ve been following my articles, you’ll know that I lived in Singapore, a country with many other names. Shoppers’ Paradise is one of them. It’s a city with a plethora of shopping centres and open air night markets. Shopping is an intricate part of our lives. Naturally, when I finally decided on the China setting of my middle grade book, I had to ensure the shopping aspect in the story is authentic. I paid close attention to this detail during my visit to China. Here are my observations of the retail market, both for the tourists and the locals.
Huang Long Xi Ancient Town 黄龙溪: Crafts and Market
I took a trip to Huang Long Xi Ancient Town, 40km south of Chengdu.
Travelling by car, I passed several roadside stalls like the ones shown below. They are a good indicator that a temple is nearby. These stalls were set up by the roadside selling items you need for taking to the temples to pray. They include flowers, candles and joss-sticks.
Huang Long Xi is a touristy place, both for locals and overseas visitors. It’s over 1700 years old. There were several sections to it. The buildings bedecked with red lanterns are so attractive I pictured them this way when I described Qiang town in my MG book, Secrets of the Great Fire Tree.
In the more touristy part, there was a section selling crafts. I stopped to admire a stall selling Chinese red paper cuttings. They came in various shapes and sizes. Some were framed, others were backed by white paper. They were square, rectangular and circular. The lady selling them gave me time to admire the cuttings. She wasn’t pushy at all. I could not resist buying one as they were all so beautifully cut. Eventually I narrowed my choices down to round ones of a particular size.
I had a choice of three, same design, but just slightly different. When I finally chose one, she commented that I had a good eye. I am naturally sceptical of praise from vendors, so I asked her why she made that comment. She explained about how thinly it was cut and held out all three of them so I could see for myself how the other two had thicker lines. It turned out every piece of cutting in the stall was her handiwork. She handed me a leaflet that told me a little more about herself. From her leaflet I found out she is from the Yi ethnic minority. This was quite a coincidence as a trip to Xichang to see them had been suggested by the travel agent when I first planned my trip.
Further on from the paper craft stall, there were several stalls selling sugar-sculptured animals. It was just as well, because every stalled was surrounded by parents with children clamouring for one. This was so unique and skilful I had to put it in my story, albeit a little mention as a treat at the end of Market Day. Even if you don’t like sugary things, it’s worth your while getting close to the front just to watch the artisan at work. To give you an idea, watch this sugar sculpture of a koi carp.
Deeper into the ancient town, there were several stalls selling more mundane items you would expect to find in any market. In these sections, vendors brought their wares and set up stall on the ground.
It was only early April, but there were several stalls selling juicy, red strawberries. They complemented the red lanterns hanging in another part of the town. This stall is selling strawberries and nuts and using the old-fashion scales.
Using the old-fashion scales.
In a quiet corner, a lady was making garlands on the spot. In a busy section, a man was selling rabbits.
In a quiet corner, this lady was making garlands on the spot.
In a busy section, this man was selling rabbits.
The market section sold so many different things I had to stop myself from continuously snapping pictures. Whenever I described Qiang in my book, Huanglongxi came to the fore. I got carried away in my description of the place. My first editor commented that I was writing a travelogue, so I had to delete a huge section of it!
Tourist shops in Juizhaigou 九寨沟 town centre
Because I wanted to see some ethnic minorities and the way they live, the travel agency recommended I visited Jiuzhaigou to see the Tibetan residential areas, as the area was infra-structurally more developed. Jiuzhaigou means the valley of nine villages. There are nine Tibetan villages in this national park. Below is a picture of what the town centre looks like.The town centre is made up shops just like the ones shown here below; a souvenir shop and a supermarket. What struck me were the ornate red decorations on the all the doors.
Tourist shop in Jiuzhaigou town centre
A Minimart in Jiuzhaigou town centre
In the souvenir shops, they sold many foodstuffs, but I didn’t know what they were. I do know, however, on this shelf are different kinds of Yak products. Hanging outside the shops were some clothing items.
There were, in fact, more restaurants and eateries in the town centre than souvenir shops. I will cover food in a separate article. Indeed, there weren’t as many souvenir shops as you would expect in the town centre of a Unesco Heritage Site.
In Jiuzhaigou National Park itself, these two pictures give you an idea why it’s a renowned place. Sadly, the beautiful waterfalls and blue lakes were destroyed by the earthquake in 2017.
Natural blue lakes
Top of the mountains in Jiuzhaigou
Inside the park, the stalls, by comparison to the souvenir shops in town, were even more ornately decorated. There were several stalls selling crafts, such as these embroidery and jewellery. I had to mention them, though too briefly, in my book, Secrets of the Great Fire Tree. When you read it, see if you can spot the section about Xinying doing embroidery and her uncle selling them to tourists.
If you came here in search of the sights and sounds of rural china, hopefully you got a flavour. This article brings to life the retail side of what you can experience in my book. Secrets of the Great Fire Tree will be published by Aurelia Leo on 28 May 2019. It is available for pre-order and requests for advanced reader copies can be made on Netgalley.
First published 15 Jun 2018. Updated 19 May 2019.