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The Vanishing Wet Market

Going, going, gone. Disappearing houses, vanishing markets, demolished neighbourhoods. Like the entire city block in Hongkou I wrote about in my last post, about to be razed to make way for a new development whether the residents like it or not, the adjacent wet market and all its vendors is going the same way in a few short weeks. It’s a really great wet market too, as you can see from these photos, full of life, friendly faces and happy banter. 
And the chicken seller, neatly and elegantly dressed, has lined up her chickens for sale. They look kind of awkward, pointing their toes like that. Even in supermarkets, this is how you’ll find your chickens, heads down, legs up, skinny and naked. Because they are hung upside down by the feet to be dispatched – with a neat and quick snip to the big blood vessels in the neck – they tend to just set that way. I guess you’ll be needing those feet and the head too.
A man on a bicycle is following me around the narrow aisles, intrigued at what catches my eye. I explain that we don’t have bullfrogs in Australia (well…we do, but we don’t sell them by the half-kilo and eat them) and he is quietly incredulous.
The fish seller, replenishing the water in her polystyrene tanks, has just laid two large solid blocks of frozen fish in the nearby gutter to thaw. Everyone just steps over them.
Nearby, huge stinky durian, wrapped with a raffia twine ‘handle’ to make them easy to carry. They’re in season right now and the slightly rotten odour drifts through the market.
The noodle seller is pretty busy with her lunch, calling someone on her phone, and selling a few noodles in between the other, more important, tasks. In the meantime, her competition next door are selling up a storm.
The meat man chops a little, tells some jokes, smokes a lot, and counts his dough.
A very shy smile, but this lady, the cockle seller, was frying up her lunch in a wok at the back of her stall when I asked for a photo. It smelled great! Lots of garlic, lots of greens, lots of chili.
And another beautiful smile, on the girl cooking and selling fried dumplings at the entrance to the market.
I love this picture. The lady in the centre looks harsh and unhappy, but I just caught her off-guard. Straight after, she hit me with a huge smile and went on her way.

So there it is, the very human face of a massive urban dislocation. What do you think about the individuals caught in the middle of it? 
  • MaryAnne

    You really should write a book, you know. As always, beautifully done!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for sharing your stories in Shanghai, they are all very interesting. And I love your pictures! I think the sad part about these projects is that people were not given any choices. I think some welcome the change and some don't want to leave the familiar place that they've been living in for so long, but unfortunately, they don't have any choices whether they like it or not.

  • Fiona

    Yes, I agree – I remember at home an elderly couple who refused to give up their house to make way for a new development, but all their neighbours eventually sold out. Now, their house sits surrounded on three sides by huge tall modern buildings, blocking out the sun and their view. They just developed around the house. I often think that it must be worse to live like that, than to take the money and go. But at least they had a choice.

  • Amanda

    Hi Fiona! Thanks for visiting my blog – I'm coming by to say hello! I love all these pictures going to be back often. I remember watching a show that was talking about the razing of neighborhoods in Shanghai for building developments. What's your take is it a good or bad thing? I got mixed feelings from the show. Looking forward to seeing Shanghai through your eyes!

  • Fiona

    Great to meet you Amanda and thanks for commenting – I love it that we've got a conversation going on this topic, it's interesting to see people's reactions to this and the last post, about the community beng demolished.

    To be honest, I think that some of the housing being razed is dangerous and poorly habitable, and any city worth its salt should be looking after its residents to ensure everyone has (indoor) running water, access to toilet facilities, and a safe electricity supply.

    But…this progress comes at the expense of the diversity of the community. Old lanes don't always need to be replaced with highrise apartment blocks – low rise developments, or reconditioning of old architecture, is equally valuable, but not equally profitable.

  • shaz

    That's really sad. A lot of history about to make way for the shiny and new. It happened to many markets in Malaysia too, I remember happily stomping through wet, smelly puddles as I followed my mother on her rounds. Now an office block stands where the market used to be. Mum now shops at the supermarket. Although they still sell stinky durian at the supermarket! 🙂 Great photos, at least you are managing to capture some of these memories before they disappear for good.

  • Adora’s Box

    This is very sad especially for the Chinese people who are such traditionalists. I guess new developments should be welcomed as long are there are sufficient provisions for those who are displaced.

  • Fiona

    What a great childhood memory Shaz. I wonder what your mum prefers now, the convenience of a supermarket or the noise and bustle of the outdoor market?

    And to Adora – I find myself wondering if there can be the best of both worlds – traditional architecture, modern conveniences. It should be possible in China, of all places.

  • Alia Dalwai

    Wow! This is cool, just like India!
    I came across your blog on SITS Girl.
    Nice blog, I must say! Keep up the good work!
    God Bless!

    Do visit my blog too when you have the time.


  • Fiona

    Thanks for stopping by Alia! Hope to visit India again one day – such a vibrant and colourful place! I'll be sure to check out your blog too 🙂

  • becky

    Great pics! To be honest I always feel a little shy taking pictures of people in such close range. We have a great market here in my town too. It is not in any danger of closing or anything, but people come and go so often it is hard to rely on someone or something being there.

    For instance there was a muslim couple selling that delicious round flat bread. It was covered in sesame and small bits of onion and it was the closest thing to a bagel I have found in China! All the foreigners here loved that bread and yet one day, about 3 weeks ago, I went to the shop and the roll top was down and the store said "for rent." 🙁 You can't rely on much in China because everything changes so fast!

  • Fiona

    Thanks Becky! That is so true about everything changing so fast…if you blink for a second, the toy shop is now a sushi joint, and the noodle rstaurant now sells sunglasses!

    (I was also (actually I still am) very shy too about taking portraits, and really what pushed me out of my comfort zone was having to do homework assignments for a photo class I took last year. Surprisingly, nearly everyone is happy to have their photo taken when I ask.)

  • Anonymous

    Really great article with very interesting information. You might want to follow up to this topic!?! 2012