A couple of years ago, I was visiting my friend Michael in Beijing, One day, he suggested I should check out the market in the Hutong area. He walks by every morning on his way to work and thought I would enjoy going there and take some photos.
The market starts from early in the morning till 11am. It was just a few minutes walk from where he lived. His neighborhood is full of all the fancy stores, high-rises and restaurants. Not to mention all the American brands like Starbucks, McDonald and Pizza hut and if without the Chinese faces, it could be any American cities. However the Hutong neighborhood with the gray color single story houses one has the feeling of walking into the centuries past.
At 9 am the market already in full swing. The sounds and the color were unlike anything I had experienced. Some sellers would call out what they had to offer, how fresh or tasty they were. The market was packed with sellers and shoppers. The sellers had all their goods spread out on the ground. They were some of the freshest produces I seen and were plentiful. There was live fishes, freshly butchered meat, fruits, vegetable and dry sea food. The sellers look like peasants from the countryside. They all had dark skins the result of working long day under the sun. Most dressed in padded jackets for the morning chill. Some brought their goods by bicycle carts; some in small motorized open trucks. The shoppers were equally interesting. Most of the shoppers were seniors from the neighborhood. Some came by foot but some came in bicycles. Many brought along their home made bamboo shopping carts. Some even brought their little dogs along. The pampered pets would ride in the basket instead of walking. One even rides on owner’s walker!
Everyone took the shopping rather seriously, moving slowly from seller to seller to look for the best produce with the best deal. Some just left their shopping carts or bicycles at the middle of the road while they carefully examine the goods. An old lady was carefully balance her newly purchased large watermelons on her bicycle. She tied them with red string two on each side of the back and on each side of the handle bar. Among this frenzy, I was able to move around freely and take photos without attracting any attentions.
Then I spotted the man with the pears He and his pears stood out among the other sellers: he has set up a red tent for his pears and displays them on a wooden cart. He has a hand written sign while most sellers don’t bother have one. They are the classic Chinese pears which is larger than the North American ones. They are pale yellow in color and size of a grape fruit under the morning sun they glow beautifully like jade carvings. As I approach his stand I noticed he was the only one wore glasses, he proudly told me the pears are the West Mountain Province and they are very good. I smile and picked up three. When I hand it to him to be weighted but he took one away, smile warmly and said this one is not a good one and right way pick up another one and said “this is a good one”. I thanked him and handed over the money. He asked where I was from which was surprised me how he could tell I was not one of the locals. I told him I am from Canada and nodded and smile, “Oh Canada, very good country”. As I walk away and think about this honest seller. He seems different than the other seller. As soon as I got home I try one of the pears. It was very juicy, crunchy and sweet.
After my first trip to the open market, I made a point to go at least every second day to shop or take photos. The next time when I went, I saw him again When he saw me he seemed to recognize me and smile and greeted me “Ni Hao”. I brought more pears from him probably more than I should have. However that was the last time I seen him. At my other visits, I looked out for him but he was nowhere in sight. Perhaps the pear season was over he went on to do something else.
watercolor on paper, 16’x24′