Thursday, October 11, 2007

Flea Markets, Men Produce

Flea Market Update
Photos from Beijing, Oct 22

One of reasons why it's fun browsing through Sydney's festive flea markets is discovering an item without that ubiquitous label Made in China. We would rather find hand-made items!

But what if we find ourselves in China ? What items do we find in a Chinese flea market?
Well photographer friend Claro Cortes IV just sent us fresh images from a Beijing flea market. Claro is photo-editor of Reuters (Beijing) and member of our Banggaan Art Group.

Based in a huge, bustling and busy city, he often shares anecdotes over hot noodles with another Filipino, our CNN-Beijing man Jaime "Jimi" Florcruz. Jimi was editor of our college organ and was his editorial cartoonist for Ang Malaya in the late 60's.

Thanks to Claro for sending us photos of flea markets in Beijing (note: Claro's photos in this blog may not colour-match his original photographs as I lowered their resolution and also due to disparity of embedded colour profiles among different image software programs).

Curiosity gets the better of me trying to trace origin of unique items one can find in flea markets.
Like you know, there's this Three Gorges Dam built in China displacing almost 300,000 people and burying 4000-year old ancient sites.

Things too big to move are left drowned by the huge dam (satellite photos above from Wikipedia), small items were zipped away and landed in some vague flea markets around this vast country. Here there's a chance a $50,000 museum-priced Chinese vase can be unknowingly sold for $5.

Check out Claro's photos and see if you can spot difference between items sold in Sydney and in Beijing flea markets.

I'm astounded seeing photos of exotic stones and ethnic carvings; not to mention a variety of Buddha heads and miniature Ming Dynasty-like jars.

Can an ordinary Chinese spot the difference between "new" and real antique teapot?

There are also makeshift tables for old books and literature. In my younger years as a freshman student in PCC I was able to get hold of an English version of Mao's little red book.

In it were his sayings and poems pertaining to his revolution. If he were alive would he have a quatrain on greenhouse gas emissions? I don't know where my controversial and "leftie" book is now; it probably has faded into pink after so many years, my acquisition of which even preceded Chan Ching's own brand of Cultural Revolution.

Maybe some items in these photos survived her silly Gang-of-Four blitz. Look at the bottom of items and there you won't find Made in China but Made in Hunan ;-)

Watch out, after the 2008 Beijing Olympics, there would be a lot of metallic and medallic things dumped in flea markets;-)

Thanks, too to Alfredo "Ding" Roces and Ed Labadia for their Manila and New Jersey, USA flea market photos which I've included in my earlier flea market blog entry (below).

Flea markets are an old concept, maybe not older than the flea itself; but older than Marché aux puces of Saint-Ouen , first flea market in Paris in 17th century. Name is said to have come from flea-ridden rags and second-hand clothing sold there.

Flight or Flee? Could it be originally Flee, coined after fleeing displaced merchants whose stalls were demolished in slums of le vieux Paris where they regrouped to sell secondhand goods? Or was it from Fly Market (Dutch vlie meaning valley) in New York in the 18th century?

Whichever, the tiny flea of a trade leapt in bounds and spread all over Europe and America, even evolving into well-hyped antique fairs; into high-rating tv programs which people itched to watch (e.g. Antique Roadshow); at the same time devolving into car boot sales which more often than not contain hot items like bootleg liquor and fake brands.

Of course there's garage sales. They are little pockets of fleeting flea market phenomenon around suburbia which create weekend hobbyists who scan the neighbourhood for a bargain.

Drive around any part of Sydney and there will always be a garage sale sign sticky-taped around a post or tree advertising one this coming Saturday.

Asked partner to take photo of one in front of a church while idling before traffic lights. (photo below) It's God's garage sale, for heaven's sake;-)

Well I guess we naturally have to get rid of excess and the unwanted; and somehow, somewhere there'd be a place for such trade gatherings.

Wonder if country of birth, Philippines, (as far back as land bridges were still existent in the beautiful archipelago), had a sort of ancient tribal flea market, where warrior for a while could forget his military stature and hollered something like.."Hey buddy, trade you my bow and arrow for your penis gourd?"

In the mid-50's, Mother took 10-year old me to places called Dao and Bambang markets. There were places called talipapa or palenque which was smaller than mercado.

She loved to shop and haggle for colourful textile which she transformed into clothes for my sisters. I was mesmerised by colours, shapes and ingenuity of imported products displayed next to fish and vegie stalls. There were yo-yos, wooden acrobats and broomsticks with winged creatures on wheels.

There's Baclaran for religious shoppers and a bustling trade under Quezon Bridge in Quiapo. For really cool items she shopped at Cartimar in Pasay.

Five in the morning we would be in Divisoria market to get provisions for her little carenderia (eatery) in front of our Pasay home. Mother would also buy big trays of sticky rice puddings and I would subdivide them in smaller portions for retail. (offcuts were mine, yum;-)

Then an aunt opened a hot pandesal store next door, then a neighbour picked up eatery idea and opened one, too. Soon our enclave became famous for cooked food trade. A very big and informal food mall;-)

Clutter and chaos often assault senses of an organised homemaker. It's best to banish clutter for 20 minutes a day starting in one room first and the kitchen the next day.
A slow-phased chore shall give us more time to study which items have become eyesores; e.g., Kitchy things like old art deco clocks that could be repaired but not just worth the time.

And so we end up with a few boxes full of detached emotions. Take them to the tip? No! Might as well give them to the Vinnies or Salvos. But if you want to make a bit of mammon, take them where they can be hot again.

Que asco! Kadiri! Probably what Malu Fernandez wannabes would say if they find themselves browsing in some of Sydney’s flea markets that draw tourists and locals alike hunting for good bargains every weekend. Set up your stall and display boxful of "trash".

Take your pick..oily and antique Monopol lighters, dusty vacuum cleaner hoses, obsolete phones, raspy analog music players, exhausted box cameras, art school paintings, mouldy brass doorbells, fruit, thick honey, cheap Gucci handbags, expired TimTams, grimy electric cords, a UFO flak of plastic hubcaps, and glasswork from all over the fragile world.

Well there are “sanitized” flea markets. At top end of spectrum are The Rocks markets; where George St. bottlenecks at foot of Harbour Bridge. Stallholders have brick-paved floors, elegant booths dotted with muscarian designer umbrellas to protect sensitive skin of (mostly) Japanese women swinging Ken Done paper shopping bags.

Midtown where today BMW's and flashy Hyundais criss-cross like laser swords was my favourite market back in early 80’s. Not anymore. Yup, for smart yuppies, flat & unit-dwellers, backpacker tourists and urban arty types there’s Paddington Market run by the Uniting Church at Oxford St. not too far from Sydney CBD.

It’s good not everything is made in China here. Lots of new “antiques” tho';-), opal things and souveniers, abstract acrylic paintings, prints, geological gems, etc. all canopied by "Woodstock" stalls with cotton sails that soothe the wind. Years ago we used to hang out there with artist friends. Not very far was Dorian Grey gallery where we had art exhibits and lifedrawing sessions before.

Excited with my then new Pentax Super ME film camera I took pictures (scanned proofprints dispersed in this blog entry) of Paddington in early 80's. Scanning alleys for hidden art galleries, I found Heritage Gallery at Queen St. which exhibited Australia's best-known artists and displayed a huge collection of ethnic and tribal art. Australian artist Victor Dove and I used to frequent another Paddington gallery where I first saw my first prints of Arthur Boyd and where I met in person Pro Hart, another great Australian artist (almost like our "Botong" Francisco) who recently passed away and was given a state funeral.

An intruder hungry for the unusual, I mustered courage and nonchalantly sneaked inside Paddington's abandoned town hall (now a theater). I smelt the bureaucratic dust of history and felt the rough resin varnish on furniture. Stacks of dusty chairs stared at bare walls with missing doors and staircase while a narrow window looked out at Victoria Barracks across the street.

Footpaths then were cracked, patched up and unfriendly. But not the people. Amazing, even orange and spiky-haired young dudes greeted me "G'day, mate! How's yer goin'?"

Plywood panels which hid construction work became billboards for the hip. Overnight they become a tapestry of band posters playing at local pubs (above photo, 1981). Who remembers the 80's Pop Mechanics, All Niters, Insteps, Graphic Arts Club and the young Michael Hutchence of INXS?

Oxford St. reminded me of Ermita streets in Manila. Full of fashion shops, cafes, fish & chips, No Names pasta restaurants (much like carinderias in Manila) off Riley St. where one can eat no- frills spaghetti with free cordial juice aka lollie water. Just before Taylor Square are a line of seafood restaurants, most famous of which is Balkan.

Twenty-six years on, Paddington Market has evolved inward. Couldn't blame people who run it. They might have become too self-protective from blatant commercialism fed by a deluge of cheap, imported products while avoiding criticisms of church elitism.

Tho' the flea market idea remained intact, there seems to be fewer antiques. Nary an old record of Charlie Parker nor a larger group of serious artist/vendors. Something's amiss; maybe lack of sincere and "heartfelt" canvas paintings peddled under the maple tree; and where are the baskers and jugglers that could keep crowd inside trade zone for hours while adults search for an eco-friendly gift for a vegetarian, artist friend.

Where are the improvised stalls around each maple tree? Why, most vendors look pro! What's an international brand doing in Paddo? I always assumed the Church "filtered" traders who just wanted to take advantage of crowd attracted by their hallowed grounds.

The "market cleansing" began in mid-90's in a city council's move to preen Sydney's feathers for the 2000 Olympics. Soon as IOC guy Samaranch announced victorious decision "Sydden-ney!" as next olympic city, traders felt a rush of lucrative excitement and brought out their best linen for visiting hordes.

Oi! There’s Paddy’s Market in Sydney Chinatown. Don't get confused. Although Paddy is nickname for Paddington, they're different markets. The former is too crowded and lacks natural light.

Paddy's used to trade weekends, now they’re open beyond wallets. Heritage society saved the day for the original stallholders. It used to be a vegetable and fish market. Half of the stalls sell cheap Australian souvenier mostly made in…where else?

China can mass produce any gadget a human being can find useful, working and priced ridiculously cheaper than its European and American counterparts.

Down here in Sydney’s west there’s a flea market proving popular to people from different walks of life. How do I know? I can tell by the cars parked neatly on the rough bitumen grounds. The area metamorphoses into a drive-in theater at night where young people take the backseats to experiment on pubescent relationship.

Blacktown Drive-In market in Prospect is hidden, very well hidden and not everyone knows about it except maybe patrons of The Royal Cricketer's Arm Hotel that guards the market compound. Elmer reintroduced me to this poor man’s expo ground which used to conduct boot sale for mowers, car parts and junk metal. That was in the early 80's where items were just dumped on the rough ground; 90% of which were rusty. Then wives of these vendors brought in their old lampshades and unused baby cribs and strollers and the rest is history.

Now it has evolved into a “Westie” version of Paddy’s market. (Not exactly Parklea which is highly commercial and no trading of old stuff.) Pre-loved typewriters orphaned by tape ribbons lined up like a tired army. One reminded me of Mother's Corona typewriter in the 50's. It was her constant companion while she wrote comics novels and poems. As I moonwalk to next booth, mind shift is quick. Before me are cheap Korean-made mp3 players and gadgets only my 12-year old could comprehend.

Some unique items originate from Europe brought in by early immigrants. Ah, trade shall always heal the broken romanticism of Mark Twain whence twains of East (Paddington Market in Eastern Sydney) and West (Prospect Markets in Western Sydney) met in this blog entry albeit via photographs. A bonsai plant growing in a Polish pot? And hey where are the boys in blue? I just got a 10-dollar Louis Vuitton bag for my partner. I guess no one’s impressed anymore with your Rolex or Gucci if you flaunt it like a 10-dollar wristwatch;-)

And here in Prospect Sunday markets is where I met Marjorie, a chirpy and honest-to-goodness Filipino lady married for 16 years to a charming Australian named Bill. They met at Lidcombe train station and fell for each other. Maiden Marjorie Lozada is related to late comedian Ike Lozada, that “heavy” singer during days of tv and radio personalities Eddie Mercado and guys from Student Canteen with Leila Benitez, Eddie Ilarde and Bobby Enriquez.

And here’s how Marjorie trades. In five years she’s mastered the trade pattern unscathed by the stock market. Volumes away from the pages of The Financial Times but the adrenaline is there. She scans suburban garage sales and buys interesting items and resells them in the markets for a little profit. That simple. Sometimes she gave away objet-d’-artes for free or if you haggle hard and pretend to be an arts collector with little money;-)

But what strikes me most is the realization that despite being economically challenged, here’s a Filipina who stuck by his man and make do with little earnings from something as trivial as Sunday markets.

Business depends upon the weather and so they look up to the skies Sunday mornings before they stuff their vehicle with goods. Battlers they are often called, and what a noble title for people who work hard for a living, no matter how small scale the business is. Fair go, a bit of hard yakka mate and Bob’s your uncle!

Marjorie’s Ilonggo, was a farmer, a dancer and a non-certificate nurse for Bill who is still recovering from a major heart surgery. Marjorie almost lost him. It’s true if you feel depressed and need help, help someone instead who’s got a bigger problem and feel the magic work.

Old books come easily to Marjorie via garage or auction sales, sometimes freebie as included in unwanted bookshelves and some contained in cardboard boxes. Out of compassion she saves and send them to the Philippines as donations to provincial schools.

For her, she says, doing small-time Sunday trade is therapy. She enjoys wearing afro fake wigs, brightly-coloured vests and silly socks..all signs of a smart business person. I remember that Marketing class acronym we had to memorize: AIDA. (something like attract Attention, fan Interest, create Desire and urge Action). She definitely knew the first letter;-)

Marjorie always had a “new” set of old items every Sunday. Their booth is our pitstop for some items Elmer and I bought but were too heavy to carry around. My $12 wrought-iron framed mirror rested comfy on top of Bill’s car while I wandered around aimlessly, sometimes tripping on antique boat paddles. My eyes get entertained by the surreal variety of things for sale. There’s a hubbly-bubbly here, American Chopper t-shirts there, an oven top next to it, and if you see through people six-deep, you’d discover nice picture frames and birds in cages.

I find flea markets artistically-inspiring, romantic and oozing with human nature and behaviour; and find kindred spirit with people who look at old objects beyond its fleeting monetary value. As Marjorie acknowledged, one thing maybe treasure to one yet trash to the next guy. Old stuff will be forever with us and as long as there are “eccentric” collectors of classic and aged everyday objects there will always be flea markets and people like Marjorie and Bill.

And I wonder as I respond to my own query..what are two things that make the world go ‘round?

Love and trade.

Similarly, there are two other things (or lessons) I learned from Mother which still ring in my ears: Matuto kang magpatawad (learn to forgive); and matuto kang tumawad (learn to haggle).

Learn more about Sydney Markets here

Labels: , ,