Shih Dong Traditional Chinese Market

The plan was to stop by for a mere five minutes, but even before I step under the bright lights beyond the inner doors, it starts. Like the layers of an onion, what was first one big buzz begins to peel away and disentangle in pieces. First the clattering of shopping cart wheels gives away a shopper’s location, then the crinkle of plastic bags signify a successful sale and bargain. Spinning strips of plastic softly flap in circles, safeguarding fresh goods from flies in a gentle rhythm.

Even the reverberating hum of voices eventually filter through my ears. In one corner, a vendor calls out to advertise the freshest fish in the house. In another, the florist fondly names the beautiful blooms currently in season. Down the aisle, a little boy acts cute to wheedle his mom into buying some candy. She sighs in feigned exasperation and concedes.

Such are the sounds of Shih Dong market in the Taipei, Taiwan neighborhood of Tienmu. The sights of the market, however, offer no such moderated introduction.

At this traditional wet market lined with hawkers, colors and textures explode, haphazardly splaying out on tables and hanging upon ceiling fixtures alike. In front of that fish vendor, a smatter of silver scales and red flesh gleam in a sea of ice cubes. Swaths of brilliant pinks and oranges surround the florist while lush green leaves loom overhead. Behind it all, rainbow packets of foil and plastic snake across the wall, hiding all traces of the tiles that hold up the fort.

In a place that strives to offer everything there is to be desired, there is no room for white space.

Today, I am there with my mom, who lives in Asia with my dad and wants to pick up some goose for dinner because I am visiting. As she tells the vendor what she wants, I look away while hearing the thud of a knife, unable to watch even though I know the bird is dead. Instead, I stare at the rows of trays: golden braised eggs, plump squishy tendons, porous squares of tofu, dark green swirls of seaweed.

But then I look up at the vendor. She is smiling at my mom, who I know has been a customer for years. “Have some chicken soup with that, and some of this,” she says, scooping up a smorgasbord of ingredients I wasn’t fast enough to identify. “Toss it in with some vegetables. It’ll smell delicious.”

I always come to the traditional markets in Asia looking to awaken my senses. I’d somehow forgotten that the communities they forge, and the little kindnesses doled out with many a business transaction, also stir my heart.

C Wei

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