Where do you find a genuine Christmas tree amongst 20 million people who don't celebrate Christmas? Last year, determined to have a real, living Christmas tree for the first time ever, I travelled to furtherest Pudong, to a giant indoor plant nursery to buy the only vaguely Nordic looking potted tree they had. It was green, it was spiky, but it only barely passed muster as a Christmas tree. Two tiny Chinese delivery men heaved it up to our second floor living room, where it died, lonely and neglected, about five months later. It was too heavy for even four strapping western men to move, so I had to hack it up, branch by branch, and take it on bits to the rubbish bins. Not good.
This year I was determined to do better, and I had much better intel. The Hongqiao Bird and Flower market had finally cottoned on to what we have known all along. That Christmas is a really, really good opportunity to make money if you're selling the right thing. And they are! Firs! Spruce! Pines! Rows and rows of them in pots. Real, live, living, breathing Christmas trees. I walked through the doors and just breathed deeply on the Christmas smell.
I asked the first vendor how much. 450 kuai, she said. About $40 for an 8ft tree. Not bad, but something about them looked not quite right.....the lower branches were dried out and kind of...dead looking. Hmmm. The second venor offered the same size for only 300 kuai. Great price, but hers looked even sadder and more dried out. The prices were much the same all along the row until I got to the last shop. She was selling short, squat, but very green and healthy looking trees for ....wait for it.......880 kuai!!
No way! I told her. I can get one next door for 300!!
Then this is where it got interesting. And intriguing. What she told me, in a mix of English, Chinese, Shanghainese and sign langage, was that the trees in the others stores were FAKE.
They are not, I said, Come on.....I broke off a small branch from the next door shop to prove it.
No, no, no! Not real! She insisted. Then she drew her hand quickly across the front of her neck and made a sound like a buzz saw. Not real! CUT!!
Ah hah. The other trees were indeed real, but had just been lopped off and stuck in a pot to simulate a living Christmas tree. If I bought one of the cheap ones, she said, it would be DEAD before Christmas. Well, I wasn't going to fall for that particular caper.
I sighed. I chose the healthiest looking one. I paid 880 kuai. It got delivered this morning with this note attached to a branch. It probably says 'A sucker paid 880 kuai for this tree' I grumbled to my husband.
Actually, he said, it's our address. Oh.
Hongqiao Bird and Flower market
(Hongqiao Hua Shi)
718 Hongjing Lu, near Hongsong Lu.
Open daily 9am - 6pm
Labels: christmas, market, Shanghai