VINTAGE HUNTER and OBSESSIONS garnered a lot of interest at the MIPTV Market in Cannes this year. Thanks to Beyond Distribution for a great job in promoting the series. Here’s the full text of the interview of Dominic, the man on the scooter that ran in Today newspaper. ENJOY!
The Moving Visuals Co., the show’s creator and producer had wanted to do a flea market series for some time. They found me via a contact in China and found out that I was a “flea market junkie”. They approached me to do the show, which seemed too good to be true for someone like me, to travel to 6 amazing countries and search out their flea markets and vintage wares.
Q: As a flea market junkie yourself, what’s the most fun as well as most disappointing aspects of checking out the different flea markets of the region?
It’s fun all the way. Flea markets never really disappoint me. I was told that the flea markets in Singapore might disappoint as it’s such a fast moving consumer society and would be hard to find interesting vintage stuff. I was not disappointed at all. Not only do I find cool stuff in flea markets, I uncover the stories behind them that tell so much about the history and culture of the place. Also, the people you meet in the markets and the characters – that’s half the fun.
If I had to be disappointed it would be that I didn’t manage to buy more stuff, but I had limited luggage allowance, so I had to leave some stuff behind with the friends I met whilst filming. I was also a little disappointed that I couldn’t bargain harder in Japan where the sellers seem quite adamant on their set prices. Mind you, I still managed to get them down a bit.
One of the most fun parts was finding out that a small piece of Chinese white jade I bought in Beijing was worth considerably more than I paid for it. You can find out just how much when you watch the show.
Q: Which flea market / store left the biggest impression on you?
In the show we really make an effort to explore places off the beaten track. We try to get to the source of the vintage by getting out into the countryside. In one case, in Malaysia we stopped off at a small town called Tampin where word got out that I was looking for vintage. An old guy turns up on a motorbike and took me to his home. It was like Aladdin’s cave. Packed with old stuff to the point you couldn’t walk around his house without bumping into something vintage. He was a hoarder but all things retro and classic I had never seen anything like it in my life. I found a collection of 1950s and 1960s aluminum propaganda signs that are very rare in China and worth a ton of money. The challenge was persuading him to part with them.
Q: How do we tell what we’re getting from these stores and flea market isn’t some old junk?
I see buying vintage in a similar way to buying a property to live in. If you like the item, it looks beautiful in your eyes and you’re going to be super happy to own it. So you can’t be disappointed with what you buy whether it increases in value or not.
However, if you’re going into this to try and make a profit, it’s a dangerous game. I do a bit of both. When trying to make a profit and some serious cash, I also got well and truly cheated on a few items. This is the nature of the game.
How do you tell if something’s real? Well, you’ve got to do a lot of research. I had one chap try to sell me a ruby from the back of a car worth 200 million US dollars! I tend to stay away from such deals.
Q: Besides checking out the flea markets of the cities you visited, what else did you do?
Vintage Hunter is not just about vintage. It’s also about discovering the history and the culture of the place through the items and the people who collect them.
We ended up in a Qing dynasty village at the foot of the Great Wall. I rode a 1950s Vespa around Ho Chi Minh city (which I ended up buying); getting into the homes of collectors who have been amassing stuff for years without ever showing off their collections. I wasn’t happy with just sourcing from flea markets. I wanted to find out where these sellers were finding their stuff. Once we got to the source, we could find vintage where it was still being used by the people and buy things at super low prices.
Q: What were the most enriching aspects of doing this show?
Being a collector myself and meeting fascinating people from all over the region who had a similar passion as myself. I really found that collectors do have something in common, their obsession and passion for vintage was so inspiring that I made tons of friends. Through this show, I have learned so much about the history and culture of each country. It was an incredibly enriching experience and this really shines through in the show.
Q: Personally, what do you tend to buy when you travel? And where do you like to travel to and why?
I have lived in China for 20 years and have been collecting here for most of that time. I don’t have a real focus like many collectors do. For example, I have over 100 clocks and vintage lamps, but am easily distracted and tend to start many sub collections. The common theme would be Chinese vintage mostly from the Communist revolution era of the 1950s onwards . This show took me to 6 countries, and in each I managed to start a new passion. Collectors are very infectious people. It was after meeting a collector called CK in Singapore that I really starting pushing my collection of old lamps, of which he had over 500. Most of my vintage hunting/travelling, I still do in China as it is such a huge country with so much history.
Q: Where are some of the best cities for scouring at flea markets besides those featured in the show?
In my experience, the more off the beaten path you get, the better your chances are of finding something awesome. Countries like Vietnam that still do not have proper local markets for the old stuff, is where you can find amazing vintage at a steal.
I recently traveled to Myanmar where I found amazing stuff in that are centuries-old and are still being used in people’s homes. They are more than willing to sell or even swap for something new.
Q: What’s your advice for bringing back the stuff we buy overseas if it can’t fit into a suitcase?
You must check the laws of the countries you are travelling to, on what you can and cannot take out. I’m willing to pay excess baggage at the airport if they are items that I’m not prepared to part with even for a few weeks. Otherwise, I would seek help from the collectors I met for shipping.
Q: What can’t you travel without?
A large empty suitcase. I travel very light when arriving and very heavy returning home.
Q: Could you tell us your best and worst travel experience?
As far as the show goes, it has to be Vietnam. I arrived at a flea market stall and asked the owner of the stall which was his most valuable item. He pointed out a beautiful old Chinese ceramic bowl. I picked it up, fumbled and smashed it on the ground into pieces. I was then at the mercy of him as he was not going to let me go till I had settled for the bowl – and all this was caught on camera. I wanted to cry. What happened next was shocking, but you’ll have to watch the show to find out.
There were so many amazing experiences to think of the best one but one I will never forget is finding a 1950s Vespa in Vietnam worth thousands of Euros to a European collector. Buying it for a steal and then riding it around Ho Chi Minh.
Q: Why did you choose to base yourself in Beijing and where are your favourite spots in Beijing and in China which many travellers tend to miss out?
I went to China as a backpacker in 1992 in search of adventure. I had been travelling all over the world on my own since I was 17 and arrived in China after 3 years of going around Africa, South America and India. I never expected to stay in China for 20 years but I fell in love with it, especially Beijing. I ended up becoming an entrepreneur and being quite successful. Beijing has the most incredible people. Very uncomplicated, friendly, welcoming and the history is amazing. I have 4 daughters who are all born in China and I also met my wife here.
Here are my top tips for spots in Beijing and China:
– In Beijing, go and see the hutongs before they are either destroyed or turned into homes for billionaires; they still have the charm they did 20 years ago.
– Go to Liu Li Chang, see the vintage/antique market and then go on a stroll around the surrounding hutongs that are centuries old and are all about to be destroyed.
– Go visit my boutique street ware store Nan Luo Gu Xiang hutong called Plastered 8. I have to plug my own business!
– See the real Great wall without the tourists. Take Jing Cheng Highway to Si Ma Tai exit, then follow country mountain road to Wu Ling Shan, you’ll see the Great wall on the mountains to your left, drive up any of the country paths towards the mountains, get out, explore the villages (full of vintage) and then climb the mountain to see a completely un spoilt part of the Great Wall and have it all to yourself. If it’s warm enough you can sleep the night in one of the guard towers.
– Travel to an old Ming Dynasty village in Jiang Xi completely unspoilt. I took my whole family last year, stayed with another household as there were no hotels, and we had the village to ourselves. Amazing food and history all around. Take the plane to Jing De Zhen, then find a driver who can take you on the 3 hour drive to Qing Yuan, a small mountain village that hasn’t really changed since the Ming dynasty. Stay away from Wu Yuan which you pass on the way – it’s a tourist village that was rebuilt. The area is fast changing so get there soon. Tourists tend to go in May to see the grape crops change colour which is stunning – but I’d rather go when it’s quiet in September.