Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Jade Street Trader

"Life is a library - and the books are only on loan. Miss McNally, Cecilia (Cec to friends) dealt in jade, old gold and antiques. A leading light right along Australia's eastern seabord she adored tripping to Hong Kong and I sometimes went along for the ride.

Miss M chose to stay at the Y adjacent to the Peninsular Hotel. I stayed at The Pen. Through a flurry of white liveried bellboys she would enter The Peninsular, greet friends, and via a side door exit into the Y. "Why spend on grand hotels - the YMCA is quite safe. Buy jade instead and finance your next trip."

The lady travelled light, jade jewellery in her handbag being the ticket to London should she decide to travel on. "Westerners undervalue jade. The best pieces in Hong Kong are from Australian deceased estates. Tomorrow, we go straight to the jade market - early, six-thirty on the seven one two bus. If you see a chemist I need bobby pins." Hair pins are central to this story.

Street barter had its moments. Scribbled numbers on old newsprint proffered by a gummy Chinese trader. Cecilia breaking eye contact to turn to me - the decoy, "Satisfied?" Before any response she would pivot back to harangue the seller. "This is not old jade. This is new jade. Not good jade." He would look suitably offended. Totally embarrassed I'd disappear into the bitumen. A thousand eyes watched. 

At a precise moment McNally would reach into her untidy French roll, withdraw a trusty bobby pin and scratch the bottom of the jade carving. "See! Very bad jade. Soapstone." Feigned concern. Chinese theatre? With Cecilia reduced to pidgin English, he'd flash a toothless grin,"Oh Kay." Then, Cecilia to me. "Show your money and pretend to leave." My embarrassment fuelled the charade. Money exchanged hands as a jade trinket gift slipped to Cecilia from an appreciative vendor. "When Chinese barter, there is always something left for them. You will never beat China in a deal." Too true, bless her.  

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