I like going to morning wet markets. There is a lot to see and observe about the people there – the way they carry themselves, their purchase choices and how they interact with one another. I find it fascinating, especially in a multiracial, multicultural nation like ours.
The morning wet market I frequently visit is at Sea Park, Petaling Jaya. Now there’s nothing extraordinary about this market compared to others in the country – it is crowded, noisy and smelly. However, when I visited it yesterday, it resembled a fun fair – the sea of people flooding the area was unbelievable, made the merrier with tanglungs hanging overhead and the heart-thumping beat of ‘doom-doom-cha doom-doom-cha’ playing in the background.
It is Chinese New Year tomorrow! A-ha, patutlah the suasana meriah sekali! Capitalising on the festivities were many new traders who popped-up from nowhere, some even without the prerequisite stalls but employing other amusing means to display their goods.
I saw this one uncle selling inner garments from a van. He had bras and panties of every colour and size on display inside. The women milling around were understandably ecstatic with the choices before them and were eagerly examining the merchandise, haggling with the trader for the best price.
While watching them, I couldn’t resist imagining the dialogue that would ensue later that night in their homes: “Lao Po, you look sexy in that lingerie. Is that from Victoria Secret?”
“No-lah Lao Gong, it’s from a van.” And then there was an uncle who was busy emptying boxes of shoes from his old Proton Saga. Take a guess where he displayed his items – yup, on the car itself! It was a sight to behold! The entire vehicle from bonnet to boot was covered in stilettos, pumps, platforms and flip-flops. He had something for everyone. This reminded me of my childhood when mom used to wash all our school shoes and sport shoes and arrange these atop dad’s car so they dried quick. Simply classic!
Next I saw an apam balik seller operating from a minivan. His stall was the only one without any customers. Since I was in the mood for a sweet treat, I approached the abang and made my order.
“Abang, apam balik satu, extra kacang dan extra, extra jagung,” I said. As he was busy making my order, I asked curiously, “Business macamana hari ni?”
He smiled, “I baru kat sini. Kawan cakap business bagus. Tapi tak banyak customer-lah. Ini kan kawasan Cina, jadi I rasa customer Cina lebih suka beli daripada orang dia sendiri.”
As I paid for my snack, a few Chinese customers began queuing-up next to me awaiting their turn to place their orders. I looked at the abang and smiled. He returned my smile, presumably embarrassed of his racially tinged remark earlier. Perhaps if he knew the area well enough, he wouldn’t have said it.
I mean, among the many places I have lived before (including Penang), this neighbourhood is the perfect model of what I personally aspire for Malaysia. I have witnessed for myself, a kopiah-wearing old pakcik selling orchids opposite stalls selling pork. I have seen a tudung-clad makcik selling karipap and nasi lemak next to a Chinese aunty selling non-halal noodles. It’s the same with Muslim customers too, who do not hesitate strolling past stalls selling bakwa, frogs and pork. Everyone is genuinely accepting of each other and extremely friendly despite our differences.
I’ve had some pretty memorable times at this market too. Take yesterday for instance. At one point, I found myself gridlocked in a sea of sweaty bodies when two groups of market goers from opposite sides of the market merged in the centre. With elbows poking into each other’s ribs, and shopping bags bulging at our sides, one petite aunty who was among us said something exceptionally delightful.
“Don’t worry, just squeeze. You squeeze, I squeeze, everybody also squeeze. Being Malaysian is all about squeezing.” What an amazing analogy – “Being Malaysian is all about squeezing each other”. And it is so true, for Malaysians “squeeze” not only in the market, but also at the mall, on the streets, at pasar malams, in the lifts, trains, buses, LRT stations, – my gosh, most of our time is spent squeezing each other since the practice of queuing has never really caught on here.
However squeezing has its benefits too. Very often, when caught in situations like these, we find ourselves making eye contact with those nearest us, offering a smile, extending a greeting or apologising for stepping on their foot.
In such close proximity, we notice little things about others too – their hairdos, their complexions, the perfume they’re wearing, their mannerism. We wonder about their ages, their lifestyles, and we peek at their shopping trollies, surveying their purchases and thinking about the meals they will cook for their families later at home.
These bits and pieces of information give us some insight, no matter how vague of the people we share our space with in this community, and somehow make us more tolerant and respectful of them.
Personally, I have found inspiration for some of my most meaningful stories in the most common places ever – hospitals, lifts, schools, streets and yesterday, in a market.
I guess this is where the spirit of Malaysia lives – among ordinary folk.To all ordinary Malaysians, I wish you a wonderful celebration. May this year of the monkey bless you with good health and prosperity.
Gong Xi! Gong Xi!