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Sunday Street Style, Kaili


I love an octogenarian with attitude. I spied her one Sunday in Kaili Old Street, with her hair and specs rather eccentrically arranged. She was embroidering herself a new belt.
Sunday is no day of rest in China. In fact, it’s often the busiest day of the week as families, groups of friends and workers head for the shops on their one and only day off. Kali, in Guizhou Province, is no exception as the Sunday Market gets into full swing, starting in the old part of town and spreading like topsy into the surrounding streets.

Continue reading “Sunday Street Style, Kaili”

Spring Festival at Shidong Market – Will It All Be Gone This Time Next Year?

Two weeks ago I found myself back in Shidong, in the heart of Miao country in Guizhou Province, at the market they hold there by the river. I didn’t plan on writing about it again, because I wrote about it last September when the market was full of indigo sellers.
It’s a market with seductive colour and energy though, absolutely one of the best rural markets in China and blessed with a stunning location.
You arrive in the fraught and dusty main street of Shidong, packed with cars and motorbikes and minivans, horns blaring, and wend your way behind the street into one of many crowded, dark, cool side lanes where there will be someone selling brightly coloured plastic basins next to a man with a bamboo pen full of noisy ducks, and then suddenly the darkness gives way to sunlight and the long jade-green Qingshui river opens up before you, with its Shidong-side cobblestone banks lined with hundreds of coloured tents and thousands of people, and on the other side a tiny village climbs the hill from the water’s edge, connected by a narrow suspension bridge.
People come and go by boat, from villages up- and downstream. It’s delightful, but more importantly it is the main source of income for many local families who sell their wares at the market.

But it seems the market might be under threat, something I didn’t discover until literally a few hours ago when I was researching this blog post, and so I became convinced of the need to write about it again. More on that below.
On the surface though, the market was busier than ever, being the frantic final market day before Chinese New Year and full of everything one might need for a Spring Festival celebration.
The cobbled river bank was laid with hundreds of red paper chunlian 春联 door decorations, held down against the wind with rocks and painted with calligraphy couplets conveying one’s best wishes for the year ahead – health, happiness, and prosperity. 
Open air barbers, five in a  row, had set up nearby so men could have their hair cut before New Year, thus avoiding an unlucky haircut in the first month of the Year of the Horse.
One and all were buying chickens and ducks for the New Year’s feast, along with bunches of lucky extra-long chillies and sweet treats like honey on the comb.

Some, like this family, had all their Spring Festival needs loaded in their wooden boat – a box of firecrackers, some incense and candles to offer to the ancestors, and about twenty-five new stools for all the expected guests.

Buying new bowls was common too, both for eating and for drinking rice wine, neatly tied in stacks of ten. Always ten – I’d love to know why.
The Miao ladies of Shidong, lovers of silver adornment and jewellery, were crowding the silver sellers with New Year sales.
It was at this point, as I was photographing a dead cow being picturesquely butchered by the riverside, that I realised I was being followed. There were two men, one with a camera, photographing me photographing the butcher, and another one. They were youngish, smallish, not very threatening looking, and wearing a ubiquitous countryside uniform of soft shoes, perma-press trousers and zip-up jackets, both black, one of them made from artificial leather. 
They looked nervous and shy when I caught them spying on me, and seemed to be metaphorically poking each other in the ribs saying:
“You talk to her”
“No, you talk to her”
“No, you first”
Until I couldn’t take their discomfort any more and said hello in Chinese.
It’s my favourite moment in any conversation, when the other person suddenly realises they can communicate with me, this stranger, this foreigner.
“Hello” said Mr Artificial Leather, smiling very tentatively. “We’ve been following you.”
I smiled.
“We don’t see so many tourists here. Well, a few. Hmmm. Not that many. I’m from the local government. Can I ask you a few questions about your experience in Shidong market?”
There’s a curve ball I wasn’t expecting.
“Sure” I said, and put my camera away. This could take a while.
“So, my first question is…” He flipped out a notebook and seemed to be rifling through the pages looking for the question. The other guy held on to the camera awkwardly. 
“Oh, here it is. Okay. What is your name?”
I told him my Chinese name, and he told me what a nice name it was. I told him my English name too, but from upside-down I couldn’t tell if he wrote it down in English.
“And what are you doing here?” This question sounded innocuous, and it probably was, but he was a local government official.
“Just travelling, taking photos. It’s very colourful here!” I said, pointing to the rows of tents nearby.
“This is your first visit to Shidong?” he asked.
I considered for a moment, trying to remember. “It’s my fourth visit I think. My fifth visit to Guizhou.”
He was surprised. And pleased. He rifled a few more pages and looked for the next question. It must have been important because he asked the other guy to take a photo of us doing the interview, but the other guy struggled with the camera, and I felt bad for him.
“So…when you come to Shidong next time, which of the following would enhance your tourist experience?” He paused. “Ethnic dancing? Singing and Music? Discount vouchers? Gifts?”
Now I did feel sorry for him, because I can say in all honesty that none of those things would have made the market any more colourful or more alive and vibrant than it already was. In fact, they might do something irrevocably bad to it by trying to attract Chinese tourists to it with gimmicks.
“Actually, none of those” I said. “I just like to experience the local culture as it is, especially on Market Day.” He looked really disappointed in me.
“Not even dancing?” he asked.
“OK, maybe just a little bit of dancing. But you know in my country we have nothing at all like this market. This is very special.”
He gave me a look that said he didn’t quite believe me, either about the my country not having markets like this, or the bit about it being special. His look seemed to convey that the sooner he could clear space along the river for ethnic dancing and music displays and give away discount vouchers, the better.
The other guy took photos of us all together, then someone took photos of all three of us together, and that concluded the interview.
I thought nothing more of it for the last two weeks, until just now I googled ‘Shidong tourism’ and an article came up on the Guizhou government website explaining that Shidong is to be one of ‘One Hundred Demonstration Towns’ in Guizhou. Oh no.
According to their research, Shidong is an ideal location for this development because:
‘Miao people account for 98% of the local population. So, the town is a place where Miao people highly gather. Shidong Town not only has graceful and charming landscape scenery, but also has unique and rich national customs. In addition, it’s the most representative Miao region and is a place where national intangible cultural heritage gather.’
They’re looking for 680 million yuan joint venture investments to build:
‘special architectural complex and special leisure hotels and venues (read – KTV and spas), sell cultural crafts, develop a series of market-oriented national culture display platform, build 500 buildings with Miao nationality characteristics, and create a world-class Miao nationality art town.’
My heart broke, then fell on the floor in a hundred pieces. It will be a Chinese Disneyland with Miao characteristics. It happened in Kashgar. It happened in Beijing. It happened in Hangzhou. And Lijiang, Shanghai, Pingyao, and Qufu. Those are just the ones I remember off the top of my head.
They will destroy Shidong, and rebuild it as a fake version of itself, with homogenous ‘cultural crafts’ and concrete buildings made to look like the wooden structures they have replaced. It was all a terribly, terribly sad read. 
As sweet as Mr Artificial Leather was, I hope no one comes to his great big fake Miao Shidong party. 
So get yourself to Shidong right now before it’s all gone.

To Shidong Market, To Buy a Fat Pig

A trip to Guizhou should be timed, if at all possible, with a visit to the Miao village market in Shidong. It occurs every six days, a rather eccentric cycle stubbornly independent of the constraints of a conventional seven day week, but perhaps there’s a good reason behind it.
Maybe six days’ worth of eggs is the most one person can carry by themselves? Or six days’ worth of meat? Or perhaps every six days is about how often you can bear running into everyone you know from the surrounding villages.
On the other five days of the six-day cycle Shidong is a sleepy village. It’s thinking about becoming a small town, but hasn’t quite decided yet whether it’s worth it, and the general consensus – given the slow walking pace of the locals and the general air of torpor – seems to be ‘probably not’.

The main street runs parallel to the jade coloured Qingshui River, with two tiny noodle shops and a few places selling farm supplies. The central basketball court is covered with drying rice from the rice harvest, being raked slowly and meditatively by an elderly woman with a wooden paddle.

But on market day Shidong explodes into activity. Early in the morning the basketball court is cleared of rice and becomes a makeshift poultry market and slaughtering centre. The stallholders erect tents, umbrellas and tables lining both the main street and the large flat area beside the river, and people pour in from near and far – on foot, by bus, by motorbike and by boat.

The market is utterly local, and reflects the everyday needs of life in Guizhou’s Miao villages.

In no particular order, you can buy embroidery silks, fighting birds, a piglet, ten yards of cloth, indigo dye, buffalo hide, a short-handed sickle for harvesting rice, a fish net, a silver head dress, or a red coil of firecrackers.

It’s a wonderful place with a lively atmosphere and a beautiful location. I think it’s actually one of the most interesting markets in China, right up there with the Friday market in Yousuo, Yunnan and the Sunday Animal Markets in Kashgar and Hotan.

 Right near the entrance are the indigo sellers. Almost every Miao woman dyes her own cloth for clothing for her family, and although some still make their own indigo paste from fermented indigo leaves, it’s much easier to buy the paste from the market.

 Fish come from the clear waters of the river, or more often from the rice paddies where growing them keeps insects down, and catching them is easier. A popular Miao dish is made with fried dried fish. Makeshift pens hold ducks, another popular food and particularly important for festivals – ducks help bring the ancestors’ spirits home for the feast.  

Women sell soap nuts – the seed pods of a local tree – which can be used to make a stiffening and glossing agent for embroidery threads.

The man on the left is selling pieces of dried buffalo hide, used to make a gelatin dip for indigo dyed fabric to stiffen it and give it sheen. The roots on the right are from a mountain tree, and can be pulped to make a red-brown fabric dye.

If you would prefer someone else to dye fabric for you, the market offers a dyeing service – buy your fabric (usually cream homespun cotton) and leave it with these dye vendors who will dye, dry and deliver your fabric in just a few hours while you shop.

The Miao people’s famed silver jewellery is also for sale, bought by the gram, and there are small snack stalls selling local foods like rice tofu (mi doufu 米豆腐), cubes of cold rice starch dressed with seventeen secret sauces and peanuts. A perfect snack for a hot day in the sun.
You can also find various services at the market – the shoe, leather and umbrella repair man, and the street dentist. The foot treadle operating his drill is out of sight. Truly amazing, truly terrifying.

Boat parking, for those who arrive by water. Many villagers living on the other side of the river can now come to market on foot thanks to the new footbridge.

Bird lovers congregate in a hidden part of the market – the courtyard of an abandoned house just off the main street. The birds are fighters as well as pets, and many hours can be whiled away discussing the merits of a particular bird.
And lastly my favourite stall – the firecrackers. Long coils of noisy red crackers, and boxes of bigger fireworks. Right near the eggs seems like a risky place to keep them, but what do I know?
Do you have a favourite market in China? Let me know below – I’m always on the lookout for a new one!

Shidong Market – Details

Shidong 施洞 is approximately 2 hours’ drive north-east of Kaili, in central Guizhou. The best way to get to Shidong is by private car, but you can also travel by small local bus.
Kaili, confusingly also known as Qiandongnan on many maps, is a great base from which to explore a number of Miao villages, and is about two and a half hours’ drive from Guizhou’s capital city, Guiyang. Guiyang is the nearest airport. There is also a hard seat local train running regularly between Guiyang and Kaili.
The market occurs every six days, with 2013 dates available here and runs from early in the morning until 3pm.

Yunnan’s Biggest Market: Yousuo Friday Market 云南最大的集市: 右所周五集市

Every Friday in Yousuo, north of Dali, Yunnan’s biggest, noisiest and liveliest market takes place, spilling across the main road through town and into side streets, lanes, and a vast open area at the foot of the mountains. The local Bai people arrive from nearby farms and villages, baskets on their backs and dressed in their finest to buy and sell goods – livestock, vegetables, embroideries, woven baskets, pots and pans, sweets and tea.

Markets are a peek through the keyhole into another culture and way of life – what people eat, how they do business, how they dress. And markets are full of what the Chinese call renao 热闹, translated literally as ‘heat and noise’ but meaning ‘noisy excitement’ or ‘hubbub’. 

Renao is one of my favourite Chinese words and describes that indefinable atmosphere of all-round enjoyment and festivity that makes a good restaurant great, or a party unmissable. Noise and heat. Bustle and excitement. Crowds and activity. 

I love renao, and would rather visit a local market than a hundred temples, if the truth be known. 

Impressivley well-travelled writer Thoedora Sutcliffe recently wrote about 100 Lessons Learned from 1000 Days of Travel around the world with her son. It’s a great read and a  great list, but Number 3 particularly caught my eye:

3. Big Ticket Sights Are Almost Always Worth It …..if you’re within 50 miles of one of the wonders of the world and don’t see it, you’ll be kicking yourself for decades.

I mostly agree with her, but if there’s a market within 50 miles of one of the wonders of the world and I miss it, then I really will kick myself.

So what will you find at Yunnan’s biggest, most renao-ish market? Have a look.




Piglets in baskets: one farmer tried to swap a piglet for our youngest daughter, but we resisted. Just.

Bai women shop with baskets on their backs, straps on their foreheads or over their shoulders. Cane baskets are still the most popular but coloured woven tape baskets are becoming a new trend.
The women favour a sleeveless cobalt blue or red tunic belted with a hand-embroidered sash, and a scarf or flower-embroidered head dress to cover their hair, often with a straw hat perched on top. Those who wear the flower-embroidered head-dresses often cover it with a net scarf to keep it clean in the dust of the marketplace.

Local sweets: peanut brittle, rock sugar, ground sticky rice flavoured with rose water, sesame toffee
本地甜点, 花生太妃糖, 冰糖, 玫瑰味的糯米糖, 还有芝麻太妃糖.

Tricycle truck – slightly larger than a motorbike, holds slightly more than a wheelbarrow. Maximum load seen carried: six people plus a pig and eight chickens.


If you don’t have a tricycle truck you can also carry your chicken purchases like this. Friends have suggested it would be a useful way for carrying unruly small children.

Not everyone wears traditional dress of course

Coolest dude in Yunnan, selling thermoses. Because everyone knows only cool people use thermoses.

云南最酷的人, 都卖热水壶. 因为人人都知道只有很酷的人才会用热水瓶.

Bai woman selling joss papers for burning at the temple.

Yunnan has a unique climate and topography, so you’ll find plenty of unusual foods not seen elsewhere in China
Left: mao doufu – mold fermented tofu  Right: hai cai hua 海菜花 (ottelia accuminata) – a water plant with delicate white flowers that float on the water surface of lakes, the stalks of which are used in cooking.
云南气候和地形都很独特, 所以你能发现很多中国其他地方不会生长的食物.
左: 毛豆腐发霉的一种豆腐
右: 海菜花 (海菜花属一种生长着精美白色小花的水生植物,漂浮在湖水表面,它的茎干可以用来烹饪)

The man who sells everything from his square-metre shop: kitchen scourers, rubber gloves, safety pins, sewing needles, packets of single-use shampoo, zippers, plugs, and a thousand other useful things.

And lastly the street dentist, who for 50 yuan (about $8) will fit you with a shining silver cap for one of your front teeth, on the spot. Without even taking off his sunglasses.

Yousuo Friday Market
Every Friday from early morning until mid-afternoon
Yousuo is on the  G214 about 40km north of Dali, Yunnan
GPS: Lat 26.018064  Long  100.063546 

The Chengdu Spice Market 成都香料市场


You can smell the Chengdu Spice Market from way down the street as you pass the Wukuaishi Bus Station, thronging with tiny Sichuanese farmers from out in the country come to Chengdu to look for work – baskets filled with belongings on their backs, or rucksacks made from worn denim, wearing the farmer’s uniform of a worn brown suit jacket, rolled up navy blue suit trousers and rubber-soled khaki gym shoes.


Traffic is mayhem at this spot as bus passengers with bags and boxes weave in and out between vehicles and buses, taxis cut in on one another to vie for passengers, and three-wheeled modi taxis crowd the pavement, calling for fares. There are a lot of horns honking and raised voices, and between all this street vendors have carved out their own slice of pavement and are selling roast sweet potatoes, corn-on-the-cob and spicy cold noodles in cardboard tubs. It’s complete chaos.
Then suddenly the astringent smell of Sichuan pepper goes right into your nose and hits that spot reserved for wasabi or horseradish, clearing your head, and you keep walking.


It’s great to be back in Chengdu (and back on the road) after nearly two weeks of sitting still in Shanghai waiting for the campervan to be repaired. I’m not that great at sitting still, preferring to keep moving, keep doing, keep seeing new things, a trait that is exhausting at times for me and everyone else. For once I really needed some quiet downtime to recover from the previous couple of months of very rugged and challenging travel, and you know, eat some familiar foods. Wear clean clothes. Have coffee with friends. It was delightful.
We arrived in Chengdu feeling completely recharged and re-energized, and ready for new places, but before leaving town I wanted to visit the Spice Market where I’d heard Sichuan’s famed hua jiao pepper and chillies are bought and sold. It’s a massive place taking up a whole block, divided into sections for chillies, peppers, dried spices, dried mushrooms, dried seafood and fresh garlic and ginger. 
It’s an Aladdin’s Cave for lovers of spice, and I spent hours there chatting with the vendors and wiping my streaming eyes.


The main hall of the market is a vast space stacked from floor to ceiling with bags of chillies – from Xinjiang (curled and crinkled), from Hebei (straight and dark) and from Henan (straight and plump). Each has a different taste and degree of heat, although if you really want to maximize the heat you can also purchase sacks of chili seeds (above).

 The air is full of the acrid smell of dried chillies and it makes your eyes water and your nose run. I developed a tight cough, the kind you get when you fry chillies at home and the kitchen fills with the aerosolized chili vapour. The chili vendors (and their children) seemed completely immune to it though – playing cards, eating lunch and gossiping amongst the red-filled sacks.

市场大棚下地方很宽敞,从地板到天花板堆积了大包小包的辣椒 有来自新疆的(表皮皱且形状卷曲),来自河北的(形状直且色泽深),来自河南的(外形笔直且饱满)。每种辣椒都有不同的味道和火辣感,但如果你真的想体验最大限度的热辣,你也可以买上几包上述几种辣椒的种子。空气中充满刺鼻干辣椒的辛辣味儿,它使你不停地流眼泪和流鼻涕。我会很紧凑短促地咳嗽,就是那种当你在家里炒辣椒,厨房里充满了辣椒雾气的情形下,使人产生的那种咳嗽。辣椒供应商似乎完全不受它影响在装满红辣椒麻袋间打牌,吃午饭,闲聊。

The Sichuan pepper hall was next – hua jiao 花椒 (flower pepper) is the tiny outer husk of the seed of the prickly ash bush, and for those who’ve never had the pleasure of trying it, sichuan pepper is unique for its mala or numbing spiciness. Not numbing in the way eating raw chillies numbs your mouth, but truly numbing, in an anaesthetic sort of way. 
Chew one sichuan pepper and you taste a pleasant, peppery, slighty citrus medicinal flavour. After a minute the tip of your tongue feels a little numb and there is a pleasant tingling on your lips. Eat two or three and the rest of your tongue and lips now feel quite numb. The effect is fleeting and not unpleasant.
Sichuan pepper is used with enthusiasm is Sichuan cooking for flavouring soups, hotpots, braises and more. Until I visited the market I was unaware that in addition to the red variety, Sichuan pepper also comes in a dark green variety (qing hua jiao 青花椒) with a slightly different tatse and more powerful numbing properties.

The dried spice hall was extraordinary, filled with intoxicating smells of star anise (above), cassia quills (below), bay leaves (used extensively in Chinese cooking – a surprise to me), turmeric, dried ginger and cloves. It’s the first and probably last time I will see someone purchase 10 kilograms of cloves at once! There were so many more I couldn’t begin to name, trying to guess their uses by their smell.

The last hall holds dried goods like mushrooms (forty varieties) and seafood – tiny translucent dried shrimp, flat tentacled squid bundled together like cards, silvery dried sardines. 

The vendors of the spice market are its lifeblood, a hard-working, cheery bunch who toil seven days a week. Chengdu people are very friendly, but the vendors at the spice market are almost overwhelming in their enthusiastic friendliness, and it’s a place that sees few foreign visitors.

A group of chili vendors trailed me around the market, explaining to everyone who I was and where I was from. (Australia? Wow! Lives in Shanghai huh? Ooh. Interested in Chinese food? Of course!) I was delighted by their hospitality and good humour – I think my eyes streamed as much from laughter as from the chillies.

If you’re ever in Chengdu, yes, be sure to see the pandas, but don’t miss the Spice Market. It’s unforgettable.

香料市场的供应商是它的生机的来源,这群活泼的人努力工作,一周7天辛劳的工作。成都人都很友好,但香料市场的供应商在热情这个方面几乎是力压群雄,这里几乎很少看到外国游客。在市场里 A组的辣椒供应商一直跟着我,和每个人解释我是谁,从哪来。 (澳大利亚?哇哦!住在上海吧?嗯?哦。对中国菜感兴趣吗?当然!)我很高兴他们的热情和良好的幽默感我觉得我笑出来的泪水和辣出来的泪水一样多。如果你要去成都,没错,一定要去看看大熊猫,但千万不要错过香料市场。这绝对是个令人难忘的地方。

Chengdu Spice Market 成都香料市场

2 East Saiyuntai No 1 Road, Chenghau District, Chengdu (about 500m from the Wukuaishi bus station)
Open seven days 8am-4.30pm


开放时间 一周七天上午8下午4点半

Kashgar Bazaar: A Dozen Temptations 喀什集市:诱惑连连

Need a mosque alarm clock that gives you a call to prayer? You can buy this and much, much more at Kashgar’s famed bazaar, otherwise known as the Sunday Market. Door hinges, goat bells, donkey harnesses, stockings, scarves, silks, tea, jewellery, dried fruits, carpets and spices, the bazaar sells the most extraordinary variety of interesting articles and covers a vast undercover area next to the old city.


Just when you think you have the measure of the place you discover an entirely new section with a labyrinth of alleys selling nothing but wheat sacks. Or perfumes. Or copper pots.


The bazaar is in fact open every day of the week, and although they no longer sell live animals there (the Sunday animal market having moved to a new home north of the city), everything else is fair game.

Here are a dozen things I couldn’t resist:

1.Tukche 门把手

After learning to make bread here in Kashgar I realized finally what these funny little turned wood doorknobs are – tukche. A small device used for making patterns on traditional Uyghur flatbread, I now own a whole set – should I ever decide to set up a Uyghur bakery (more on that idea in the next post).

Does anyone else out there have a kitchen full of essential equipment like this, purchased on holidays with the romantic notion that when you go back home you will make (insert name of foreign food here) every single day, thereby justifying the purchase?


2. Gold 金饰

Uyghur women wear small fortunes of gold, with elaborate gold earrings being part of normal daily dress. When a woman marries, her husband-to-be will provide for a whole set of gold jewellery – earrings, necklace and bracelet, which she will choose with the help of her female relatives.

I did have my heart set on a pair of real gold earrings, each filigree curl inset with one tiny rough turquiose stone, but when I went back to the store in the bazaar it was closed. Tragedy. Instead, I bought a handful of fake gold earrings, just as much fun and way, way cheaper than 370 yuan/gram (about $60/gram), which is the going price for gold in Kashgar.

维吾尔族妇女佩戴金饰,做工精美的金耳环已经成为她们日常服装的一部分。当一个女人结婚的时候, 她的未婚夫将提供一整套的黄金首饰,耳环、项链和手镯作为聘礼,而她会在家族女眷的帮助下挑选这些东西。

我真的很中意一对在它每个饰有金银丝细工的螺旋状耳环中嵌入一个小而坚硬的绿松石的纯金耳环, ,但当我再回到集市的商店时,它已经关门了。真可惜。取而代之,我买了一把假的黄金耳环,这些同样也很有趣,而且价格远比喀什现行370/(60美元/)的黄金价格便宜得多。

3. Traditional Uyghur Silk 传统维吾尔族丝绸

Vibrant colors and woven from the softest silk, this traditionaly patterned resist-dye silk known as khan atlas (the king’s silk) is sold either as small scarves, or in 6.4 metre lengths. 

When I enquired why one might need 6.4 metres exactly (a turban?I  hadn’t seen any of those) I was shown a pattern book full of Uyghur women’s dress styles. So now you know how many metres it took to make this:


4. Glazed Earthenware 釉面陶器

Well OK, not the most practical or lightweight souvenir I’ve ever purchased, but I love my glazed green ewruk or water jug. The style is typical of Kashgar, with the earthy colours and simple designs perfect for serving hearty Uyghur food and drink. 

The shops selling earthenware goods lie between the old city and the western edge of the bazaar – just look for piles of jugs and pots on a long stretch of pavement.


5. Spices 香料

In every bazaar is a whole postcode dedicated to spices, the air thick with the smells of dried chili, cumin, saffron and cinnamon – it’s intoxicating. 

Visit any dora dermek shop selling spices and ask for a tetitku – a spice mixture. The vendor will take a little of this, a little of that, and hand you a small paper parcel inside which is a dynamite powder packed with flavour used for seasoning kebabs, roast lamb, chicken or vegetables.


6. Doppa 毡帽

Worn by Muslim men, the doppa is simple and beautiful – embroidered and decorated, there are no strict rules about who wears what kind, although older men favour the embroidered green hat of Uyghur muslims, and younger men the simpler ones shown above.

I love the simple white doppa – with designs of circles and inverted hearts woven into the fabric.


7. Tea 

Black tea is the staple drink of the Uyghur people, served at every meal and seemingly every other hour of the day too. Enter a Uyghur home and the first thing you will be offered is a shallow ceramic bowl of tea, drunk with the thumb hooked over the bowl’s rim.

The tea is also drunk flavoured with spices, rose petals, saffron and cinnamon.


8. Teapots 茶壶

You’ll need a teapot for making your tea in, and apparently, if you’re me and you have a large vehicle in which to store purchases from bazaars, you’ll need two.

Inexpensive but elegant, the brass teapots have a filter basket inside to stop you getting a mouthful of leaves, and to enable multiple steepings.



9. Brocades and Other Shiny Stuff 锦缎和其他闪亮的东西

As a lifelong sewer and hoarder of all things related to textiles and sewing, the Kashgar bazaar is a dangerous place to let me loose. These brocades are popular for furnishing fabrics, and not just a feature cushion or two either – imagine whole rooms decorated in this flamboyant brocade style, from wall coverings to quilts to the long, oblong cushions used for sitting on the floor. Every Uyghur house is a riot of colour, pattern and shine.

By the way, can you spot the camouflaged second woman in this shot?


10. Bounty of the Oasis 慷慨的绿洲

Last year in Kashgar I bought a small bag of the most exquisite tiny dried figs, about the size of a marble, sweet and chewy with the crunch of tiny, tiny seeds. The figs ran out  ten months ago, so I’m not making that mistake again – I stocked up on several kilograms of the world’s best dried foods – apricots, figs, dates, sultanas, raisins, walnuts and almonds. 

All of these fruit and nut trees thrive in the Kashgar oasis, along with melons, tomatoes, eggplant and the local yellow carrots. 


11. Door Hinges 门铰链

Yes, I am the kind of person who buys door hinges. Who wouldn’t want a set of stunning hand-made Uyghur hinges like these? No? How about a door knocker? 


12. Musical History 音乐历史

Uyghurs have a rich and proud musical history and at the bazaar you might be tempted to purchase one of these beautiful instruments – a stringed duttar made from patterned mulberry wood. Then you can practice singing the muqam, an ancient Uyghur song with 14,000 lines named by Unesco as an ‘intangible cultural heritage’


Kashgar Bazaar/Sunday Market 喀什集市/周日市场

Yengi Bazaar, Aizirete Lu
Open Daily from 8am to 6pm

Yengi集市, Aiziret

Blood, Guts and Frogs – Food Shopping in Shanghai

Wet markets are visceral, bloody places. 
Small deaths happen every minute as live fish, ducks, chickens, frogs meet their end, necks neatly snipped with a strong pair of scissors, blood dripping on to the floor. I can’t recall that ever happening in Woolworths. As I walked the brightly-lit neon aisles of my local supermarkets in Australia last week, marvelling at the clearly displayed prices and the general orderliness and lack of shoving amongst my fellow customers, I couldn’t help feeling a pang of nostalgia for my local wet market here in Shanghai.
Let me introduce you to the way I shop for food every day. There’s no barcode-scanner, no chocolates and lollies aisle, and no set prices. Everything – from the tiniest mushroom to a hindquarter of sheep – is up for negotiation on price, which can be exhausting or exhilarating, depending on your mindset and level of energy that day. When I walk through the doors of the market into the huge, dimly lit space, full of noise, movement, energy and interesting smells, I feel excited about food, and excited about cooking. Supermarkets don’t give me the same level of buzz, and never have – you’re never as close to your food as you are in the wet market, whether you like that feeling or not.
So what can you buy in a wet market? Wet markets are where you go for the best, freshest food, delivered in the dark before the day has even started from smaller farms, wholesalers, and guys on motorbikes with sacks of vegetables stacked to handlebar level. Mushrooms, bamboo shoots, meats, live ducks, chickens, pigeons and geese, frogs and eels, seafood, river fish, snails, cockles, and a hundred varieties of tofu and home-made pickles, duck eggs, quail eggs, free-range eggs – they’re all here, fresh today.
Meet the bamboo shoot and mushroom lady – her hands are covered with nicks and cuts covered with small bandages – the result of day after day of peeling the tough outer layers of the winter bamboo shoots off with a huge sharp cleaver. It’s not that she’s especially careless, it’s just a really difficult job and she’s always doing it in a hurry, with a big smile. 
She sells an incredible array of mushrooms too – cloud ear, oyster, enoki, shitake – in little red plastic baskets neatly lined up on her stall.
I have a soft spot for the eel lady, even though I don’t really love cooking eels – she’s shy and had to be coaxed to have her photo taken. Her hands move fast and skilfully, killing, gutting and splitting the eels. Friends at nearby stalls tease her remorselessly – “She’s so fat! Look at her face! Why do you want to take her photo?” but she ignores them and smiles a quiet smile.
Banter, kind or otherwise, is an integral part of going to the wet market. Vendors banter with one another, customers banter with vendors, and with each other. There is a constant back-and-forth discussion on prices and freshness and quality, interspersed with jokes, and teasing, and people develop close relationships with their favourite vendors, greeting them like old friends. Ot at least, old friends who might be known to cheat you from time to time.

Vegetable sellers are the market’s mainstay – selling only produce that has been picked that day. For freshness, wet markets beat supermarkets hands down, and the very fussy Chinese customers will quickly boycott any stall that tries to sell less than premium fresh produce – I’ve witnessed many stand-up arguments over the age of freshly-picked beans.
I found the meat sections of the wet market quite confronting at first, all those slabs of glistening fatty pork and pieces of beef tendon hanging on hooks, Sweeney Todd style. But now I like walking the rows, looking at the interesting cuts of meat and asking for something particular. 
The chicken/duck/pigeon coops are a different matter. The birds are chosen by the buyer, weighed first and paid for, then taken to a glass-fronted room where the buyer can watch as their chosen bird is killed, dipped in a vat of boiling water to loosen the feathers, plucked, gutted and cleaned before being passed through the window, limp and pink, into a plastic bag. I’m working my way up to buying chicken this way.

There are bullfrogs too, also sold alive and killed, skinned and trimmed to order.

And every wet market has a dry goods stall, filled to bursting with dried beans, rice, dried mushrooms, dried berries, cooking oil, spices, sauces and condiments.

It’s a totally involving way to shop. No two days are ever the same in the market, as foods come in to season and go out of season.What will I find today? To walk in and find the first spring bamboo shoots, the autumn hairy crabs, to enjoy the brief, sweet, week-long season of yang mei in mid-summer, or the last of the winter bamboo shoots, the wet market marks the passing of the seasons, and the bounty of nature.
If you have a favourite market where you live, I want to hear about it!
Jiashan Wet Market
Corner Taiyuan Lu and Jianguo Lu
Open 7 days from 5am til dark
More Food Stories….
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In Xanadu, with Kublai Khan

Criticizing Lin Piao and Confucius – Greetings from 1975

Take a step back to a happier age – what were you doing in 1975? In 1975 I was six years old, and had just learned to rollerskate using old-fashoned tie-on rollerskates. I had permanently skinned knees.
On the other hand, things weren’t so free In China in 1975 – Mao was still alive and the Cultural Revolution wasn’t to end for another year. These six year olds, pictured on the front of a 1975 calendar card I picked up in an antique market last week, were studiously ‘criticizing’ those old communist humbugs Lin Piao and Confucius. Confucius I’m sure you all know, the lucky ancient is now riding a new wave of popularity in China (again), having taken a dip during the 60s and 70s. Poor old Lin Piao (usually known as Lin Biao) was a communist military leader who died in a plane crash in Mongolia allegedly following a failed attempted coup and assassination attempt on Mao in 1971. Sadly his lost popularity hasn’t been successfully regained.
I found this tiny little piece of history at a wonderful early morning antique market.  Calendar cards, smaller than a playing card, were given away in the New Year by companies, businesses and government departments (the names of which are often priceless, like the Zhejiang Province Epidemic Prevention Branch). The earliest I’ve found date to 1974, and they continued to be popular for ten years or so. Often printed with happy politically correct scenes (for the time), they came in sets like these from the Shanghai Ocean Shiping Voyage-Repair Dockyard, with a picture on the front and a miniature calendar on the reverse.
I have amassed quite a collection of these little calendar cards, but my favourites by far are from the Gangu County Printing Ink Factory, 1975. They are delightfully retro but with a dark and slightly disturbing edge, like the ‘Criticizing Lin Piao and Confucius’ card at top.
‘Sentry on the East Sea’

‘Voice from Peking’ once again shows children in ethnic minority dress listening with rapt attention to the national radio broadcast.
‘Study Hard’
‘Red Flowers Facing the Sun’ 
‘Let’s Share the Toys’ I found this card the most bizarre, with a child holding a very western-looking round-eyed doll while children frolic in the background in what could well be a housing estate in England.
‘Friendship First’
Untitled. Loving the green full body cable-knit sweater.

Lingshi Lu Antique Market

The antique market is fabulous, but is not easy to find hidden away behind a regular bird and flower market. It operates mainly on Friday mornings when people start arriving at 4am, (closing at 6pm) but is also open at weekends, although fewer vendors show up. On Fridays vendors set up in the building’s forecourt too. It’s the place to find old books, maps, coins, toys, porcelain and jade (last time I went I picked up five old recipe books for 10-15 yuan each). The calendar cards are plentiful and sell for 4-5 yuan each.

Lingshi Lu Antique Market
behind Lanling Bird and Flower Market 
1539 Lingshi Lu, near Xincun Lu
Fridays from 4am
Weekends from 10am
To get there by metro: 
Line 7 Xincun Station (metro map here)
Take  Exit 1 – walk north along Lingshi Lu, where the Bird and Flower Market is at number 1539. Walk all the way through the market to the pink coloured building at the rear and go up to the second and third floors to find the antique market. 

Shanghai’s Kitchen Market – The Other, Bigger, Better One

Last year I visited the Shanghai Kitchen Market at Aomen Lu in Putuo District, a giant warehouse full of everything you might need to open a Chinese restaurant, from waitress uniforms, menu folders, to a whole department of rows and rows of lazy Susans. At the time, I couldn’t imagine that a better place for buying a wok, or a cleaver, or some hard-to-find baking items could exist. Well, was I ever wrong!
Thanks to sleuthing by a friend who needed to buy a giant ice bucket for a party, we trekked out to Tong Chuan Lu (the same street the Shanghai Seafood Market lies on) to find a giant restaurant supplies market with even more specialised goods and wider variety. They sell everything from fine crystal stemware to hoptpot setups, bakeware, jelly molds, and a vast array of dinnerware and cutlery. It’s just as interesting for the home cook, as the owner of a big restaurant or hotel and only a little further away from downtown than the Aomen Lu market. You could make a day of it with a kitchenware warehouse crawl…..or maybe that’s not something with very broad appeal…..
Unlike this giant jar of ‘colorful jelly’ which is very, very appealing in an off kind of way. Just what do you plan on doing with this, I wonder? I have a strong suspicion these colored jelly cubes end up in the bottom of bubble tea drinks, slurped up the straw along with the tapioca pearls….
First stop was the tinware and wok shop (don’t worry about specifics, there ten or more of these shops in the market). Woks range in size from domestic to something you could stirfry a whole tuna in. They also stock a whole range of pastry cutters (35 yuan ($5) for a graduated set of 12 circular cutters), baking dishes, cake tins, molds and cleavers. In other words, anything made from metal you might use in the kitchen.

I really loved this set of little brass spice scales for 32 yuan ($4.50). But given I’m not setting up a spice dealership anytime soon, I left them behind.

And next door, I couldn’t decide between the plate of plastic sushi or plastic noodles, all realistic and fresh looking. This market is also a great place to find Japanese style serving dishes, sake cups and platters (try Shop 148, the surprisingly named Cabaret Thing Company).

For beautiful copper and brass hotpots from Xinjiang in far western China, Shop 103 has an amazing selection, including these stunning enameled hotpots. I think I need to hold a hotpot party!

The inside of the market looks a little grim and industrial, but don’t be disappointed….

….because at Shop 176 you can buy everything you need to hold your own super fancy high tea, and should you be needing a chocolate fountain, well…they have those too. I’m pretty sure I’d win Mother of the Year if I came home from the shops with a chocolate fountain one day……

It’s surprisingly difficult to buy large flat white plates in Shanghai, and dinner sets are practically impossible. Bowls? No problem. But western-style plates are tricky. Not here though! They have dozens of styles lining the walls, all in matching seats with bowls, sideplates and serving dishes. So if you’re looking for a complete dinner set, this is the place to buy one.
The market also stocks espresso machines (from domestic to cafe size), proper kebeb skewers with wooden handles, juicers, blenders, food processors and KitchenAid mixers, baking trays, oven thermometers, sweets thermometers, cake decorating supplies, Esky brand eskies, aprons, napery, tea towels, and all kinds of professional kitchen equipment I can’t even tell you the names for. 
If you’re starving after covering what seems like several kilometres of shops, there is a great street food stall outside the entrance to the market. They sell a mutton bone broth with vegetables and tofu puffs served with a side of Shanghai style fried rice with finely chopped greens, 12 yuan ($1.80) for both. Simple, hearty, delicious. 

Shanghai Kitchen Market. The Big One.
QiLong Jiu Dian Yong Pin Shi Chang
(Qilong Hotel Equipment Market)

185 Tong Chuan Lu, near Lan Gao Lu

Open 7 days
Closest metro: Line 7 Lan Gao Lu Station

Northey Street Markets: Organic Hotspot

Northey Street is one place in Brisbane I couldn’t wait to get back to. I dream about the place when I’m in Shanghai, and imagine how good it will be to walk through it again on a cold winter morning. A weeekly organic farmers market is held there every Sunday, but Northey Street occupies a much bigger place in Brisbane’s heart. Known as the Northey Street City Farm, this large piece of fertile land just a short distance from the city centre was originally the site of several houses washed away in the 1974 Brisbane floods, and is now a huge community farm and garden, open to all.
In 1992, a group of friends interested in permaculture began searching for a place to develop as a community farm, and were eventually assigned the Northey Street site. Over the years Norther Street has grown from a flat grassy expanse into a glorious ramble of Australian native plants, fruit trees, vegetable gardens, herb plots, chicken pens and native bees. The weekly markets bring together a large Brisbane community who care about food, to buy organic produce, walk around the farm and see how it can be reproduced in a suburban backyard, eat delicious food, and learn about permaculture.

We were partway to developing our own permaculture set-up when we left for Shanghai, having just finished building our henhouse (the Chicken Hilton, as it was known), establishing a vegetable garden and installing a gray water system for diverting the washing machine water to the garden (Brisbane had just come out of its longest-ever drought – none of us knew another severe flood would follow it). So I love to visit Northey Street to see what might become of our garden when we return to Australia eventually. Bees are definitely on my list! 

The markets are superb and get better and better each year as more organic farmers and food producers contribute. Local cheeses, olives and meats are offered alongside seasonal herbs and vegetables. There’s always a stall selling the surplus produce from the farm itself. Children are an integral part of Northey Street’s community and every week the markets is filled with families. There are planting, potting and painting activities, a huge garden to run around, and a very popular rope swing hanging from one of the ancient mango trees.
My favourite part of the markets, without doubt, is the breakfast. Now there’s a surprise. Having got up at sparrow’s to get to the markets on time, once all the fruit and vegetables are bought it’s time to grab a hot cup of coffee and a crispy bacon, egg and spinach roll, then go and sit in the glorious winter sunshine in the garden. 

Northey Street Markets
Corner Northey and Victoria Streets, Windsor
Every Sunday from 6am

Permaculture courses and workshops: information here

Northey Street Edible Plants Nursery
Tuesday to Saturday: 9.00 am – 4.00 pm

Sunday: 6 am to 12 noon