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Suzy Gershman’s Born to Shop: Dafen, China


Although I kept saying we were off to Darfur, what I really meant was Dafen, the village of artists that is so famous that television series have been filmed to document the phenom and I have been dreaming of my own version of the Mona Lisa with my face painted into it. Hey, don’t laugh, you can be in the Last Supper, you can have your dog in a Warhol pose, or perhaps even Lichenstein with cartoon bubble speak.

Dafen (say Dah-fen) is a suburb of Shenzhen, not a quaint little Chinese fishing village filled with thatched huts or anything else dreamy that you are imagining. You get there on highways; you pass a few greenbelts, but mostly there is urban sprawl — the New China. Now here’s the really cute part: our driver mistakenly took us to the wrong part and so we ended up with some insider wholesale places before he came running after us, waving arms and barking in Chinese, tugging at our arms to retreat to his waiting taxi. We thought perhaps he had run into a ‘cousin’ with a great deal for us, but in fact, he took us to what was, we immediately realized, the village we were seeking.

Dafen art village is behind a Checkpoint Charlie kind of barrier, but its arm is a hand holding a paint brush. The village is very Greenwich Village 1970’s and cute, with Chinese high rises towering behind. There are coffee houses and bistrots and little lanes, all chockablock with stalls and shops selling orginal art, resin sculptures, calligraphy, antiquities as if from Xi’an, painted koi in ponds on oil and more Van Gogh that even a madman would imagine. The only thing missing is Elvis on velvet.

Suzy Gershman has been known as The Born to Shop Lady for over 25 years while traveling the world and reporting her series of guidebooks, magazine articles and television spots. Read more at Suzy Gershman.

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