From the bicycle park, I can see a dozen of cars trying to find parking spaces in front of the Central Market. Most of these cars are double-parked, with anxious owners inside looking furtively about for signs of the policeman who might come and book them. The car park is filled to capacity and it must be hell waiting for someone to leave so that one can park one’s car.
I, for one, am glad I do not have a car. A bicycle is much easier to park. So leaving my bicycle safely locked I step into the ground floor of the huge double-story market building.
The first thing that strikes me about the market is the din. Nowhere else in this world can one hear sounds quite like those that one hears in a market. It is a continuous droning of voices engaged in the business of buying and selling. Now and then this monotony is broken by the screech of the coconut grinding machine and the dull thump of crates being unloaded from lorries.
Right next to the entrance to the building are the vegetable stalls. They are arranged in two lines facing one another with a narrow passage-way in between them. The passageway is definitely too narrow. It is also perpetually wet and slippery from the constant spraying of water onto the vegetables by the vendors. I walk very carefully here.
All sorts of vegetables are available, for example, tomato, cucumber, celery, brinjal, string beans, and watercress. They look fresh and healthy. Some loud-voiced vendors advertise their goods by sporadically shouting whenever a potential customer approached. The silent ones wait patiently for their customers. I go straight to my regular vendor to get what I want. It is only some string beans and “choy-sum”. I leave the vegetable section as quickly as I safely can. Getting wet or slipping is not my idea of fun.
Exiting from the former section I step into an equally wet section the fish section. In addition to the wetness is a smell that is unmistakably “fishy’. Here, dozen of fish-sellers are arranged neatly in two’s and four’s to do their business. All kinds of fishes, prawns, crabs, and other seafood can be seen. Some stalls even have sharks and rays for sale. The fish-sellers regularly scrape ice onto the fish to keep them fresh.
As I am not buying any fish I walk briskly out of this section too and climb the stairs onto the second floor.
I emerge into the sundry section. Here it is at least dry, and the smell is totally different too. I smell dried-fish and onion, belacan and garlic. I like this section for its dryness and distinctive smell. I especially like to run my fingers on the goods sold here. Rice and beans have distinctive feels of their own. I purchase some salt and other sundry goods from my favorite vendor. He is a thin middle-aged Chinese man with a ready smile and a soft voice.
Next, I walk down the passageway onto the next section which is the fruit section. Ah, this is one of my favorite sections too. I can sample a grape or two for free. The vendors do not mind a little sampling provided it is within limits. We know what the limits are from experience. I buy a bunch of bananas.
Leaving the smell of fresh fruits behind me, I wander into the dining section where cooked food is sold. The variety is incredible, Rice alone, there are chicken rice, fried rice, “nasi beriani”, “nasi lemak” and others. Vendors of different races compete for side by side for customers. Eager hands motion me toward their stalls. I decline politely as I am not hungry. Many shoppers stop here to fill their stomachs as car be seen by their seated bodies hunched over whatever they are eating.
I descend the stairs, walk quickly past the noisy meat section and leave the market. I never find it pleasant to be in the market for too long. My ears ring incessantly from the din and my nose itches. Road traffic noise is more preferable. So I get onto my bicycle and leave the noisy market behind me.