We made a quick trip back to the pearl market to pick up yesterday’s order followed by a trip across the street into Yu Gardens for a look at the tourists and the Starbucks. New Years goods were on sale everywhere, making the scene red wherever you turned. We stopped for a moment in the center square to talk about a dumpling shop that was pronounced “best in the world’ on one segment of Anthony Bourdain’s show, “No Reservations.” The line extended out the door and around the building and while remarking on that a gentleman standing near us chimed in using perfect English that it was in fact the best. He asked about our business there on that day, laughed at the fact that we worked for Intel, telling us our financial situation was not ideal. He went on to tell about his brother whom had lived in Provo, Utah for the last 25 years, becoming a Mormon while there. He laughed and said “that’s the only reason anyone would want to live there.”

Sometimes you meet the best people just standing around.

After the walk around Yu Gardens and a stroll through the neighborhoods in the Old City, we went looking for the Bird Market, one of my favorite little holes in the wall. I didn’t have my map with me and so I had to go from memory and while it took a long walk down Zhonghua Road and up Tibet Road and across to Dongping Road where I reached the depths of despair at my inability to find it, I finally persevered and went back to Tibet Road and found it. It’s an interesting place, flowers out front and a warren of stalls inside an old building with a glass roof. One line of puppy stalls including one that had a tiny pug sadly ensconced in a cage with five tiny kittens. You could see the embarrassment on his little wrinkled face. Next line is fish and tables of aquarium supplies. Then comes tables of crickets and katydids, clicking away in tiny plastic cages. Finally rows upon rows of songbirds, moved back into the building due to the cold out front. A few chickens scratch around between the tables and a big cat walked the roof line over the tops of the stalls. Hundreds of singing Thrushes, Finches and Parrots in banks of cages illuminated by heat lamps. Saddest of all though were what appeared to be some sort of Lark, clearly just taken from the steppes, bobbing around in the bottom of a bird cage, wondering by what ill fortune they had ended up there.

Perhaps the neatest thing about the Bird Market though is the fact that the vendors simply ignore westerners like me – it’s clear we’re not there to buy anything. Out of respect for the people, I don’t openly take pictures in this place.

From there, across the street to the antiquities market where one can find all sorts of oddball antiques, both old and brand new. It’s a couple of blocks of small streets lined with booths. Some specialize in Buddhist art, others in old fans and telephones. A real hodgepodge and pretty low key in terms of low pressure salesmanship. Most have no English aside from the odd gaggle of little school girls who delight in walking by with their grandmother escort and yelling a giggly “hello” at us.

This last picture is a shot of the touch screen entertainment/advertising screen in the taxi that brought us back to the hotel tonight. It was a neat little piece of advertising for Disneyland, complete with the middle class family – mom, dad, son, daughter, grandparents – having a dinner. Dad pulls out the travel plans and tells the kids, “we’re going to Disneyland.” A talking Mickey Mouse doll pops up and gets the whole family rev’d up. Next thing you know, they’re on Main Street USA, wearing mouse ears.

What’s interesting about it is that they have managed to weave Minny and Mickey into the upcoming Chinese New Year, this being the Year of the Rat. A pretty slick bit of cultural appeal.