One of the places I like to wander around is the Yau Ma Tei wholesale fruit market. It is a very run down area on Reclamation Street.
Mrs. Ha had to go to the area today so I donned my chauffeur’s hat and grabbed my camera. Whilst she did her chores I entered the lion’s den. The market has a rather chequered past. Strangers are not always welcome. Today however the workers seemed to have their Sunday best smiles on and the sun had improved their demeanour. As I wandered in someone gave me a cheery greeting and a short while later a worker asked me to wait. He came back with a magazine. He apologised in his broken English (matching my Cantonese) that only a few pages were in English. It was a magazine produced to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the market last year.
The English article starts by saying that the writer had been warned off the place. It was a symbol of violence and crime. (I thought violence was a crime but no matter). It talks about triads demanding protection money, shady drug dealers and gangsters. One worker talking to the reporter describes the market as ‘very safe’. I guess it is all relative. The biggest fears today are seemingly rising rents and complaints from local residents about the noise. The impression I gain is that this is a place where the people work hard, the working hours are unsociable and the main relaxation is a game of mah jong or perhaps even a hand of cards after the fruit has gone off to the retailers. It looks like an island of history in a sea of sterile development.
Here are some of my shots from this morning. In the first one note the figure on the extreme right. Exhausted!
I sensed no hostility when I wandered around. I asked if I could go down some of the narrow alleyways and was waved on with a smile. The only looks of suspicion came from the dogs. One came to inspect me and his master immediately said ‘pung yao’ (friend). The dog snuffled a bit and lay down again. There may well be dastardly goings-on in the depths of the night or before daylight gropes its way over the murky horizon. Perhaps there are fruit fights, hand-to-hand combat with a loaded banana. The great durian war of 1924 all over again. (I made that up). Scoundrels pelted with rotting mangoes. Tattoos of exotic dragon fruit. Rusty locks and chains forbidding entry to the lifts that raise the workers into the upper lofts. What secrets are stored above the innocent piles of pomelo? The skeletons perhaps of those who had one fruit too many.
Will the market survive the grinding trudge of progress? I certainly hope so.