I must have driven down the road from Chaoyang Park south to Dawanglu a thousand times. The road begins as Tianshuiyuanjie then turns into Jintailu before becoming Xidawanglu. The little crowd of old men hanging out on the bridge near the new Jintailu subway station entrance are easy enough to spot, but I never gave much of a thought as to what they were all doing there.
A quick sojourn at Jintaibeijie — a little alley which runs along the river — revealed one of the strangest and most diverse little markets I have seen in Beijing.
The entrance to the market is dominated by birds with dozens of old men showing off their caged prizes.
The market seems to have no name; there aren’t even many tables. Most of the vendors display their wares on mats and blankets along the road and seem ready to pick up and run if the need should arise.
Wandering, camera in hand, I felt unusually unwelcome. Beijingers are usually more than happy to smile for a photo, as long as you are smiling when you ask them. That day, as I lifted my camera, people covered their faces and some even shooed me away. This became especially prevalent as I moved down the road to see tables set up with false teeth, dental veneers and photos of rotting gums.
This market seems to be the place to go for budget, roadside dental work. The men, who claimed to be dentists, ran at me waving their hands telling me not to photograph their tables. I moved along quickly but not before snapping one rushed photo of an old lady having her rotten tooth pulled out by a guy in a suit, mask and bare hands.
Further along the street, people became friendlier. Everything from secondhand leather jackets to books and from kitchen equipment to homemade herbal remedies was being hawked, sometimes by overzealous, shouting salespeople showing excited onlookers everything from how to snake a pipe to how superglue works. The patrons participate with vigor.
The sheer diversity of objects is reason enough for a visit.
I bought some rock-candy lozenges from a lady with a microphone, a cigarette lighter in the shape of a hand doing the “I got your nose” trick (complete with skull and crossbones) and a compass that is convinced north is south. There were antique furnishings, electronics from the 80s (Walkman, anyone?) and even some old Barry Manilow records.
This awesomely weird, makeshift market is worth checking out; you may be the only foreigner there, but you can find the fantastically strange for an unbeatable price.