Markets in south west China

Everywhere in the world, people buy, people sell. In the muslim countries I visited, the bazaars are often situated in long covered alleys, sheltered from the heat. In Kashgar, the famous sunday market offers endless opportunities to stroll in a maze of passageways and around large open spaces packed with cattle where the local Uighur settle their transactions. But there are also small markets, in small towns, where people from surrounding villages, often from different ethnic groups, converge every 5 or 6 days. Women from each nationality have wear the traditional dress, often very colourful. One of these small markets, in a small town in Guizhou, a province in the south of China, was fascinating ...

My small, cold hotel room overlooks the streets. I woke up to the noise of ducks, squealing pigs, roaring trucks and tractors. It's market day and the small town is jam packed with sellers and buyers from nearby villages. Buses come from the main road, the roof loaded with ducks or chicken packed in bags or bamboo cages, vegetables and sometimes a dead pig. From the smaller roads come trucks and tractors, full of people, and from everywhere converge more people on foot. Many balance two cages tied to a yoke on their shoulder, with more ducks and chickens inside, amongst them a man pulls along a buffalo, oblivious of its fate. Piglets sometimes arrive in baskets at the back of a bicycle.

Soon the small town is teeming with people. They come from two ethnic groups. The Miao or Hmong are related to the Mong of Laos and Vietnam, and in this area all Miao women wear blue colours. Women from the other ethnic group, the Gejia, wear an white and orange headdress. Market day is not only time to sell or buy, but also a chance to get a haircut or a tooth fixed. It is also the occasion for the people to meet, so the best dress is mandatory, especially for young girls. It is a misty cloudy dull day, typical of Guizhou, but the colours are nevertheless striking.

Gejia or Gelao people in Guizhou

Space is scarce, every single street is busy. The river is low at this time and stalls even spread on its rocky bed. I join the queue to walk across it on the stepping stones, and reach the area where Miao women in blue and black busy make, embroider and sell red and blue baby hats with silver decorations, red caps for young boys. Stalls of blue and white scarves join this colourful dispaly. A little further is a group of men. Each brought his singing bird in a cage and all are squatting or standing around the cages looking fascinated, listen with great attention. Next to this are sold ducks and geese in small bamboo enclosures, chickens with their legs tied up, pigs tied to a stake by a rear leg squealing while pulling on the rope, rabbits that say nothing and miserable looking dogs. The most unlucky animals will meet later in the cooking pot. A little further is the meat market, no place for the faint hearted. Nothing is hidden, the slaughter is done in front of the customer. A pig lies on a stall, slit open in half lengthwise and all organs neatly exposed or hung on a railing above it. The buffalo I saw earlier is not far, it's lying on the ground, it has just been bled in a corner. Hungry ? good, soups are served next to this at some small food stalls and a little further Miao ladies in blue sell green vegetables : could'nt you hope for fresher products ? Spices ? no problem, just pass the vegetable stalls.

Then I come to the main street, lined with stalls of all sort : watches, clocks, soap, washing powder, shoes, clothes, anything. People try to move through a solid crowd, like this man struggling to push a wheelbarrow with a dead pig on it. Straight across is a small square, and the section for clothes, embroidered headdresses, black velvet and more fabrics in all shades of blue. Black, blue and orange colours dominate the scene. I turn on another street where I find dentists, at work behind a table lined with teeth and solutions. Sometimes the drill is driven with with the foot by a mechanism derived from old sewing machines. RRRRrrrrr.... Up the same street are sold bed frames. fancy a haircut next to someone selling rat poison, with live rats trotting on bamboo frame ?Back towards the centre of town, I come across the barbers. Right next to someone getting a haircut is a stall of a different kind. Standing behind a table covered with dead rats, while live rats trot on a bamboo frame, a man in a uniform is speaking in a microphone, he is selling ratpoison. I continue, passing a lady getting an accupunture treatment at a stall of traditional medecine, a doctor with explicit models of the human body, and I am back to the poultry section. I see behind it that the buffalo has been taken care of : only some skin is left in the corner.

I return to the clothes market, as I had missed one corner of the small square leading to narrow streets where sellers of charred wood and metal tools gather. Further on a bridge a few men are sitting, selling some ropes. A large group surrounds an artist. He is painting flowers or bamboo on a white board with his finger and the help of a small baloon, using what looks more like wet mud or earth than paint. While talking with the admirating crowd, he wipes away each painting and he starts another immediately. Just around the corner, women are sitting against a wall on small stools, their faces hidden under a scarf. They are reading the future in the hands of other women, sitting in front of them.

It is mid-afternoon and people are starting to leave town. I walk to a street where trucks and tractors are parked. Men and women squeeze in at the back, standing on bags among baskets and furniture. A few more are sitting on top of the cabin. Others are hanging on the sides or at the back of the truck. One after the others, the trucks leave with their load of people and products. Other villagers return on foot carrying their burden, sometimes a few chicken in each hand, sometimes a heavy bag of rice on the back. By dusk, the streets are empty. I share a hotpot with locals in a little restaurant, then I return to the same cold, damp room of my concrete hotel.

after the market, villagers go back to their village

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