Earlier this week we looked a little bit at food safety in China. Today we are going to look at a Chinese market (nothing comes in packages), these are where most rural Chinese prefer to do their shopping. Whenever I have visitors from the States, I enjoy taking them to the market because it makes such a visceral impact on them and leaves them with the inescapable feeling that they have caught a glimpse of the real China.
I still clearly remember my first trip to the market in Longzhou. It was late August so the air was heavy with humidity and the heat seemed to amplify the fragrance of the fresh fruit along with the pungent smell of meat that had been sitting out for hours.
When we first entered the market, which was a 3 story cement building with a lot of empty floor space, we came to the fruit vendors. It was mostly women sitting behind their piles of papayas, pineapples and passion fruit, along with dozens of others that I didn’t even know the English word for. The colors were fantastic.
I bought one of the pineapples and the lady began shaving off the rind with a razor-sharp knife, then she switched to a v-shaped awl and quickly scooped out the last bits of the rind leaving an intriguing spiral pattern on the pineapple. Just as she went to place it in the bag, the golden-yellow fruit slipped out of her hands and rolled across the mucky floor. She looked mortified. Quickly she grabbed the pineapple by its leafy green sprout and dunked it into a bucket of questionable water. I ended up buying it from her, even though I knew I would have to throw it out as soon as I left the market.
Past the fruit were the vegetables. Somehow these were stacked even higher than the fruits, but were far less exotic. The veggies brought an earthy smell to the market, which was only natural considering the amount of soil still clinging to the mountains of potatoes. Many of these vendors came from the surrounding countryside to sell their vegetables at a slightly higher price than they could at home.
Beyond the vegetables the market became some kind of nightmarish landscape of unidentifiable flesh. Pale pork and deep red beef sitting out in the Guangxi heat is a smell that I would like to someday forget. I still believe that a single trip through this market is the equivalent of an entire year’s worth of anatomy. There were cow stomachs, congealed pig blood, goose intestines, and the terrifying pig skull with meat and no skin.
There was a man literally hawking snake oil among other dubious cures. The bucket of live scorpions next to him helped us hurry past without daring to look much closer. The thought of it still makes me squeamish.
In the back, men with blow torches were roasting pig feet and other various “treats”. My teaching partner looked a bit disappointed, “I guess it’s not dog season yet,” and with that we headed home.