Friday, December 2, 2011

Fengjia Night Market 逢甲夜市

Just beneath Fengjia University, winding and scrawling in side streets and shopping mayhem, is one of the hottest spots in Taichung City: The Fengji Night Market.
You like Asian kitsch, do you? Well, you’ve come to the right place. No handicrafts or cool cultural relics to be seen here. No ancient traditional arts or one-of-a-kind keepsake souvenirs…nah…this place is all about cheap junk.
Human hair wigs and tick-tock Felix the Cat hanging alarm clocks, fuzzy dice high heel shoes and Sponge Bob Square Pants motor scooter helmets. Pass me down denim jeans and Christiano Ronolado satin jackets. It’s a trash seekers paradise.
I once heard a guy who works for…well, a very famous footwear company… who was joking about a mistaken order for 5,000 University of Oregon Beavers T-shirts, and how…well… “Looks like we’ll be selling them to Asia.” And yeah.. the Fengjia Night Market is where mistakes of the corporate world go to die.
Of course, one of the biggest draws of any night market in Taiwan is the street food, and it gets right in your grill. Fried pig’s blood pancakes and peppered frog’s legs, sautéed chicken’s feet and sheep’s blood stew, centipedes on a stick and live squid… you can even drink the ink.
But… I’ll pass on that… people watching is more my game, and here at Fengjia, you can spot all kinds of shoppers. From young college couples strolling arm and arm carrying bubble tea in little plastic bags (seriously, who drinks tea out of a small clear plastic bag?) to little children doing homework on side tables at midnight, to old men fanning themselves beside electric fans on the curb and old women pouring their cold noodle broth down open gutter grates into the running sewer. Sounds pretty cool, huh?
But to be fair, one of the nicest aspects of Fengjia, and this goes for almost any night market in Taiwan, is that the people are very friendly. Rarely do you encounter the “hard sale.” Market hawkers are very relaxed, and seem just as happy if you enter their store and purchase nothing than if you plop down a day’s salary on a faux designer handbag or knock off wrist watch.
Yes, that is very true… perhaps it is because each hawker also knows they are selling crap. I suppose there is something to that. The man who pushes magnetized stone balls to help alleviate palm stress or the woman displaying the divining rod just convincingly enough to not crack a smile… well, they seem more “in” on the joke than into making money off you.
And that’s another thing I like about Fengjia, I can disappear a little. Usually when I go out in Asia, I’m the attraction. Kids stop and stare, old women drip soup from their mouths as I pass… and when my kids are there, forget it. It’s a circus.
But because of all the other crap for sale… life size pink teddy bears wrapped in plastic and coin-up games blaring house music and street level KTV closets for people to step in and belt out a favorite song and just… commotion… I can slip into the cracks for an evening and not be bothered.
And that’s really the only thing people want, isn’t it? To enjoy themselves a little… to step out into the night and be around people and sound and noise and get lost in a bit of adventure. No danger. No hassle. Just small feasts for your eyes.
To be part of something that is just a little bit bigger and stranger and wilder than they ordinarily allow themselves to be… even if it is backwards and yucky.
At least, that’s all I want. So keep rolling out the kitsch, Fengjia. Keep hanging up your Homer Simpson Family Guy T-shirts and your USC Bruin hats… keep frying up that bubbling pig’s blood and hacking the heads off live chickens before dropping them in boiling oil. We’re ready for you. We love it. We came to Asia just for you.

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