Sunday, October 21, 2007

Wasai--- Market night, every night

Night markets. The English translation sounds exciting, risqué, and not quite legal. In reality they are just as exciting as they sound, but perfectly legal. Well, it depends which stalls you go to I suppose. However, a closer translation for these bustling hives of activity would be “mini-carnival”.

I was startled to find that instead of having two or three dotted around the city, there are one or two in every suburb! Since I live in Taipei, there’s about four rather large night markets within 15-20 minutes drive!

Before taking a walk through any of the night markets in Taiwan, I was expecting something like the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne. That is, seventy percent of the stalls selling the same types of clothes, the rest selling knick-knacks and trinkets, with a couple of food stalls.

My hosts told me we would eat at the market. I expected a few stalls selling the same sorts of food. When we got there, I was faced with many stalls selling a large range of cheap food. This presented a rather tricky choice. The choice was not what to eat. It was where to start! There will certainly be something that appeals to everybody’s taste. I ended up trying to taste everything. My favorite food so far? Deep fried mushrooms and a banana and mango smoothie. Pearl milk black tea and sweet potato chips covered in plum powder are tasty too. Why? Because most of these foods cannot be found in Australia. To me, they’re different.

Of course, rooster crests, pig’s hooves, and various other parts of animals anatomy normally not seen by western menus are also different. Very different! But my mind hasn’t got into the habit of regarding these as edible yet.

Ok, so I gorged myself. What then? I did some shopping of course! These are markets after all. There are a broad range of items, such as clothing, jewelry, electronics animals, etc. The prices were fairly reasonable, but then I was told that I was supposed to haggle with the shop attendants, in order to bring the price down. Suffice to say, the deals got even better after that. I must admit though, I’ve never got the hang of haggling. I’ve spent 23 years in a non haggling country, so I’m still coming to terms with it. In Australia, if a products price is too high, you go elsewhere, you don’t argue with the checkout chick (cashier) to make it lower.

While it didn’t elicit a “Wasai” from me, I’ve found that any night market bigger then an alley generally has entertainment too, whether it be picture booths, arcade games, or those other amusements such as shooting balloons with toy guns, fortune telling, and so forth.

I realize night markets are common throughout Asia, but for the westerner, or at least, for me, they are a must see, a place to immerse your senses in for a few hours, to have some fun, to try some traditional food, and, perhaps, get a bargain price on that item you’ve been hunting for.

Submitted to Wasai Taiwan by: Sean Wise
(Melbourne, Australia--- Taipei, Taiwan)


Night Market

I was born in Taiwan but immigrated to the U.S. for 20 years before moving back here to Taiwan earlier this month. I thought I would be pretty used to life here in Taiwan but when I visited some night markets, I was reminded of what a strange sight that was. I went to several night markets but especially Shilin Night Market was so crazy, jam-packed with people. My friends and I had to almost hold on to one another’s bags so that we didn’t get separated. It’s just a strange sight to see so many little food stands right next to each other, selling almost the same thing and as you walk by, people are shouting and trying to invite you to buy food from their stand. Sometimes I wonder how the entire night market can withstand all that electricity being used to power the stoves without burning down. I think this was a culture shock because even in the most crowded cities in America, you don’t see such a sight. I think most of it is probably because the U.S. just has more space so shops don’t have to be so crowded together. And I think storeowners in America don’t like to open similar shops next to one another because of competition. They would rather carve their own niche in a section of town that doesn’t already have a shop like it. I think shop owners in the U.S. are not as aggressive as those in Taiwan and so do not stand out on the streets trying to pull in customers. Once in a while you see some store in the U.S. hire a teenager to dress up as a chicken or a hot dog to draw in customers from the streets but even then they don’t really shout at passersby but just hold up a sign or something to advertise some sale or promotion.

Submitted to Wasai Taiwan by: Cythia Peng
(San Francisco, the U.S. --- Hsinchu, Taiwan)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In fact, most night markets are operated illegally. There are only a handful of legal night markets in all Taiwan, such as the Keelung Night Market and the recent Shilin Night Market - the previous one was completely illegal. Most of the other well-known markets are just as illegal and continue to operate only because they are tolerated in the community.