Street Markets



I love Chinese street markets. There are plenty of modern supermarkets and shopping malls if you want to take the bar-coded and shrink-wrapped route. But something about a genuine street market has its own appeal.  Street markets are slowly dying off due to more modern alternatives.

Pretty much every area had its own street market – a one stop food shopping bazaar.  The food was quite fresh. Fish were sold live from aerated tanks on the ground. The farmers trucked in their fruit and vegetables each day.

We had an Uyghur family who had built an outdoor brick oven and baked the best round, crusted flatbread. Another fellow would carve off pieces of meat from a freshly butchered dog, if you were soi inclined. Dog meat, (gou rou) is a popular dish in Northeast due to the influx of nearby Koreans – although Chinese and Koreans alike enjoy the dish.

A street market is a good place to practice your beginning Chinese. One thing though, don’t negotiate prices with farmers. Farmers have a tough life. They might only clear a few thousand RMB for all their labors. So, please don’t ask them to take less. If you think the price is too high, just walk away.

Now, once in a while a vendor might take advantage of your foreign status and poor language skills. I had a vendor who would always charge me four RMB per half kilo for plums when  my wife was there and seven RMB when she wasn’t. Just an an experiment one day, I brought a stack of one RMB bills and bought four RMB worth of plums. She said nothing, just held out her palm and waited for me to place the money in it. I just laid down one bill after another. Four, seven. ten, fifteen, nineteen, stop.  She never said “enough”, just happily accepted all that I put down. I scooped up my money from her hand, left her and her plums behind, never to return. It’s rare, but it happens.

Sometimes you might encounter a scam. One day, my wife and I went to the market. I found a nut salesman with a crowd gathered around him all abuzz over his wares. I asked him how much for one half kilo, (one Jin). He quoted me a price that was low, but not ridiculously low.

My wife stopped by as he handed me the nuts. Only now the price had went up tenfold. I protested but my wife said to pay him and keep walking. Once clear of the crowd she told me this was a trick. The “crowd” was really other farmers and if you did not pay them the new price, (which they claim to have clearly stated) then they would loudly berate you and follow you through the market shouting insults.


In retrospect, the clues were there. The “crowd” was not dressed like the residents of the area, they dressed like farmers. The crowd gathered around the nuts were buzzing, showing approval, clawing through the nuts and making a scene. But not one of them was holding a bag filled with nuts nor did anyone buy any. Live and learn.

Not every market experience will be pleasant. But, it only happened once in nearly a decade.




About Ken Hayes, M.Ed.