As you line up with hundreds, no thousands, of other hungry visitors, loud speakers announce that you will have a choice of 500 unique food items.
Deep-fried whole squid.
Fish on a stick.
Dragon’s beard candy.
Deep-fried Mars bars.
The list is endless.
Evelyn Lau’s poem “The Night Market” from A Grain of Rice (2012) captures the essence of being awash in this spicy, sweet assembly. It’s the Richmond Night Market, which runs every weekend from May until October near the Bridgeport Skytrain station. Richmond is famous for its night markets, including the original International Summer Night Market.
In Lau’s poem, the atmosphere is all-consuming. Even if you are watching your diet, the grease and starch simply cannot be resisted. You succumb to the boundless menu options posted above the vendors’ stands. Signs beckon and prompt with their oh so simple commands: “Order Here” and “Pick Up Here.”
Cooking smoke spills into the air, immersing the crowds and filling their lungs. The next morning at breakfast, you’ll still catch a whiff of the market perspiring from your pores.
Lau writes of one woman, visibly poor and “squeezed by hunger,” staring at curried fish balls (13). And while there is a feeling of compassion, the gentle speaker’s initial thought to buy this woman a meal is swept away amid the throng and feeding frenzy.
From the market, Lau spirals out to contemplate the larger consumer world, its potential for excess and irresponsibility. This pervasive ethos makes even the sunset above the market appear like a “tanker explosion / spilling across an oil-soaked sea” (13).
In a 2012 interview with poet Daniela Elza, Lau stated that what she loves most about writing is when a poem finally finds its authentic form: “After chewing over a poem endlessly in my head to feel like I have gotten it exactly right, there is nothing like that moment. Pure joy” (18).
“The Night Market” is one of these pieces, so stunning and provocative with each image and line. Carry it with you when you dine at the Richmond Night Market, and you’ll feel as though you are inside this poem.
Elza, Daniela. “Feature Interview with Evelyn Lau.” Wordworks Poetry issue (spring 2012): 17-23. Web. <http://roblucastaylor.com/Spring-2012-Wordworks-Poetry-Issue.pdf >
Lau, Evelyn. “The Night Market.” A Grain of Rice. Fernie: Oolichan Books, 2012. 13. Print.
Photos and Text Credit: Shelley Boyd