Drugs, triads and a bit of fruit on the side

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.

Reclamation StreetMrs. 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!



Retail Fruit



FruitI 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.


23 thoughts on “Drugs, triads and a bit of fruit on the side

  1. I love the B/W images, they’re far more gritty, they sort of echo the magazine writer’s description.

    Glad you found it a friendly place, without any violent veg 😉

  2. Andrew this looks like a great place to shoot with an interesting past. Some nice images with what I can only assume is the Leica. Love the first image and I even really like the colour ones. Hope you get to explore this area a bit more…definitely a few gems surreptitiously hidden in the cracks.

    • All with the M9 and a 35mm 1.4 Lux ASPH, Kaushal. It has LOTS of potential. I’d like to shoot it around dawn if I could. There would be a lot more activity.

  3. I like all the images, they certainly tell a story. My imagination is now in overdrive wondering what really has gone on there. For me, there is an element of Bladerunner about the pictures. I agree with Kaushal, I hope you can explore this area a bit more, it’s got something really edgy about it that I like. But next time you go, take a banana with you just in case…..

  4. Much more exciting than our Gib market. It got a makeover a few years ago which has made it even more bland, although I can often dabble with the exotic and buy fresh peas there. Vicky sums up the B&W ones well, but I also like the Del Monte one too. That may just be because we used to sell Del Monte and our larder was full of tins of peaches and pears and fruit salad. Oh, mandarin oranges too.

    • I took that because in the late 80s I was part of a team that financed a management buyout of Del Monte. Went round all their factories. I always think of that deal when I see their logo. Old places are great for photography but I’m sure Mr(s). Health & Safety can’t be far away.

  5. I really love the black and white shots of local people – they are the sort of thing I would use to create collages or use as inspiration for creative writing. There’s a kind of broadsheet magazine news item quality to them – do you ever submit anything like this anywhere?

    • I have had a few images used over the years, Jenny but generally it is a case of people seeing them and asking if they can use them. I rarely submit my shots anywhere but the blog. The local calendar has used a few in the past. The bird shots get more attention than the people ones.

  6. A very interesting place. I loved seeing the mahjong game in progress. It looks so much more messy than when we play.
    And, by the way, that was no banana, that was my nose.

  7. Gee Del Monte is every where. Had no idea. I buy Del Monte fruit here at my local HEB along with the Dole brand. But we get lots of produce from Mexico and Chile. I just finished a batch of grapes, from Chile, in the dehydrator and the resulting raisins are so good.

    But aside from that little irrelevent tidbit, I like all the monochrome or B &W- whatever the preference. The most interesting of course is the photo of the gamers in deep concentration. Very nice series of street shots.

    • Hi Ruth. I went about 10.15 in the morning and already everything had mostly died down but there was still some activity going on. Mostly clearing up I guess. The Del Monte shot looked nothing like that through the camera lens – it looked almost pitch black but the magic of Lightroom brought the shadows up. Some of the gates are filthy and I ended up with grime all over my sleeve leaning through the grating to get the Del Monte shot. I usually don’t just walk up to the groups and shoot. I hang around for 10 minutes and they forget the weird gweilo. I can play mahjong so I think they realise I understand the game and who is doing what. Your post is interesting too. I think your research may have been using the same source.

      • Hi Andrew, it definitely helps if you can blend in – when I was walking through the market I didn’t have any intentions of buying or playing mahjong, so everyone was noticing that I was hanging around on my own. That didn’t make for good pictures in the end. The alleys were all deserted too, so I gave up after a while. I’d love to go back (and then I’ll buy some fruit too) and it seems that a morning time is definitely better than a late afternoon! I’ll try and look out for the Del Monte sign, I like it!

  8. I didn’t know that there was a ‘dark’ side to the Yau Ma Tei wholesale fruit market. I remember passing by it from across the street (Reclamation) when I was in HK with my folks last year and was struck by the busy activity on the outside. Nice to have a peek into what goes on inside 🙂
    Great Durian War would have been a massacre with high rates of mortality! Maybe secret messages were passed through bananas (http://www.thekitchn.com/lunch-surprise-write-a-secret-154283)!

    • The banana idea is good. When we were kids we were taught we could write in invisible ink. We used lemon juice. It doesn’t show on the paper but if you heat it you can see the writing. I’m told urine works too but I haven’t tried that (yet!!).
      I think I may have to write the history of the Great Durian War 🙂

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