The Colour of Everyday Life

20130406-071320.jpgI’ve posted about the wet markets in Hong Kong before. These urban spaces can be colourful and lively, such as the market in Shatin pictured above, or they can be dead spaces lacking colour. Certainly from the outside, the facades that house the FEHD and ex-FEHD markets do not reveal the potential for the liveliness contained within.


Street view of Kowloon City Market

This liveliness lives or dies based on the creativity and values of those who inhabit these spaces. The ways that buyers and sellers interact is key. In contrast with those markets that are dead or dying, those markets that are alive are so because of the interactions that extend beyond the economics of buying and selling. Stalls where sellers offer tips on how to cook food, ask after relatives, call out to one another and to people who are buying are the busiest and most lively. These are places where social values, as opposed to economic values have a place. Social values add colour through the ways that exchanges occur.

Market sellers introduce and enhance the colour of the markets in other ways as well. The care with which they display their foods is one example. The trimming, stacking, sorting, hanging, and arranging evident in the photograph of Shatin market hints at the careful work that is required to produce these colourful places. Indeed, a fuller reference to the markets in Hong Kong is “Wet Market“. This name derives partially from the water used to keep the fish alive, but they are also called wet markets because of the way that stall owners use water to keep the fruits and vegetables fresh and clean in the absence of refrigeration and plastic wrap. As water touches the skins and leaves of the fruits and vegetables the colour is enhanced. Unlike in western supermarkets where water is electronically sprayed via a timer, this is water that must be carried to the stall for this purpose and poured by hand. It washes over the food and pools onto the floor or the street and thereby converts a dry, dirty, and dusty space into an enlivened space of vivid hue.

Water is not the only material used in the markets to enhance the colour of the foods displayed. Red lights in the markets take on slightly different meaning in this context compared to the western connection to prostitution, though in both cases it is flesh that is for sale. The red lights, which are ubiquitous in Hong Kong, are used by the market traders to enhance the colour and freshness of beef and pork. Red is also a colour of luck, so perhaps this is also part of the reason they are used. Either way, these light fittings are like fly paper for photographers who then litter the internet with the compelling colour that they produce. The images, like the smell of Proust‘s madeline, instantly conjure up memories of everyday Hong Kong for those who stumble across them.


If you would like your own market light, made in ceramic rather than plastic with options for swivelling and in green, see this one by Chen Siu Wa Match here. Of course you can also find the traditional, and much less expensive red ones in Mong Kok on reclamation street.

If you are visiting Hong Kong and would like a private tour Little Adventures in Hong Kong offers a service. You can find them here. If you are here for a bit of time and would like to know the markets a bit more Soulgirl lists a number of places where you can get a cooking lesson and a tour of one of the markets on the Island here.

Alternatively, if you would like to see the markets and are keen to explore, leave me a comment and perhaps we can work something out. I can prepare you a self guided tour, or maybe even join you for some of the time depending on my work schedule.

This post is also written in response to wordpress’s weekly photo challenge, which is focused on colour. You can find the challenge here.

How to reference this post

Blake, M (2013) The Colour of Everyday Life. 6 April 2013 (Accessed: insert date accessed here)

17 thoughts on “The Colour of Everyday Life

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  8. We had the same thought for this week’s challenge 🙂
    I enjoy visiting markets – and of course buying the fresh produce at them.

    • Thanks for your comment. Yes markets are really wonderful places. I find it interesting that the displays in your photos are different to the ones in mine. Different objects and different practices I guess. Are those tomatoes in the basket? How do they taste? I miss a good tomato.

      • Yes, they are tomatoes – and they tasted far better than the ones I buy in my local supermarket. They would as they are tree ripened.

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