The first time I went back to China after initially leaving, I was eight years old. I spent the entire summer with my grandparents, and once early along my grandma took me to the outdoor market with her when she went to go buy groceries.
I hated it.
The whole place smelled like a combination of fish and crowded human bodies. Liquids of unknown composition ran in black dribbles beneath our feet, and no matter how carefully I walked I could not avoid the brush of flies’ wings on my bare legs. The Chinese spoken by the merchants sounded different from the genteel variety my parents spoke, and filled my ears with a rough foreign buzz.
But fast forward a decade or so, and I have come to love outdoor markets–they are one of my favorite things about so-called “developing” nations. SARS be darned, I could spend all day browsing the stalls, sampling the foods, observing the different kinds of people.
In Mexico, a market like this is called a tianguis, and they often only come to their certain locations on a single day of the week, like a vanishing city. It’s amazing how an empty street or parking lot on that day of the week can be transformed.
I wonder now, if my children grow up in the polished aisles of Kroger or Stop ‘N’ Shop or even the industrial caverns of Costco, how can I teach them to love this sooner? How can I teach them to ignore the smell, ignore the flies, and open their eyes to the colors and flavors of fruit and of human life?
How can I teach them to open wide for all there is to taste? For at least in Mexico, every vendor gives samples if you just ask–pineapple cidar, cups of pomegranate seeds with lime and chile pepper, walnut and chocolate croissants…second to church this is my favorite part of every week.
Who knows. I guess I hope my own joy will be contagious.