In the heat of the night (markets)
Trip Start Feb 26, 2006
53Trip End Sep 16, 2006
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There's not any single frame of reference that can prepare you for the mallet-over-the-head sensory overload that is the Taiwanese night market. The mad energy, the cacophony of sounds, the bizarre sights, the funky smells... they are all utterly alien, unusual and completely fascinating.
I've touched on Taiwanese night markets in a previous post. We've been to several big and small night markets in Taichung, Khaosiung and in Taipei the Huahsi "Snake Alley" night market (I'll discuss this further in a forthcoming Taipei entry.)
All night markets have one thing in common..
The point really is that anything goes. Picture a big city wholesale district, with salespeople hawking $5 dress shirts with a wireless microphone, like a carnival barker. Next door is a wheeled cart spewing mysterious steam, and dozens of people crowded around eating, smelling, experiencing. Next to the cart, a shop run by an elderly man selling corn on the cob (on a stick) by placing the corn in a hollow tube which is specifically designed for roasting corn. (Of course in true Taiwanese style, this immediately Western-compatible concept of roasted corn is subsequently slathered in some kind of funky mystery sauce that may or may not appeal to you.) The larger night markets have integrated actual retail stores, some you may actually recognize. I've seen Levis stores in several locations, and of course 7-11 is inexplicably everywhere (containing the same old rotating hot dogs, but with bubble milk tea and pork stuffed steamed buns instead of Mountain Dew and nachos).
On the main drags, you are at all times surrounded by flashing lights and scooters zipping past and missing you by inches
The day markets are considerably different. They are still social affairs, but of a more "civilized" variety. Mothers and old ladies go out to buy their food from local vendors. Steam carts are on every corner, but seem slightly less mysterious under the bright sun. I've read that the Taiwanese do not do their shopping at supermarkets because there is no guarantee of freshness. If you are Taiwanese, you have most likely bought your meat for example from the same person for 10 years, and you trust his business practices, despite the fact that his raw chicken (with the black feet still on, pointing towards the heavens) lies out on an unrefrigerated table all morning (Perhaps the fact that they were slaughtered that morning and not sitting in a giant supermarket warehouse for a month before reaching the market has something to do with it.) Rotating happily away above the chickens are what look like little motorized, rotating wire coat hangers with tassels attached, automatically shooing away the flies
Each day that I'm here, I find myself doing my best to reserve my judgments and prejudices, and try to find out the reasons why certain things are done in ways that are so different from back home. I don't claim to ever have all the answers, but I'm very happy to do my research, as I take in the unusual sights and smells in Taiwan's markets.
We did visit some larger department stores for the Taiwanese take on the Western shopping experience, but all but the toilets were dull by comparison. (see photos)