I met Judy Li during my first visit to China in 2005. She was one of a gang of four supposed ‘art students’ whom I befriended; they were selling copies of Chinese art to unsuspecting tourists on Nanjing Lu. In 2006 she came to the UK to do a one-year Master’s Degree in English at the University of Hertfordshire in Hatfield. After graduating she elected to stay on in the UK under the then prevailing possibility to either take a job or set up a business. She elected to do the latter and established Judy Lee Chinese Antiques and Collectables. Her three-year elder sister, Qin, sourced the items in China and sent them over in large very heavy wooden crates. The items included porcelain, bronzes, paintings, snuff bottles, netsuke, etc. These Judy sold initially at markets in London later, with my help, at auction houses in the south of England.
Judy moved into my second floor, one bedroom flat in Cathnor Road, Shepherd’s Bush where I had been living since 2004 after my return from Germany in 2003. The first three crates were manhandled off the delivery lorry and riskily left in the front garden overnight to be unpacked in the morning, lining the walls of my flat. Judy would then pack a holdall full of items and disappear to various markets such as Spitalfields, Brick Lane, Covent Garden, Portobello Rad, Camden Passage, St James Church, etc. It was amazing to see her, a tiny Chinese girl, lug a very heavy hold-all down the stairs to catch a bus to the catch a tube to get to the markets. As Judy’s business expanded and the quality of the goods improved, I began to become more involved in the business. We moved to a larger flat in Coningham Road, Shepherd’s Bush, then to a large Victorian house in Egerton Gardens, Ealing, also renting storage space and finally invested in a car. Until Judy passed the driving test, I drove her to the markets early in the morning and picked her up again at closing time. I also took items to auction houses, specifically Chiswick Auctions where we quite successfully entered items in their weekly Tuesday auctions.
I did Judy’s book-keeping and set her up with an accountant, also handled a visa problem with a solicitor specialising in the field of foreigners staying in the UK. Judy’s older sister, Qin, was a fairly regular and popular visitor, especially when she began to purchase sterling silver items for sale in China. I also helped resolve a problem that arose with her visa and enabled her to continue her visits.
Judy and I parted company in late August 2010 when I went to live in China for two years.