There are times when I am visiting a new city that I like to pick a direction and wander off into the unknown with no plan and see what I can see. What I do during such times is watch the people around me and look for places where large groups have gathered or large numbers seem to be heading in the same direction. A few years ago in Hong Kong this practice led me to a Kung Fu master performing acts of strength and dare devilry such as lying on a bed of nails, and bending a piece of ¼ inch rebar by pushing against one end of it…with his throat! In Mokpo, Korea it led me to the beautiful display that is their annual Water Festival. Just this past Sunday morning at about 6 a.m., following a steady stream of pedestrians and vehicular traffic led me right to Jinjiang’s Old Market. It was quite a spectacle.
It started off simply enough with a few stalls lining one side of the street with a construction site on the other before leading upon a busy street, teeming with people travelling by every means imaginable, and vendors, whose families have probably been coming to these same spots for generations, calling out to the masses, trying to make their day’s pay. From there it was a rather breathtaking, and somewhat street crossing and then past another group of vendors calling to customers from both sides of the laneway selling all manner of fruit and vegetable, rice and grain.
Then things got interesting.
Once I reached the end of the alleyway, the market opened up into a wide square and erupted into a frenzy of blaring horns, people yelling, cutting, and chopping. At this, the focal point of the market, the energy was palpable. The air was so thick with it that it felt as though a match could ignite it. For a moment I just stood there and took it all in. Then I moved into it, became a part of it, adding my own essence to the union of souls.
Everywhere one looked there was some manner of beast, fish, or fowl being hewn into edible portions. There seemed to be always something underfoot, be it a child, a dog, tubs full of the morning’s catch from the fishmonger, or the legless man lying on the asphalt in the middle of the busiest intersection of the market holding out a cup for alms while people and vehicles zipped past, showing him no sign of recognition. It should be noted that this kind of scene is not something unique to China. In fact, I have seen some version of this drama played out in nearly every large city that I have visited in Asia, whether it be Seoul, Bangkok, or Saigon.
After have a look around the inner market I headed back to the outer market to buy some fruit. With the help of my Mandarin Chinese phrasebook and a good many hand gestures, smiles, and laughs, I negotiated my first purchase in Chinese. I figured I was probably getting shafted a little on the peaches that I bought but I didn’t care too much. I was delighted later when my Chinese co-worker told me that I had in fact gotten a good price. All the better.
I made a couple of other purchases – one of apples and the other of watermelon, each again a good price – and headed back to my abode. I was excited to try out this fresh local produce. I wasn’t disappointed. I plan to make Sunday morning trips to market a regular part of my routine here in Jinjiang.
There is no better place to put your finger on the pulse of a place than its public markets.