The Silk Market

Hangzhou is famous for it’s silk market – it is over 1000 years old.  Marco Polo bought silk there to send back to Venice to be sold throughout Medieval Italy.

The silk market is not much to look at, really. In fact, if you didn’t know what it was you could easily drive right past it. Picture 1 shows the entrance.  It has the classic triple opening gate – with one wide center opening and a smaller opening on either side.

Once you pass through the gate you can see that the street, which is fairly wide for an old street, has small shops on either side of the street for 4 blocks. See picture 2. If you look at the picture the small rectangle of white light that the street is headed towards is the end of the market.  The silk market is only one block wide.  So this one street is the entire silk market.

The street is blocked to automobiles, but scooters, regular bicycles, and the classic three-wheel bicycle have access.  The street was crowded with people going in and out of the shops looking for something silk – from material to every conceivable form of clothing (pajamas, dresses, suits, scarves, blouses, shirts, everything).

The red bicycle on the right hand side of picture two is one of the 10s of thousands of bicycles identical to this one provided by the City of Hangzhou for people to rent and ride.  It costs 8 yuen (roughly - $1.15) a day to rent.  There are stalls all over the city and you can rent it for the day or by the hour (first hour is free if you rent it for 2 or more hours), you just take to any of the city stalls to return it.

You see them everywhere.  People use them for their daily transportation, or rent them in the parks, like West Lake, to drive around the park.

Each shop puts out manikins every day (the market is open from 8am to 10pm, seven days a week) showing what they have to sell.  Picture 3 shows several shops.  The shops are about 20’ x 20’ and some, but not most, are air-conditioned.  However, the AC doesn’t help because the doors to every shop were open.

The manikins were ‘western’ not oriental.  However, that day I was the only ‘westerner’ in the market.

I asked Dr. Lim if it was a Chinese tradition to have the entry door open to a business (even the hotel leaves it’s entry doors open all day long) and he said it was not a tradition, but if the doors were shut the shop would not be very ‘inviting’ and people might suspect it was closed.

I was amazed just how similar each store was, and was curious as to how they could all remain in business.  Dr. Lim told me that they all do a huge internet business, all over the world, and that several shops, each showing different products, spread out in different parts of the market were often owned by one extended family.  These families had owned a silk market concession for generations.

Picture 4 shows more shops, the one closest in this picture specializing in children’s clothes.  Apparently you learned to judge which shop to go into by the manikins out front.  There is a second space immediately behind each ‘showroom’, with access from a door in the in the showroom (often hidden from sight) where they store products to replenish their stock when someone buys something. Ms. Soon, the HWCC GM is in the foreground of this slide, on the right. I do not have any pictures standing directly in front of a shop because they did not want their shops photographed.

Note that the manikins are all about 4”-6” taller than the customers – and there are not very many blond Chinese.  Even allowing for what their hair stylist could do.

In the last picture, picture 5, is a stature, in the middle of the market, showing two women hanging out silk to dry as they would have 500+ years ago.  Immediately behind the statue is a shop selling bolts of cloth – except their bolts are round whereas US bolts are 1’ foot long so you can unroll cloth one foot at a time.

Although there were a great number of people in the silk market it was fairly quite – no merchants hawking their products, not like other markets.

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