David Rich 800 Words
M a r k e t D a y i n C h i n a
Every little Chinese village reverts to its capitalist roots with a super-psychedelic procession on market day. Market day occurs weekly at Wase, across Lake Erhai by boat from the ancient city of Dali. Our pagoda-style boat docked at Wase the exact instant a horse cart rolled by with a calf closely clasped by a colorfully dressed couple standing precariously in the rear. Actually she was colorfully dressed like all Naxi women no matter where they are or what they're doing, wearing a massive rainbow-colored headdress sprinkled with turquoise and gold glitter, whereas he was drab as a sparrow. A bright red apron was tied over her white tunic, pinned in the back with white leather strips covered by brilliant bull's-eyes, petite pigtails dangling out the centers. Her footwear was Reebok tennis shoes with four-inch soles. A bicyclist with a cage of four drooling pigs passed the mismatched couple in the horse cart as they tried to wrestle the uncooperative calf onto the narrow seat behind them.
The dowdy driver of a maroon van unloaded a Holstein yearling, black on white or vice versa, and pushed it into the back of a three-wheeled motorcycle truck. This menagerie was passed by a string of Chinese trucks powered by large raucous lawnmower engines, carrying heaping loads of marble, cement, and gravel stacked high over rickety sideboards. Naxi women dodged trucks as they carried tall wooden baskets worn as backpacks or braced with broad straps across their foreheads. The baskets were heftily laden with ginger and onions and sweet potatoes and every manner of vegetable, fruit, and mystery doohickeys ensuring aching backs and heads.
The large village square was cram-packed with prismatic fruits and veggies, off-loaded by Naxi maidens from double-stacked donkeys. Essences wafted from pastries baked on the spot, surprisingly delicious at six cents each. I devoured four hot ones stuffed with sugar and cinnamon, washing them down with a Pepsi.
Thus fortified, I followed the broadest narrow street jammed with anything and everything from horseshoes and crude farm implements to sidewalk barbers and dentists. Yes, a big cruel dentist was pulling a little kid's tooth, tears slipping down the kid's cheek as his mother sopped blood with wads of toilet paper. No anesthetic, much pain. I averted my gaze to the macabre advertisement on the dentist's table, three piles of teeth divided into tiny, medium, and gangly, bloody roots still attached. The bully dentist dropped another tiny tooth onto the first pile that sat next to a stack of gruesome forceps in sundry sizes. The kid grinned bravely, lopsidedly, and I felt a headache coming on as his mom patted him on the head, shreds of toilet paper stuck to the side of his rosy face.
I pivoted for a get-away and almost tripped over an obviously still nursing sow, fat teats barely clearing the ground. I gratefully followed her around the corner to a legion of piglets. Little white ones with pink floppy ears sat stuffed four to a basket while knotty black beasts with bristles roamed in pens, and the occasional spotted mammoth the size of a small barn shambled wherever it wanted. Potential buyers prodded and picked and upon consummation of a deal, grabbed pigs small enough to hoist by the hind leg and swung them squalling into the rear of garishly upholstered horse carts, the yellow, red and blue flowered fabric blotched with pig puke. Next to the pigs were cloistered longhaired goats and big brown chickens with long red combs whose eight fat heads stuck out a major hole in the bottom of a large yellow sack, and little puppies whose ultimate fate raised speculation in the mind.
The fabric and seed cubicles sat next to a meat market, displaying thick slabs of fatty pork and not much else beyond a blanket of friendly black flies that don't look particularly Chinese. Chinese ladies and unladies jostled each other to and fro in the fabric section where remnant specials overcame all inhibitions.
Hearing a shrill whistle, I snapped pictures with abandon, treading on ankles, avoiding frantic sales pitches, tiptoeing around pockets of muck, waving to recently acquired friends, looking for my wife in the company of new friends, knowing time was fleeting, camera batteries dying, and the only transportation across the lake was leaving pronto. I ran back across the Chinese checkerboard market and skipped behind the last row of plant and veggie vendors to begin a gauntlet of tethered beasts with dangerous hindquarters. As I teetered up the forty-five-degree, four-inch-wide gangplank, I snapped one last picture, the boat's power plant, two side-by-side three-pulley lawnmower truck engines with original steering wheels still attached. We bid bon voyage to market day, and I hoped I would never have to visit another dentist the rest of my life.