Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Marvelous Markets of Asia

     I wrote some time ago about a few delightful markets in the Western Hemisphere but Asia hosts even more extensive and varied opportunities for the shopper and for the tourist in general than anywhere else in the world. Some cities are actually markets themselves or at least originated for that purpose. This is especially true along the Silk Road stretching over the entire span of Asia where caravans took a full day to travel from one market town to another. In Pakistan the route follows what is now called the Karakorum Highway, a rough and precarious road which curls precipitously through some of the highest mountains in the world. Peshawar was one of the stopping places along that path and continues to be a center of commercial activity offering exciting opportunities for the adventurous tourists. One might hesitate to explore the city at this time however. The path then heads up through the mountains but today that area belongs to the Taliban and their friends so a pleasant visit to Besham or Gilgit or one of the other old  Pakistani market towns is inadvisable. The situation changes after the Chinese border is passed. One of the greatest markets one could ever visit is not too far after that. It is the city of Kashgar where an amazing variety of peoples from miles around gather on market day to sell almost anything imaginable. One can see vendors making ice cream while youngsters watch in fascination awaiting their turn to taste their favorite flavor. At the next table there might be a man tossing dough artistically preparing Uygur noodles much as a pizza maker in Naples would work his magic. Nomadic Khyrgiz bring their horses or camels to market while countless carts haul hay or building wood or other goods to be sold. Knife makers and hat makers, shoemakers and barbers line the streets and stalls for miles. Tajik, Han, Khyrgiz, Uygur and Uzbek speakers bargain among themselves in this sprawling assemblage of stands and stalls and booths. It is a wonderful place to visit. Additional old towns from the Silk Road can be followed all the way to Xian, China's ancient capital. If one heads out toward the West through Uzbekistan, other great cities that were markets along the Silk Road like Samarkand, Bukhara, and Tashkent offer wonderful tourist delights.

      The first exciting market I encountered in Asia was the Night Market in Chang Mai, Thailand. It opens as the sun goes down and fills with locals and tourists buying just about every kind of cloth imaginable, munching the goodies displayed all over on tables, and just having fun and socializing throughout the night. Bangkok also has an exciting market which is thick with people every night. The most surprising market I came upon was on a trip in Southern China. We had just left Lake Erhai in Yunnan and were heading to the city of Dali when the traffic stopped and we were surrounded by carts and bicycles and pedestrians, all of which were carrying goods for a multitude of uses. The people there were Bai farmers, there were no tourists in sight and the grounds were full of piles of wood for building, tools for farming and cooking, piles of hay for the animals and hundreds and hundreds of animals for sale. It was unquestionably the most kaleidoscopic scene imaginable primarily due to the brightly colored dress of the people assembled there. The Bai use red as the base color of their attractive outfits. I was transfixed by the scene as I walked through the market but I was definitely as much of a curiosity to the people there as they were to me. There was not another foreigner in sight.

      In most of rural Asia, markets are held on specific days so one goes to site A on Wednesdays and Site B on Sundays. I was most aware of that when I was visiting Inle Lake in Burma. Everything on the lake is either floating or on a small patch of grassy land no more than a couple of hundred meters long. Each day when I left my hotel, our little boat went to one market or other each of which was the central trading place of one of the diverse minority groups that live there. The dress of the people changed from one locale to the next, the goods varied distinctly, and the market hopping alone was worth the entire trip. It was surely more exciting than any mall one might explore at home.

      Of course, large cities have more permanent markets organized by the goods which are sold there. In Karachi, for example, there is an entire market area where only dates are sold. Just imagine rows and rows of stands all selling the same item. I could not figure out how people made choices in such a setting but I assumed there must have been a method. A block or two from the date stands was a section of the market featuring just metalware followed by another that featured cloth. That's the way it is throughout Asia.  I especially enjoyed the wonderful food markets that abound on the continent. In places like Hanoi or Port Moresby or Manila; people assemble, interact and buy and sell in vast food centers. One can get close to folks in such places and learn something about their way of life almost as well as in their houses. That is probably why I love markets so. Asia is certainly the place to visit them.

Dumpling Steamer Sales, Kashgar, China

1 comment:

Australia Visitors Vvisa said...

Everything you want to buy from food to fruits and from fishes to pork, beef meat is in the markets of Asia. That's why there are many good and delicious delicacies Asians has.