Forbidden mysteries unraveled

As I took a quick round of the imperial gardens, I tried hard to make myself feel good. I now had my first original paintings and a handmade calligraphy by an artist. The girl had acted more like a saleswoman than an artist. But haven’t I heard so often about how important it is for artists to know how to sell their works? It was not her fault – it was the demand of the times.

My mind hardly took in all the ancient figurines and trees that had survived the age of the kings all the way into industrialization and digitization. I had forgotten to ask the name of the girl and the artist who had drawn the Southern Song painting. When I claim I have an original work by an artist, shouldn’t I at least know the name of the said artist? Maybe I should go back to them on my way back and get them to write their names for me in English. I would look an idiot displaying a supposedly original work of art to my friends and then saying I don’t know the name of the artist.

I kept absent-mindedly looking for that evasive gate that would lead me to the view of the Forbidden City while my mind was once again parsing through the last hour’s events. Should I have started bargaining from the very beginning? Maybe I would have saved 100 ¥. Also I had landed 2 very similar sketches. I probably should have taken the scene with the dragon boat instead. Maybe I can still go back and ask for an exchange.

Having given up my attempts to find that gate, I decided to go back the way I came in and find the girl again. But suddenly I found I could not find that gate either. I have this natural talent with remembering ways that can transform even office buildings into complex mazes. Then after roaming around aimlessly, I emerged out of what seemed closest to the gate I was looking for. It clearly was not the right one as there was no sign of the girl or the art gallery.

I decided to at least find the subway station from wherever I had emerged out and get back to that work mail that would be awaiting me. As I looked around, I passed a shop that seemed to be selling some exotic Chinese sweets. I had eaten nothing since morning. Maybe I could grab a quick sweet or something.

“How much do the sweets cost?”

“Some 2-3 ¥ per piece,” said the man

As I selected the sweets, he spoke up, “Do you like paintings?”

Was that a smirk I saw on his face or was I just imaging things?


“Do you like paintings?”

Now what?

“Yes. I will takes these 2 sweets.”

“That would be 5 ¥. How much did you pay for the paintings?”

I somehow did not feel like saying 650 ¥. I was already feeling like an idiot.

“Around 500 ¥ or so,” I said vaguely. “Do you have change for 100 ¥?” The expression on his face was unmistakable now.

“Give me,” he said and took my 100 ¥.”I also have some paintings back there. Would you like to have a look?”

Yes. There was an art gallery behind the sweet shop very similar to the one I had just been to. Art galleries seemed to be pursuing me everywhere.

“This note seems to be cut. Can you please give me another one?”

He gave me a different one and I followed him into the art gallery. And what was the first painting that greeted me? The very same unique seasons painting done by artist friend of earlier. Seemed like her fame had spread more than she had known.

A bit more of exploration also helped me discover those Southern Song dynasty paintings by her teacher as well. I did not want to see more nor had the courage to ask the price. I left quietly, ignoring the shop man’s protests and headed straight for the subway line.

A search on the net after I reached my room revealed this art gallery scam was a very popular one in many countries, especially popular near the Forbidden Palace area in China. The list also had a couple of more scams one of which in particular interested me. It spoke of being approached by a fellow tourist for a cup of tea. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The article spoke of the part I had missed as well. Apparently she would have taken me to a place of her choosing and disappeared after a couple of drinks and snacks, leaving me at the mercy of the tavern’s bouncers. I would have ended up coughing out a king’s ransom for the few morsels and gulps to save my life and limb. This art gallery scam at least seemed much more benign in comparison. I still had the paintings and the calligraphy at least and had enjoyed the hour selecting paintings.

Also later I found that Southern Song dynasty painting was indeed a Southern Song dynasty one. A supposedly famous one by an artist from those times – China’s Mona Lisa the article called it. I was reminded of the movie scenes where some local touts sell off the Taj Mahal to some American tourists. It did not seem all that ludicrous any more.


Suresh Chandrasekaran said...

Hahaha-Yes, a more benign tour as it turned out :)

jaish_vats said...

Ok now i know the whole story....Good u listened to your instinct and did not follow that girl for tea....meeting tourists and foreigners is learning about other cultures and the vice in them too :)

T F Carthick said...

Yeah and I am happy for that Suresh.

T F Carthick said...

True Jaish - sometimes we go overboard in trying to be open minded to new experiences and throw caution to wind and end up in trouble. Luckily I did not end up in that serious trouble.

Anonymous said...

Haha. You seem to have paid for the whole "experience" and actually this one would give some wonderful memories to laugh at.

T F Carthick said...

Indeed Asha. Having lost the money, I thought recording the memories would be the only take away from the whole memories. So faithfully recorded everything as soon as I could.

umashankar said...

My dear, didn't that read like A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy? And yet, you were visiting only a neighbouring country. But then, you were lucky not be banged around by bouncers...

T F Carthick said...

Thanks for the flattering comparison, Umashankar. Indeed lucky I was.

Post a Comment

Kind words of appreciation/feedback

For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces