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China, May 5, 2000

What Are You in the Market For?

Would you pass the yak penis and herbs, please?

More plastic knick knacks than you could ever imagine!
Kinck-knack heaven!
Birds and cages are sold separately
Chirp! Chirp!
If I don't perform, she beats me with a stick till I make her happy!
With Jingmei, no yak needed!
Can you say BIZARRE?

Holly Krambeck
Beijing City Edition

At the Fuchengmen 'Flower and Bird' Market, the name is just the tip of the iceberg. When you get there, you see the range of jade, crystal balls, military paraphernalia and other knick-knacks on sale from the chatty and informed vendors. This isn't to mention the supply of goldfish, baby turtles, fighting crickets, and a full range of traditional aphrodisiacs.

If you're in the market for flowers, there is everything from sub-tropical plants and annuals such as petunias and snapdragons to perennials like peonies and garden cannas and indestructible cacti for those with brown thumbs. Bulb choice, however, is limited to different colored hyacinth.

Prices are very good - by bargaining you can purchase a health green pothos for three RMB or a pot of blooming calla lilies for four RMB (about 50 cents, USD). Tiny trees in painted vases are free for friendly Canadians - no joke!

Most bird and flower shops have a sprawling daily pet market next to them. Fuchengmen's specializes in fish, parakeets, hamsters, cats, and medium-sized turtles (since selling 'mini turtles' are illegal, you can only buy them on weekdays, when there are fewer people around). Kittens, mostly Thai imports, are sold from bicycle baskets, paper shopping bags, and people's inner coat pockets, but appear well cared for despite their sketchy origins (of course, appearances can be deceiving).

There are a few enclosed shops in the neighborhood, selling the basics like fresh seaweed, bloodworms, tank paraphernalia, and tank-cleaning snails. With fish, variety is lacking. Most stores carry only goldfish and a few freshwater tropical fish such as Siamese fighting fish.

The Erogenous Zone

One thing everyone must check out is the dizzying array of natural aphrodisiacs. Business has been good during this Year of the Dragon: Chinese consider it an auspicious time to have children. One vendor claims that the 'health product' business has been so lucrative he doesn't have to work he rest of the week. He has many regulars who come, like clockwork, every five weeks for their 'fix'.

Should you decide to dabble, first decide whether you want to work with a small, medium, or large glass jar. Then choose a 'main ingredient' - either a dried snake, lizard (endangered), or dried yak penis and genitals. All have the same effect - improved performance in bed. Then personalize the aphrodisiac by choosing special herbs to suit your needs.

For example, chengyouji, a pale knotty wood, may be added to loosen tight muscles. Small fire-orange flower pedals, honghua, are often mixed with pale yellow ball-shaped seeds, huangqi, to increase energy. Prickly gray hollow balls called gejian help increase lung capacity, and jujubes improve night vision and brighten the eyes.

Once home, fill the glass jar with baijiu (white spirits). Let it sit for two to three weeks and then drink a little each day. A medium-sized jar with a yak penis and genitals, jujubes, and honghua costs about 40 RMB after a little bargaining.

When a wandering aphrodisiac vendor in minority costume was asked whether the yak organs were effective, he simply grinned and announced that he had four wives... 'nuff said.

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