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Bachelor of Law ‘addicted’ to picking up trash

ChinaAfter graduating from university, Wu Kaisi chose to become a professional scrap collector.

“My parents see me as a disgrace to the family. They think being famous as a scrap collector is shameful, no different from running on the street naked,” said Wu Kaisi, 27.

Wu first became widely known when he walked more than 1,800 km from Guangzhou to Chengdu in only slippers, but in 2014 it was the scrap collection that made him famous throughout China.

Wu Kaisi has spent the past seven years trying to kickstart China's flea market culture.  Photo: Wu Kaisi

Wu Kaisi spent seven years trying to kickstart China’s flea market culture. Image: Wu Kaisi

Six years ago, Wu graduated from a law university in Guangzhou. His parents wanted him to be a civil servant or to work in large companies in the tradition of families in northern China, but Wu prefers to collect scrap.

Wu’s passion for secondhand goods began on a backpacking trip to the US in 2015, when he was a senior. “I don’t spend money on hotels and motels because I can sleep in airports, buses, parks,” he said. But Wu has a hard time finding a laundromat, so he has to go to flea markets to buy personal items, which are extremely cheap and he easily throws away when dirty.

Surprised at how America’s second-hand market has prospered as part of the culture, Wu wonders “why not do the same in China”.

After a trip to the US in 2015, Wu started searching for flea markets in Guangzhou, but many assumed that the market was closed. Expanding his search, he found more than 30 locations such as the toad market behind the hotel or near a bus stop. Wu spent three weeks going site-by-site and discovered dozens of vibrant flea markets in Guangzhou.

“I immediately got goosebumps when I saw these markets,” he said, recalling growing up in a low-income family where most of the household items were second-hand.

He started out as an antique collector, then turned to a professional antique hunter after graduating.

Wu’s inventory of second-hand goods expands over time. From the dormitory room to a 20 m2 house, a 50 m2 room and finally a 300 m2 warehouse. In addition to collecting, he turns to selling second-hand goods to maintain his life. Now, this job helps him to have a stable income, earning 10,000 to 15,000 yuan (US$1,500 to 2,300 USD) per month, an income that many international students also dream of.

Wu's warehouse before and after the renovation.  Photo: Wu Kaisi

Wu’s warehouse before and after the renovation. Image: Wu Kaisi

Wu’s warehouse, which is known as “Yongxu second-hand shop” located in a commercial district in Guangzhou, has opened its doors to customers. In order to prevent people who don’t like old things, coming to see them out of curiosity, he stipulates that a 9-yuan entrance fee is required.

This job also allows the young man the opportunity to meet many people and listen to interesting stories. Wu said he once bought a mail bag from a woman named Zhu Min. Inside contained countless letters from Zhu from childhood to adulthood.

“Some of the writing in the letter was smudged, yellowed due to water absorption and over the years. When I read it, I knew the owner of the bag was a woman who graduated from Sun Yat-sen University in 1986 and worked in foreign languages. work at the White Swan Hotel,” he said.

Sharing the letters on social networks, Wu did not expect the owner of the letter bag to come and offer to redeem it. He invited her to the warehouse and sent the item to the right owner.

Many people also come to Wu when reading information on social networks or through referrals. Some offered to give him the belongings of the deceased, which is considered bad luck in Chinese culture. “I think death is the most natural thing, I don’t mind collecting memorials, tombstones, even urns,” he said.

The old items Wu chooses all have sophisticated, historic designs. He confidently says that after years of collecting, he can identify a worthy item in just three seconds.

In addition, he collects items for daily life, and is not afraid to rummage through trash cans and scrap yards to pick up shirts, shoes, socks, shampoo, and soap. He insists he hasn’t bought any pants for the past 7 years.

“Hundreds of thousands of second-hand items have passed through my hands over the past seven years. And if there’s something I treasure most, it’s definitely the next find because it makes me want to explore.”

His passion for discarded items has helped Wu have a steady source of income.  Photo: Wu Kaisi

His passion for discarded items has helped Wu have a steady source of income. Image: Wu Kaisi

Wu’s ambition is to go to second-hand shops around the world, learn from the country that developed the flea market culture, and apply it to China. He said that China’s second-hand market is still in its infancy, 40 to 50 years behind Western countries.

After seven years of hunting for second-hand goods, Wu says what he’s doing is not a pastime, but he hopes the culture will develop as he believes it “benefits the country because the number of Chinese people is still poor, they have may need cheap goods”.

His family still isn’t supportive of Wu’s career choice, but he believes he’s on the right track. “Old items can record the city’s changes, are historical evidence. I find what I’m doing very meaningful, because I can put everything in the hands of people in need,” Mr. Wu said.

Minh Phuong (According to SCMP)

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