Living With the Locals: The Market Experience

Today’s Post by Ken MacAdams

It still brings a smile to my face when I recall our morning experience. Like the locals, we’d trekked down to the nearby street market. Every day, from 6 to 9 AM, the main thoroughfare two blocks from our apartment turns into a street market.

Each time we’ve visited the market, there’s been a happy young man cooking on his portable three wheeled bicycle-kitchen! People are always lined up around his space, so it must be good! I’ve watched the process: he begins by ladling a pancake-like batter on a hot 14-inch flat skillet, spreading it around evenly with a wide putty knife. Next he offhandedly cracks an egg, which is also spread over the surface. Exchanging the putty knife for an old paint brush, he applies a coating of something light brown in color followed by a pinch of chopped onion, garlic, and some other mystery meat. Putty knife back in hand, he deftly works around the edges, then scrapes into the center before that thin little crispy critter has a chance to burn. Last he throws on some lettuce, adds a couple of crunchy, flat, pre-fried pieces of something, rolls it, bags it, and it’s done!

Today we took our place in line! I placed our order by holding up two fingers – the universal quantity sign when ordering! I was amazed how quickly he created our thin fry-bread type creations but then comes the payment! Of course he told me – with a smile -what I owed him, but there’s a big disconnect between his Chinese and my English! I pulled out a 50 yuan bill and he pointed to the next lady in line, so I handed the bill to her and she reached into his cash register, an open box on the end of the cook area, drops my 50 yuan in, and gives me 41 yuan back —also with a smile!   Two breakfast type burritos for $1.36! Now that’s the whole meal deal, folks! But wait, there’s more!

Off we go, two tall foreigners walking down the street, a camera over my shoulder, and a backpack on Mary, with celery and onions poking out munching away on our breakfast! A short, wrinkled little old Chinese lady looks up at us, and breaking into a big toothless grin, gave us the thumbs up! I have no earthly idea what she said to us in her paragraph of Chinese, but she seemed happy that we were enjoying one of her favorites! These “everyday” encounters? Priceless!

The daily market is a way of life here, and every morning we see the locals coming and going to the markets. It’s all very fresh, and inexpensive! In the vegetables booths, you’ll find virtually every green, orange, red, white, or black and blue vegetable known to man! Another booth might be a meat stall, followed by a spice vendor. The fish vendor is like the aquarium section at Pets Mart, live fish and eel swimming in big Styrofoam containers, with stacks of live snow crabs, desperately trying to make a break for it. Buying a fish? Cleaning and descaling at no extra charge! The fruit vendor has apples, oranges, kiwis, pears, grapes, and nuts. The chicken vendor is quite a showman, he’ll take a complete bird, and within a few minutes, will have reduced it into a hundred pieces! Nothing is wasted here. they even boil the chicken feet for flavor! Need eggs? No prepackaged egg cartons on this street! White, brown, blue, or black? Chicken, duck, or quail? Decisions, decisions! The locals tend to buy two to four eggs at a time, enough for a day or two, and gently walk home with them in a simple plastic bag!

Out on the street, we’ll spot neighbors visiting with one another, and quite a few bring their canine ‘2nd child’ along for the outing. It’s much like walking the midway at the State Fair minus the rides! This is the real “dirt-under-your-fingernails” experiences no tour group will ever encounter! This is the real China! Priceless!

All images taken with a Panasonic Lumix G85. Top photo, Lumix G Vario 12-60mm Power OIS lens, AWB, 1/80 sec, f/8. ISO 200. Second, third, and forth photos, Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm Power OIS lens, AWB, 1/125 sec. f/2.8, ISO 200.