I fight my way out of the bus and into the morning heat of Taipei. As soon as your feet land on the pavement you can smell the market. Cooking aromas mingle with the smell of fish, freshly cut meat, fruit, vegetables and sweat.
The convenience store provides momentary air-conditioned relief from bustle outside and a sometimes cheery, always nasal greeting; “Huan ying Guang lin!”
Armed with my ice-cold bottle of water I cross the road and dive into the market, dodging scooters, produce trucks, market goers and others, who like me are just passing through because it’s the shortest route to their destination.
Past the fish stall crowded with buckets of fish on ice, the meat stall strung with varied cuts of meat, pig trotters and white glossy stomachs, the breakfast shop lined with rows of sandwiches and the fruit stall, where the owner sits slicing fresh mango for customers.
The vegetable stall holder sits atop a stack of cardboard boxes. She is wearing a large cone shaped straw hat and long flowery cotton sleeves. Designed to avoid tanning.
A lot of women wear something similar when they drive a scooter. The sleeves usually leave a small gap where they end and the actual shirt sleeve begins. I wonder if this results in a thin band of tanning on the upper arm…
I cross another small road, avoiding more scooters and mobile food stalls being wheeled into the market by their owners.
There is a small bridge before I reach the rear gate of my university which I share with the early morning elderly, out to exercise, practice their Taichi moves and to brandish their umbrellas, come rain, hail or shine.
It’s a battle of wills in the stand off to see who will give in first and walk on the road side. Usually the umbrella-ed masses win.
By ten o’clock the market is winding down and the early morning elderly have moved on. The bustle of the market is gradually replaced by traffic of a different kind. While many of the smells linger and the card board boxes remain, the street is only truly alive during the early hours of the market.