After an eleven-hour drive to Shanxi, I followed the familiar route straight to Qixian.
On the way, I secretly added Bai Haotian to several groups that were full of culture and antique enthusiasts. Many people posted their collections every day, so the circulation was very fast.
In today’s antique market, if you had money, you could buy eighty percent of the good products at the many small secondhand shops in the county. There was no need to go to the village yourself. The locals had probably already swept through the village and had a monopoly on the goods. It didn’t matter whether it was from a “fellow villager” or something handed down through the ages, the locals had acquaintances who swept through the goods regularly. When my business started to improve back then, it was because I controlled this part. I cut out the antique dealers in the county and had the goods sent directly to the city.
As a result, the antique dealers in Qixian County absolutely hated my guts. After I retired, they quickly blocked the hole I had created, so it would definitely be bad if I entered Qixian again on my own. That was why Bai Haotian was so crucial.
I found a shabby hotel that cost fourteen yuan a day and rented two rooms. I then bought bedding, changed the sheets, and climbed up to the window. I pulled down the curtain rod, hollowed out the wall behind it, and then put the curtain rod back. This was a place where we would hide the goods we bought. I knew from experience that once we bought any good products, anything could happen.
After that, I dyed my hair yellow and put on round glasses and a fake beard and sideburns. I also wore a special tight-fitting T-shirt. When my disguise was complete, I looked like those gang members who parked their cars in rural KTV parking lots (1). Then I told Bai Haotian to put on a white shirt and booty shorts (2). When the two of us stood together, it looked like a little rich girl had fallen for an unconventional boyfriend and brought him to Qixian to travel.
Bai Haotian also put on a lot of makeup. Her technique was so top-notch that she was basically unrecognizable when she was done. After that, we went to a small secondhand shop in a building materials market in the county suburbs.
The best items in this shop were silver ingots and old saddles, which were placed inside glass cabinets that lined the walls. The glass cabinets were the old ones from department stores in the ‘90s. They were covered in rust and dust both inside and out. In addition to the old silver ingots that were piled up indiscriminately, there were many old house deeds and pieces of old furniture piled up.
We went in and pretended to be interested in these old objects. The boss was a short old fat man who didn’t look up at us at all. Instead, he stayed focused on the TV show playing on his iPad.
It was sunny outside, but the whole inside of the shop was very dark. After taking two steps in, it even felt colder, which was a feeling that I was quite familiar with.
Bai Haotian asked me softly, “Even if we buy some things here, we can’t sell them when we get back. What are we doing?”
“Taking pictures,” I answered in the Changsha dialect.
“Taking pictures?” Bai Haotian didn’t understand what I meant.
“Antique trading is all about eyesight and information,” I whispered. “When there’s money, it’s always more profitable to keep it than to sell it. When there’s no money, it’s more important to know where the good products are rather than buying them.” I went over to the old fat man and saw several strings of old beeswax hanging on the wall. Each string had more than seventy pieces. I leaned over to look at one and said, “Here we go.”
The old fat man gave a hum and looked at me while frowning. I immediately rubbed the beeswax with my hand and smelled it. He put down his iPad and stood up, fully alert now.
I quickly stroked each piece with my hand and found that twenty-one of them were similar in size. I looked at the other string next to it and the boss immediately realized that I was an expert. He conveniently handed me the other string and I stroked it with my hand. It was about the same size as the twenty-one string just now, but this one had twelve.
“These two strings for a hundred and sixty thousand.” As I quoted the price, I seemingly unintentionally took out my phone and snapped some partial photos of the old beeswax. I made sure to get some of the good ones and some of the bad ones and sent them to Bai Haotian.
The old fat man’s voice was very faint as he said, “Two hundred. A hundred and sixty is too low.”
Bai Haotian was still looking at the photos I had sent, so I used her number to post the good ones in several of the groups with a direct price quote: “Old beeswax bracelet, thirty-three beads. Two hundred and sixty thousand. Each bead is the same diameter and top grade.”
I then turned my head and walked away while saying to the boss, “I’ll take it at a hundred and sixty, but two hundred is too expensive.”
The fat boss ignored us and went back to his iPad. I walked out of the shop and used my own number to post a message in each group “Bai Haotian” had posted in just now: “I want this string. No one had better take it from me.”
Bai Haotian didn’t understand what I was doing, so I sat down with her at a yangzage shop (3) six hundred meters away and said to her, “Let the bullets fly for a while.”
After eating, we walked two kilometers and entered another shop in an old street alley. This shop mainly sold stone chopping blocks and various old water jars, as well as some silver ingots and old saddles. At this time, a few people started messaging Bai Haotian on WeChat.
Bai Haotian showed me one person’s profile picture, but I wasn’t familiar with them. The stranger said to Bai Haotian: “Don’t sell it to him. I’ll give you two hundred and ten thousand if you sell it to me.”
I used Bai Haotian’s phone to respond: “Boss Wu has already paid a thirty thousand deposit. You’ll have to pay at least two hundred and forty thousand; otherwise, I’ll lose the deposit and not make a profit.”
The other party said that it was no problem.
I smiled gently. This was Uncle Two telling people to stop me from buying goods so I couldn’t make any money. Uncle Two probably didn’t know that I didn’t even have the money to buy goods.
Bai Haotian and I ran back to the previous shop and asked the old fat man to give us his Alipay (4) information. Once that was done, we reported it to the other party. Once the other party paid, I re-strung those thirty-three beeswax pieces into a beautiful bracelet and sent it to them. That left nearly ninety old beeswax pieces of various sizes and appearances, so I put them away for later.
Since the other party paid two hundred and forty thousand yuan, the old fat man found it very strange. With regards to the extra forty thousand yuan, I said to the old fat man, “I must’ve told him the wrong number. Just forget it. What other good products do you have here. I’ll buy some more.”
The old fat man looked at me before silently taking out an old newspaper from beneath the counter and spreading it out slowly.
(1) KVT is karaoke. China has KTV clubs, which have private rooms that you can book with your friends or colleagues for a few hours of fun.
(4) Online payment platform. Think of it like paypal.
I’ve got some stuff going on this week, so updates are going to be pretty lame. I’ll try my best, but no promises. Apologies in advance dears~~