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Night Market

Everglade's picture

“Smells good.” “Keep up! It’s too crowded here. We have to stick together.” “That’s 5 dollars. Spicy or mild?” Noises of people chatting in various languages. A Latin jazz band played at the end of the street. A girl gave out questionnaires and orange bracelets that said “Latin Jazz for All”. I had to carefully avoid food dripping on the ground when I struggled a way through the throng.


It was Night Market in Chinatown. I went with several Chinese friends, hoping to find some reminiscence of my life back in China. Among many Mexican food stalls there were some Chinese ones, though not run by Chinese people. And it was the first time that I saw people in such density in America, so that reminded me of China, too. But it was just different, not what I expected of a night market.


Night markets, originated in Asia, are street markets for people to stroll, shop, and eat, and are more leisure compared to more businesslike day markets. Vendors gather every night. Besides food, there are many other every-day life objects: in residence neighborhoods, they sell pajamas and plants; in tourist sights, there are cultural products like paintings, stamps, and Peking Opera performances; around schools, one can find jewelries, card games, and comic books. Food relieves the weariness of shopping and walking around, and shopping is an enjoyable thing to do while eating. For many people, going to a night market is a relaxing and entertaining choice for a walk after diner.


Here at Philly, it was turned into a festival. There weren’t many shops, but merely food, beer, and music. I got a flier that said “EAT. PLAY. LOVE.” New York Times reviewed it as “the best way to experience Philadelphia’s still surging street food scene”. True, the food was much liked. People lined up in long queues for some food trucks, and drank around small tables on the street. Someone put a stereo on the street and two young men started dancing hip hop. It seemed to me that the night market here got rid of the business part, leaving perfect elements for a street party, so it was no work and only play.


But when I got home and did a little research, I found another difference. In China, night markets are spontaneous and unregulated; in the US, most night markets are organized by nostalgic Asian and are in Chinatown. However, the ones in Philadelphia are organized by a nonprofit, The Food Trust, and take place several times a year in different lively neighborhoods. This time it just happened to be in Chinatown. The vendors pay to get in, and there are so-called platinum/gold/silver sponsors—they get different treatment according to how much they pay, like whether they can have their brands printed on the stalls. It is a lot more businesslike than I thought. There is work in it, not only play.


The organizers of Night Market Philadelphia just takes the form of “street market at night”, but changed almost everything else: the food is not Chinese food, and they take away other every day goods and add bear and music to make it a festival. This is critical play to me, an exotic activity making changes to fit in local culture and interests.


And remember the Latin Jazz band? It didn’t just decide to drop by and play for fun. It is a member of an organization called AMLA, which promotes the development and understanding of Latin music in the Philadelphia area. There on the street of Chinatown, during an activity that originated in China, a Latin Jazz band is challenging something. Is it necessary to make the night market exactly the same as it is in China? Is it better to keep it the same in order to be authentic or to make some changes and add in some local elements?