Bearing Fruit

Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market

13 Nov 2016, Hong Kong


One that would have the fruit must climb the tree.
                                                                   - Thomas Fuller

Before the break of light, a small army of men, bare-shirted and heavy-bellied, roll up the shutters and begin the long hours of stacking, sorting and selling fruit in Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market, Hong Kong. 

The entire market is given over to fruit in all shapes and sizes, and so, unlike most markets where the raw aroma of meat cuts across the palate, here it always smells delicate, fragrant; an aroma of distant countries gathered into cornucopia. 

Against traffic, undaunted, the work never ends. 

Perhaps some of them live in back rooms, in secret lofts, dreaming of the tropics in the company of crates of pineapples and grapes. 

Into the secret place bananas go, keeping high, living slow. 

Always surrounded by boxes, unyielding, piled like walls that slowly undo themselves into the goodness of a sliced fruit platter in some distant hotel. 

Before customers, before the next chapter of the too-long day, there is always time for a game or three of mahjongg. 

The market is more than a century old. Founded in 1913, it spans Ferry Street, Waterloo Road and Reclamation Street, with Shek Lung Street passing through it. 

The empty pallets are stacked as high as they can go before returning to be reloaded. 

The market has been declared as a Grade II Historical Building, and just a few weeks prior to this photo, a fire swept through a section of the market, leaving a swathe of blackened stalls and burnt fittings in its wake. Apparently, it was caused by a worker doing welding in an ice storage facility.

When I visited, business was already back to normal, sans the affected stalls, which have been hoarded up. One thing that fascinated me about the market was that it was mostly locals who were working the ground. Unlike similar places in Singapore, where most of the manual labour is done by foreigners. It spoke of a certain pride of place and desire to carry on in a physically demanding business.

Along with that dogged determination comes an unspoken camaraderie amongst the market men, formed over the course of long years from rolling carts down aisles in the ever-humbling work of stacking and sorting the bruised from the beautiful; the seeded, and the seedless.