Down and Dirty

I have a confession to make. I am in love with something dirty.

A dirty back alley warehouse has won my heart. Why you ask? Simple. Always one for aged bargain treasures, it was love at first sight when I walked through the large doors welcoming me into the Shanghai Magnolia Antique Warehouse.


I am part of a wonderful group of new Shanghai Tai-Tai’s, or wives, who have been experiencing our new world by taking outings together. After all, there is safety in numbers, and so much to see here in Shanghai so exploring as a group makes sense. Although we have taken a few trips together, none excited me more than the “dirty antique market”, as we came to call it.IMG_8494

We gathered together on a Friday morning. With nine in our group, we settled on the option of taking three cars. I felt like Charlie Brown on Valentine’s Day, wondering if he should have brought two briefcases for all the Valentine’s he would receive. “Will we have enough room for all our treasures?”, I questioned, despite the fact that I alone had a 9 seater passenger van. Having seen pictures of this antique warehouse online and figuring there would be many appealing items to be found, I still questioned if we would have enough room to transport everything home. My anticipation and curiosity built as we drove closer. The streets began to appear less maintained. Crumbling walls and trash dotted the roadside as we passed warehouse after warehouse. This outing was certainly our group’s most remote and adventurous to date. Finally, our caravan stopped. We had arrived!

Like a kid, I excitedly scrambled out of the car but made an attempt to outwardly maintain my cool composure. I didn’t want to scare off any of my new found friends by my crazy excitement over junk. As we approached the warehouse, I could not see inside. Daylight bouncing off the aluminum building made getting a glimpse inside impossible. Shortly after we walked through the double doors, my eyes began to slowly adjust to the dimly lit interior. When they did, the sight before me was glorious. Random items were stacked in three rows, some floor to ceiling. Chairs, swords, vases, furniture. You name it, it was there. All very dirty, some rusty or broken. It was a true treasure hunter’s dream. Part of the enjoyment I find in these places is in looking at an item and deciding if it may have a new or different use than that for which it was originally intended. A small stool can be used as a display stand. A book can add just the right amount of height for a framed photograph. The possibilities are only limited to your creativity. Then more questions come. Each piece has a history. What was it used for? What could it be used for? How much am I willing to pay for it?

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Picking through the rubble, I began finding things I liked. Each item I hoped to buy, I took outside the warehouse and made a pile. Once I had sufficiently picked through everything downstairs, I was delighted to head upstairs to explore more. Once up the stairs, I quickly realized the lighting was actually worse than the dim, dust filled lighting down below so I pulled out a flashlight and continued my hunt. Many of us agreed it felt like a real live version of American Pickers.IMG_8460IMG_8461

When I had found all I thought I could afford, fit in the car, and not get in trouble from Brett for buying, I approached the shopkeeper, Tin Tin. Now came the really exciting part. Negotiations. Back home, this may take five minutes. Here, it took close to a half an hour. As expected, Tin Tin did not speak English. You learn here that in the art of negotiations, especially those involving a language barrier, your most important tool becomes a calculator. Numbers are a universal language. Tin Tin and I began going through my pile of treasures. One by one, we negotiated the prices. He would punch in a price on his calculator. I would laugh, shake my head and punch in my counter price. He would take a turn laughing at me, and we would go back and forth playing the game until we found a price amiable to us both. It was hard work, but I love a bargain and felt good about the price I paid for my items.

In the end, I believe everyone in our group left with something. I certainly bought the most and managed to spend all the money I brought. Brett is thankful he didn’t give me more. But, I did manage to convince him to go back with me the next day. Our second hunt lead to a new coffee table, a small terra cotta soldier, and a few other small treasures. He agreed the “dirty antique market” was pretty cool, as did the boys who enjoyed discovering fun objects.IMG_8483

They say, “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure”. I couldn’t agree more. All it takes is imagination, and a willingness to get dirty. Although I left the Magnolia Antique Warehouse with hands black from dirt, I was happy and excited to give my new found treasures a home. Once the car was unloaded, I eagerly grabbed a bucket and started scrubbing. Washing away the old and polishing my treasures up like new. My confession is one for which I am not ashamed. Who says you can’t love being dirty? If it involves good deals and treasure hunts, this girl will roll up her sleeves and jump right in the mud every time.


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