Thursday, June 21, 2007

The dwarves delved too greedily and too deep.

On our way to the Great Wall of China, we visited a jade factory. Upon arrival at the factory, several workers station themselves outside the door. They largely follow us and other tourists as we move through the factory, first viewing the production of the jade items, then listening to a brief tutorial on how to tell real jade from the many knockoffs sold around the country, and finally onto the showroom floor, where many authentic jade items are on sale for prices ranging from a few dollars to a few hundred thousand dollars.

To see the carving of jade live is quite interesting. The little blade rotates, bathed constantly in water to keep it cool. More surprising to me was the lack of safety equipment for the artisans. They had no gloves (understandable), no eye protection (again, understandable, though very risky), and lastly no masks (bwuh?). I understand the importance of personally handling the items, and that the masks could become clouded and difficult to work through, though I suspect that this concern is limited merely by our ability to peer through the glass to the workers as jade dust settled on the floor. But the masks really disturb me. Given the incredibly small cost of a mask and what I would think is the high cost of having a fairly skilled worker miss time due to pulmonary malfunction, I’d shell out for the masks. Perhaps the fact that the factory has not indicates that there is information I do not have.

[Learning how to tell fake jade from real jade: educational and practical! For starters, real hard jade, or jadite, makes a sound like cut crystal when struck. Furthermore, jade is a mineral, so when held up to light, it should be neither perfectly clear nor uniform, but rather translucent and exhibit crystalline patterns within the piece. Finally, jade is harder than glass. It can scratch glass without any damage to the item. Good to know, yes?]

The showroom is my downfall.

I begin by looking for tasteful pieces. Simple pieces. Inexpensive pieces. But I do not have inexpensive tastes. I find a traditional piece that I like, a “happiness ball”, which stands for the successive generations of a happy family. A “peaceful” wheel. A Guan Yin. I cannot stop myself.

All told, I find $6,300 of things I want to own.

In the end, I part with everything but three simple pieces. Two of them are fairly expensive. One of them is not so, though it is very intricate and very meaningful to me. The bill comes to $2,600 after haggling for a few minutes. I lay down my Visa card.

I will regret this. I already do. It is my hope that the recipients of these pieces treasure them as heirlooms, because if they don’t, I clearly shopped in the wrong part of the store, even for the least of the pieces, which I love.

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