Friday, January 04, 2008

Night Market - A Sibu Sub Culture

We grew up knowing that the best prices one can get are from the Night Market or Pasar Malam.

By five o'clock, High Street, Market Street,Channel Road and Lembangan Lane and the other lanes would be full of gas tanks,makeshift flourescent tubes, stacks of bamboo steamers, trolleys,huge umbrellas, low tables and goods of a thousand kinds. It is like a magical kingdom, without the cave coming to life! Shouts could be heard every where, the cars would be blasting their horns to ask the milling crowds to make way for some unloading or uploading. Children would be running happily around. And this is a scene which has been happening for the last forty years. And to some people, it has been a lifetime.

The Pasar Malam or Night Market is a way of life in Sibu, a sub-culture to sociologists or anthropologists, an alternative business to the economists. Samuelson might not have thought of this system of supply and demand as his white Caucausian background would not have brought his studies beyond a New York High Street or a town square or a huge middle class farm.

A night snack can be had for only twenty sen, a nice t-shirt for about 9 ringgit and one could still have a good bargain without getting a dirty look from the vendor. And there is a lot of laughter in the buying and selling. No one gets offended. I like doing business like that. Bargaining is a style of life, and an art. Both sides know their prices and when a bargain is strike they are happy that they have reached the optimum steal.

People of all races come to the Sibu Pasar Malam. And the night hawkers are always in for a good sale. So every customer is a good customer. Having an attitude like that, these hawkers are winners every night. And perhaps because of this very attitude, the pasar malam of Sibu lasts for so many decades.

This kind of pasar is run is like a flea market in Europe, a large community garage sale in America or a Sunday Market in other parts of Malaysia. However, the goods in Sibu Pasar Malam are brand new,not second hand and furthermore many of the business people are proper tradesmen by day. Some might even be shop owners who have shops in another part of Sibu. The pasar malam is an avenue for them to generate hard cash in a few hours, without having to pay a high rent or employ an extra helper. So in a way, the night market stalls help them to earn that extra income to cover expenses and bring up the profits.

I know of one clothing shop lady who went on to open up a big boutique for several years. But when hard times fell on her, she went back to her night market stall. According to her, it is good business sense to revert back to her original style as she could earn a bigger profit. And she missed the camaderie of her night market fellows. And she is ever so happy trading at night!!

A whole generation of people have grown up with the pasar malam of Sibu. Some of the vendors have already sent their children overseas and some have even migrated to Australia!!

Some of the children have helped out their parents, thus having hands-on experience or industrial training, fell in love and married and set up stalls in the night market, perhaps selling another kinds of goods. My favourite stalls are the steamed buns, nyonya kuih, cakes and bread stalls. The whole street is full of them and there are more than 20 to choose from. But you know who your best pow seller is and he never fails you.

There is always comfort in buying from someone whom you know won't cheat you. And no branding or ISO_2000 can beat that.

Features of a good pasar malam: good food, low prices, cleanliness, fast service,friendly,an emporium of goods ( from artificial plastic flowers to disposable underwear, from small safety pins to a hunting lamp or fishing rod),conveniently situated,trustworthy hawkers,all goods at eye level (no high shelves ) and arm's length,non-threatening atmosphere,good free advice from the hawkers,and history of a wonderful business centre which exudes Malaysian racial harmony and joy,etc

Sometimes when you have travelled far and wide, going back to the Sibu Pasar Malam to buy just a kompia (local Foochow hard unleaven sesame covered bread) is like coming home to warm embrace of your old hometown.

3 memories:

Unknown said...

Night market in Sibu today is quite different form that of yesteryears. It used to be more colourful. I remmembered they even sell balloons filled with hydrogen gas. Soem of the stall now are still the same and operated by the same people.

FrancisN said...

I have good memories of the Sibu night market. Just being there window shopping or more like stall shopping was unimaginable.

I have been to many night markets but Sibu has that home feeling to it.

Before the night markets came around, the only times stalls came on to the streets were during festivals.

I love the old Sibu market on High and Market streets. What nostalgia!

I Am Sarawakiana said...

thank you for dropping by. I love the night market and a visit to one is often considered therapeutic to me. The smells, the mixture of noises and the colours are just so comforting.

Sometimes even looking at some of the traditional cakes make me feel that life has not spun out of control. And we are still part of the old universe!


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