Shi Lei asked for the agarwood bracelet back. He looked at it closely and held it next to his nose.
“The dark coloured part is the lipid of the aquilaria sinensis, which is the reason why this is called agarwood.”
Shi Lei returned the bracelet to the man and asked: “In other words, the agarwood in the market are all man-made? Of course, the difference between man-made and natural ones aren’t too different.”
The man shook his head slowly and said: “The first half of what you said is correct. 90% of the agarwood in the markets now are man-made. It’s fine if they are made into small items for entertainment. But the difference between man-made and natural agarwood is still obvious as it does not only include the properties given by time. Natural agarwood, especially Diao Jia agarwood are formed through years of being submerged in water or buried in soil and the inside is stronger. Mother nature also filtered out those without or did not have enough lipid, the ones remained usually have thick lipid. Normal aquilaria sinensis’ thickness is between 0.4 to 0.6, but because the time for man-made aquilaria sinensis to secrete lipid is rather short and businessmen are always after profit, they don’t let it keep secreting lipid, they sell them as soon as they have some light scents. So, thickness for agarwood like these can barely pass 0.8. But natural agarwood, especially the ones formed through water and soil, they can sink in water, that’s why it’s called Cheng Xiang (1). The best amongst agarwood is called Qi Nan, which is created through agarwood. Where Qi Nan is, there is definitely agarwood, but where agarwood is doesn’t necessary produce Qi Nan. This is another branch and the water’s too deep. Even I don’t dare to touch it. Qi Nan cannot be produced artificially, at least not with the technology now, so the price of Qi Nan is unimaginable. It may even cost ten or one hundred times more than gold.”
Shi Lei’s draw dropped. Ten or one hundred times more expensive than gold? Are you joking? Gold costs about 300 yuan for 1g, if it was ten or more times more expensive, wouldn’t it cost a few 10,000 for 1g? What if it was a few hundred times more expensive? Shi Lei could not imagine it.
“A lot of merchants in the markets do everything they have to do to produce fake Qi Nan and god knows how many people are tricked into it every year. Just by this alone, the so-called Qi Nan would not exceed 2,000 or 3,000 yuan for 1g. With this price, no expert would ever buy it.”
Shi Lei quickly calculated his assets. He felt dazzled just by 10,000 yuan a week, but if he was to use this to buy Qi Nan, he could only buy a few grams every week.
Seeing that Shi Lei was astonished, the man smiled again. He refilled Shi Lei’s tea cup again and said slowly: “You shouldn’t be too surprised. If you are interested in these collectables, don’t start from agarwood. Follow my advice and start from rosewood which is relatively cheap.”
“I know rosewood. Aren’t they expensive?” Shi Lei cut in.
The man said with another smile: “Rosewood seems expensive in everyone’s impression because of two reasons. First, when people say rosewood, they often refer to rosewood furniture. Even if it wasn’t rosewood but normal wooden furniture, a set of them would cost a few thousands or 100,000 yuan. Like this, when people pay for more than 100,000 yuan for rosewood furniture, it doesn’t seem too bad. Second, when people talk about rosewood, they think about woods such as Hainan plum-yew or Indian red sandalwood, which raised the value of rosewood. But the truth is, rosewood was only a general term for hard, read wood bac, in the ancient times. Nowadays, for the sake of categorising our markets, our country split rosewood into 2 classes, 5 categories, 8 types and 33 kinds. It includes all sort of woods and other than the yellow-yew and red sandalwood, the other red woods are not as expensive in our market such as Ji Chi wood, it only cost 10 or 20 yuan for one chain.”
Shi Lei suddenly understood and nodded his head furiously: “There are so many different sayings. I really know nothing about it.”
The man smiled kindly and said: “These collectibles came from the Four Treasures of Study, the items for religious purposes also came in with all sorts of materials, and wood is only a big branch of it. After people’s standards of living improved, people became more interested in these sorts of things and made the antique market prosperous again. Although it’s called the antique street, but it’s really for collectibles. The real antiques from a few hundred or thousand years are usually sold at auctions. Who would sell them here?”
Shi Lei felt like he was enlightened greatly today. But collectables and antiques was a giant area and the knowledge that relates to them was impossible for Shi Lei to learn within a short period of time. What he was concerned more about was the price of them as it related to how quickly he could spend his money in the future.
“From what you said, the price for these collectables are actually false as they’ve been raised?”
The man nodded with a smile: “Except for a few shops, most of them raised their price. I can’t go into the details but if you want to buy a few items, just remember that there are the ones you bought right or bought wrong. It doesn’t matter what the price is that you reach the deal in the end, you can’t take any advantages from them. All you can do is shrink their profit to the least.”
Shi Lei also got something else out of this: “How about you? How much are you raising your price?”
The man laughed and shook his head: “By asking this, do you want me to chase you out of the shop? You can’t just ask people that. But it’s good that I was the one you asked. If it was someone else, they’d probably get angry on the spot. My shop is unique on this street. I’m the only shop that doesn’t accept any bargains.”
Shi Lei nodded. Of course, he wouldn’t believe everything he said. After all, he’s a merchant, how can you not earn money from having the shop?”
“From what you said, now I don’t dare to buy anything anymore. I will obviously get ripped off, but it’s just a matter of how much.”
The man shook his head again and said: “You can’t exactly say it like that. It all depends on how much you know about these collectibles. When you walk into the shop and see something you like, you need to have an estimate of the item yourself. Then you would ask for price. If the price they give you is unreliable, you can bargain with them to get as close as possible to the price you estimated. For things like these, there’s not really a set price for it. After all, there are no items that are exactly the same, they are just similar to each other. So, collectables are also related to culture (1) and the attitude of playing (2). Everyone has a different price for the exact same item. If you like it, the price will be higher, if you don’t, then obviously it would be worth less.”
“What you are saying is that if I want to buy something, I can never show that I like it in front of the shop owner?”
The man laughed out loud and said: “Mhm, you sure pick it up quickly. But this is the general gist of it. But, everything I said is on the base that you have a basic understanding of these things. If you don’t know anything about it, then naturally, you don’t have a standard to estimate it. Who can those merchants rip off if they don’t rip off people like you?”
Shi Lei pondered for a long time and finally asked: “Do you really not bargain?”
The man smiled and said nothing.
(1) Cheng Xiang: means agarwood in Chinese, ‘cheng’ literally means ‘sink’
(2)/(3) Culture & Playing: The word for collectibles in Chinese is ‘Wen Wan’, with ‘wen’ meaning culture and ‘wan’ means play.