Friday, October 9, 2009

The wet market in Singapore - personal reflections

The wet market is a strange thing. It is noisy dirty, smelly and of course wet. Yet, at the same time, it is strangely welcoming. I am there early on Sunday morning in my scruffiest, and I am suddenly 'at home'.

I see a paediatrician I know, and some old contacts from the university. He is waiting for his wife, so I know she has been in much earlier than me. Then there's that couple from church, who are trying to get their marketing done before morning service.

The fishmonger yells something at me, but I ignore him. The stalls round the back are much better. I avoid the vegetable stall I used to frequent. I stopped going there when the brother took over the stall after their mother passed away from diabetes. They had a falling out and he brutally pushed her out of the business. I go to the other stall now. Also they have a wider range of vegetables. I used to buy some breakfast soya bean for the vegetable lady because she once told me she didn't have a chance to grab breakfast. The pork lady greets me but I tell her I don't need any this week. Once I used to call them auntie. Now the seniority is reversed. It used to irk me, but I kinda enjoy it now.

The wet market is a strange thing. I think it is our equivalent of the village square. The community meets, says hello and move on with their lives. It's a reference point for their week.

I don't believe the wet market produce is necessarily cheaper than the supermarkets. They may provide a better freshness for the money spent. But for me, those are not the issues. For me, it's the life of the community it represents. I don't begrudge the extra dollar the fruit woman makes, nor that I can get cheaper prawns at Giant's down the road. These are ordinary folks making an honest living. They work hard, and like us, they do need to put their children through schools, and pay their hospital bills.

I feel privileged to intersect my life with theirs on that precious occasion when I wander down to the wet market. I get to know of their pains and struggles. Their domestic politics. Their joy when one of their sons graduate from university. Their anxieties when one gets called up to national service. Or fails an exam.

We lose our wet markets at a cost to our soul. This is not something the supermarket can replace.

The gahment would be wise to heed the concerns of the people on this particular issue.

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