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In this report, Pala International’s Will Larson reflects on the inaugural Changsha Mineral and Gem Show, held in Changsha, Hunan, China, May 16–20, 2013.

Flight and Landing

Our Flight to Seoul, Korea, headed for Changsha, China, left LAX at midnight. We drove up from San Diego, so we were able to spend our last meal eating at one of our favorite sushi bars located just off the freeway. My fiancée Rika Nakamura dropped my father [Bill Larson] and me off at the airport; we were checked in and ready to go. Eleven hours and forty minutes later we arrived in Seoul at about 4:30 a.m. Our flight to Changsha was about 9 a.m. so we had some time to relax, catch some sleep, and read. My father is a monster at reading and had practically finished his book before the Changsha flight—no surprise since their isn’t much to do in an airport before 8 a.m., when things actually start to open (like breakfast!). Onto our next three-hour flight to Changsha.

We landed in Changsha and were greeted by three very helpful Chinese students who had volunteered to help the show as translators and organizers. We got through the customs line only to have to put our bags through security again. The agents came up and asked some questions in Chinese and the students translated it as, “Any stones?” We said, “No, thankfully we only have suits and other miscellaneous clothing.” We were then handed off to a new set of students to be taken to our hotel. We checked in and rested for most of the day as the show wasn’t open and most booths weren’t even fully set up yet.

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Poseur. Will Larson strikes a classic stance outside the restaurant on the first day in Changsha. (Photo: Bill Larson)

We explored the city with the help of one of the translators. We needed to change money, so our guide had the taxi stop at the main bank of China. We had five hundred dollars to change and once she told the guard what we wanted, and once he understood, he proceeded to change the dollars to yuen personally—right in front of the change counter with the official exchange rate and he ended up pocketing the dollars! Well that was an eye-opener. The taxi proceeded to one of the famous local restaurants, and since it was crowded and no foreigners were there, we were delighted to try some typical delicacies. Crawfish, lots of untranslatable meats and veggie dishes, and pig’s tongue. I have to say this last dish was my favorite. (Trips like these to new locations aren’t for the weak tourist folk.)

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No match for pig’s tongue. The first night’s meal of crawfish and untranslatable delights. (Photo: Will Larson)

Set-up Day

The next day was set-up day. At a normal show this is the day you look forward to, the day all the deals are going down and most purchases are made. But when we arrived at 11 a.m. no one had any goods. In fact, most booths were still being built or modified. The reason: customs officials were having trouble releasing the foreigners’ goods. Maybe they needed a little “grease?” or who knows what. Either way, dealers were starting to get upset. The show starts tomorrow…hello. Most of the day we watched Chinese dealers set up, while the foreign dealers were still trying to get their goods released. We searched long and hard as most of the material was large commercial quality, but we found a few nice Chinese fluorites from Huanggangliang mine in Inner Mongolia, as well as a cute little Mg-calcite from the same location. Anything from the more famous Chinese known localities was picked over or more expensive than in U.S. shows. With the first day of set-up having ended, it was pretty hard to find anything. If a dealer had something good they asked two hundred thousand RMB [renminbi, China’s official currency], or about $32,000 or more.

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Hurry up and wait. Signage for the show, above, teases from the car window. Below, the show venue, the Hunan International Conference & Exhibition Center. (Photos: Will Larson)
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À votre santé… Bill and Will Larson attend a gathering for dealers and guests the night of set-up. Dealers were frustrated by slow customs processing. The Larsons were frustrated by the wine. (Photo: George Shen)

Later on that night there was a special gathering for the CGMS dealers and guests. They had tables numbered 1 to 40, so it would seem the room sat 400+ people— because everything in China must be grandiose. We sat at Table 8 and had all the fun. Wine wasn’t very good, so we switched to beer. At least this beer wasn’t served warm like most of the beer on a previous trip.

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Grandiose. The banquet hall, above, was filled with perhaps 400 dealers and guests the evening of set-up day. “The Chinese, at least this year, really appreciate large pieces.” (Photo: Will Larson)
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Opening Day

Day two for us at the show was opening day. They held a huge ceremony with fireworks and all sorts of announcements, along with a large line to get into the show. The exhibitor’s entrance was of course on the farthest side of the convention center from where the hotel was situated. This wouldn’t have been much of a problem if we had been notified about this, but not understanding that properly, we went into the visitor entrance but we were able to just walk through without much of an issue and so it began.

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No cuts. At left, Bill Larson waits his turn to enter the show on opening day. At right, a bearded Shane McClure, director GIA’s West Coast Identification Services, does the same. (Photo: Will Larson)

Poor Kristalle only had their shipment cleared at 2 a.m. that morning, so they were still busily setting up. They weren’t the only ones, as Marco Tironi not only didn’t have his goods, he had no cases, and when the cases came there were no shelves. Everyone understood that this was the first year and many details had to be confronted for the first time by various officials. And, slowly, most everything got worked out.

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Scramble. Kristalle, above, and Marco Tironi (aka Tironi Marco) move through the first-year jitters of the inaugural Changsha show. (Photo: Will Larson)
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As we became more comfortable with the differences in language and culture, looking at the Changsha show realistically it’s quite amazing for a first-year event. Approximately 1200 dealers attended. While the show committee had hoped for 100,000 visitors, I’m quite sure the figures came in at substantially less, but to me it was still a vast success. Creating all this on one year!

Many of the Chinese booths seemed almost as if the dealer was just showing his collection to the public. One such booth had many fine minerals in it, but when we asked the prices we were told they were not really for sale—they were part of his collection. Another interesting thing was that the Chinese, at least this year, really appreciate large pieces. The owner of the show had a portion of his private collection on display in the lower level of the convention center; here there were perhaps sixty specimens, many of which were eight and ten feet across (!)— and relatively perfect. Amazing calcite clusters large quartz crystals and other specimens, mostly from China, plus a few imported monster geodes from Brazil; one such geode could seat a family of four inside it easily.

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Did we say “grandiose”? A calcite from China, above, is but one example of super-sized specimens at this show. Below, a cozy model home shipped in from Brazil. (Photo: Will Larson)
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Candy corn. Bill Larson stands before a cabinet specimen of yellow quartz. (Photo: Will Larson)

Wrapping Up

All in all for us the show was done at this point. Most minerals were put out and for sale, so any of the good deals were gone by now. We enjoyed walking around and visiting with our dealer friends and spent most of the day contemplating what to do next. The trip lasted two more days, allowing us simply to relax, and not much new happening. We were excited to get home and hope that next year’s Changsha Mineral and Gem Show will be a little more organized. I see a pretty good future as this show helps to create some serious and passionate new collectors of minerals in China. Let’s end with some more images from the show…

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Aloft. A bird’s eye view of a small section of the show, during set-up. (Photo: Will Larson)
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A long way from Dallas. Above, The Arkenstone booth is being readied for business. Note that the Chinese neighbor next door is already set, having the advantage of no customs bottleneck. Below, security is tight. (Photos: Will Larson)
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Standing before the now-open Arkenstone (from left) are Pala’s Bill Larson, Stephen Sachnik, CFO of the Houston Museum of Natural Science, this trio’s intrepid translator, and Joel A. Bartsch, President and Curator of Gems and Minerals at the HMNS. (Photo: Will Larson)
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Table 8? A closer look reveals this lazy Susan to be laden with mineral specimens. (Photo: Will Larson)