Number 2 Market

For the last 10 days we have declared chemical war on the cockroaches. We have abandoned the academic approach to killing them with books and have turned, instead, to products called RAID. The RAID aerosol is particularly satisfying as one sniff of its noxious white foam turns the roaches on their backs with their legs waving in the air. But best of all are the RAID Roach Motels. We are told that these are promoted in the USA with the strapline, ‘You check ‘em in, we check ‘em out.’ They are certainly equally popular in China, as Metro had sold out and we had to get Alice to order our supply online from Taobao. Although online ordering is still a bit beyond me, I did at least learn the Mandarin for cockroach, and can have a limited conversation about them in Chinese.

A roach motel is a small black plastic rectangle, with a raised centre pierced with several openings. Imagine a small, sinister version of Tracey Island. The roach is tempted inside by the delicious smell of the poisonous bait and then returns to its nest, where its loved ones eat it and then die. It has the advantage over the spray in that in theory you don’t have to dispose of the bodies, although we still seem to find quite a few – admittedly much smaller – roaches lying around on our kitchen and bathroom floor. But in principle I think we have solved the problem.

Yesterday I went with the friend who had recommended the motel solution, to explore Ningbo Number 2 market. This is a somewhat ramshackle affair on the outskirts of the city centre, near a huge hospital. It is essentially a big warehouse full of a dizzying array of cheap stuff – mostly made of plastic. You can find here very souvenir and trinket you have ever seen in any place in the world – from Eiffel Tower key rings to stuffed giant teddy bears. Piles of hair slides and false nails jostle with novelties and toys. I found it very depressing. It was evidence of how China has been lured into ruining its environment to make junk products – mostly for the west, but also to stimulate its own consumer market.

There were chinks of light. In contrast to the more useless items, was a whole alley of stalls selling bulk quantities of unwrapped teas – green , chrysanthemum, jasmine and so on –with teapots and cups. There was another section dedicated to calligraphic materials, and there you could buy calligraphy brushes, pencils and inks of every conceivable size and colour.

It was lunchtime when we arrived and I was heartened by the sight of the Chinese vendors who mostly ignored us because they were busy gathering in little groups around rice steamers and small stoves to prepare fresh crab and stir-fried vegetables. As I’ve so often noticed, generally the authenticity and quality of food is rarely compromised.

Leaving the market, I walked on into the city centre to meet a representative of a group of children’s arts clubs who wanted to talk to me about my experience of arts education and arts accreditation. It was a somewhat surreal experience to be discussing the importance of self-expression and the need for children to explore the creative process, after the experience of the market. On the other hand, nothing could better epitomise two sides of China and the desire of some people to move to a culture of ‘created in China’ away from the current default position of simply ‘made in China’.