Night markets are found in many places of the world, but my only experiences with them are in China and Taiwan, where they're both tourist attractions and a way of life. Beijing, Shanghai, Taipei, etc. all have several; most guidebooks list locations, but you'll probably want to go with an experienced friend if you can. The night markets open at various hours and often don't get lively till 9 or 10 pm or so, when things will get really crowded. There will be food stands of familiar snacks and unrecognizable things-on-sticks, live animals, pirated goods ranging from Hello Kitty to Prada, luggage, costume jewelry, religious items, clothing and shoes of all kinds (but not all sizes), toys, CDs, etc. etc. The quality in Taiwan is usually pretty good--less so, I thought, in the mainland, but I spent less time at night markets there.

Advice for going:
- If you don't like crowds DO NOT GO. A night market may very well have thousands of people all crammed into winding back alleys.
- The only pick-pocket incident I've heard of so far from friends in Taipei happened at a night market--given the chaos that's only logical, so keep an eye on your stuff.
- You will run into other foreigners (assuming you're one), but that doesn't change the fact that night markets are a local, authentic form of shopping-entertainment (more so in Taiwan--certain ones in the mainland are more touristy than others, so ask around).
- Bargain a little, or watch other people and see what they do. It depends on local custom. In Taiwan you might get some small discount; in the mainland the original asking price for foreigners is likely to be much more than the item's worth.
- Bring cash. (In the mainland, a few American $1 bills might be useful--if you bargain something down to $1.50 or so US, you might be able to get it for $1 if you pay for it with greenbacks.)

If you can get a comparable item in a night market instead of a department store, you'll definitely save a lot of money. Just use your common sense. And be prepared for the whole thing to disappear--a vendor snatched a shirt out of my hands as I was about to buy it, saying that the police were coming. The center of the street, which had been packed with vendors and goods, became empty in about 30 seconds. We're not sure how they did it (lots of practice, I guess). Magically, they were all back 10 minutes later.

(I never did get my shirt.)

The night air hung heavy with the smell of spice and smoke and the sounds of people. All along the street, lantern-lit tables were set up and flocked with customers.

He picked his way through the chaos, smiling to himself and enjoying the feeling of simply being there.

One table, tucked between a food vendor and a bead seller, was full of candles. Short ones, tall ones, some oddly shaped. All were lit, and all burned with brilliant white fire.

The woman behind the table watched him eagerly with honey colored eyes.

"These are special," she said in a molasses thick accent. She leaned over and raised her hand, as though divulging some secret. "They burn with holy fire. They burn with pieces of God." She straightened. "Come, look through them."

He had to stop himself from laughing. "No, thank you. I don't think I need any burning god bits. I'm just here to look."

Her merchant's intuition told her otherwise.

"Look," she said, pointing to a green and brown one near him. "You don't believe me? Look into the flame."

He did so, smiling. As though he were some superstitious fool-

He stared.


She crossed her arms and smiled. "You see?"

"Oh." He coughed. "How much?" he said, keeping his eyes on the candle.

"Fifty American dollars and a kiss."

That got his attention, though only for a moment, as his eyes were inevitably drawn back to the candle. He fumbled through his pack and tossed her a few crumpled bills.

"Good," she said. She leaned over and grabbed the collar of his shirt with both hands.

The kiss was short, but thorough. After a moment, she pushed him away.

"Take it and go."

He nodded uncertainly. He took the candle and walked unsteadily into the night.

She waited until he was gone before discreetly spitting into her palm.

Out of her mouth poured the soft light she'd taken from him. She examined it closely. It was a bit spotty, but no more so than usual for Americans. It was good enough.

She reached behind the table and pulled out an unlit candle. She eased the light onto the wick and coaxed it until it began to burn. She then placed the candle in the spot where the green and brown one had been a minute before.

PostcardQuest2011, inspired by this picture

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