February 9th, 2010
There’s a simple, tactile, olfactory pleasure in spending a morning in bed with a good book unaware of the passage of time except by the turning of pages. There’s a comforting surprise in seeing just how many hours have slipped by.
Equally to strolling with no greater aim than to burn off a little energy and get a little exercise and fresh air.
And to the exploration of things new, even if it’s nothing more new than the new quarters of a long-standing neighbourhood market.
I’ve watched that new market being built from our loungeroom window and balcony for the last couple of months, it being 20 metres south of our place as the crow flies (but of course, there’s an inconvenient wall in between), occasionally wondering what this new structure would become. It gradually came to look more and more like a new indoor market, but I couldn’t be sure. Eventually, bright yellow, almost but not quite orange, wall panels were fixed to the steel frame, windows were inserted, a roof put on, and work shifted to the interior with the sole exception of two signs announcing that this, indeed, would be a new market. The market it would replace, whose name it had taken, which sits diagonally across the road about 50 metres away, the one that had been threatened with being replaced by a hospital. This time around they had the new market almost completed before the old one was closed.
I don’t know what this presages for the old market. When I walked past it today, as last time, the gates were firmly locked and peeking through the gaps revealed a wasteland. The old structures, those thin, steel frames that supported the thin, steel rooves that sheltered the stalls from the sun, rain and snow, were gone, leaving an empty, forlorn space strewn with rubbish and the little bits of rubble not worth removing. There was no indication that I could see of what this wasteland would become.
But the new market looked good. Nothing fancy, but functional and clean. At one end was a gate with two middle-aged men bearing red armbands proclaiming them to be safety inspectors, or something like that, who formed the nuclei of nebulous and ever-changing groups of friends and acquaintances stopping for a chat. Inside, a paved courtyard expanding to the left, where a bicycle park had been establised, with the market building and its entrances to the right. Along the southern wall of the courtyard immediately left of the gate was a small building in three compartments: A women’s toilet, men’s toilet, and the “standard scale” (公平秤). Inside, the building felt either spacious or as if they’d spaced the stalls out wider than normal, I’m not sure which. It’s not a large building, but the spacing of the rows of stalls made it feel somewhat Tardis-like.
The northern and southern walls were lined by mostly butcher, seafood and delicatessen stalls, with a few selling various assortments of spices, sauces, nuts, beans, grains, sweets, and one selling various alcohols I won’t even venture to name (that being far too deep into traditional Chinese alcohol culture for my mediocre knowledge) out of large earthenware vats, interspersed mostly at corners and in odd niches. The centre was widely-spaced rows of stalls selling mostly fresh fruit and vegetables. Tall stalks of sugarcane stood at one stall, and….
….was that taro I saw sitting on that counter?! Taro I have not seen for many a long year.
Upstairs was clothing, shoes, and all the various odds and ends required to run a household. Up there quite a few of the stalls were closed – the owners having gone home for the holiday, perhaps? – and two or three were still unoccupied. Clothing seemed to dominate, but there were more than a few stalls set up to cater to the neighbourhood’s Spring Festival needs – all but the fireworks – and several ranging from brushes and brooms and those other little necessities up to hardware like tools, low-end electrical goods like lightbulbs, plugs, cables, multiboxes, various plumbing necessities like taps and their components, and even one selling rangehoods and the various bits of pipe, duct, and tubing needed to get the smoke and grease of a Chinese kitchen outside.
In other words, it was exactly the old market shifted into a new building. And yet it seems somehow smaller. Did all of the market shift, or did some give up and move elsewhere?