I don’t know exactly what it is about night markets that fascinates me. Maybe it’s because my biological clock always keeps me on the night shift. Or it could be the chaos and colour tucked away like a secret in the dark. Hanoi’s alleyways are quiet and eerie at night, but all it takes is one turn round a lucky corner to find yourself bewildered.
Workers pull the 10-to-5 shift under the angry blue of fluorescent lightbulbs. Women run by with empty trolleys, on their way to stack them high with boxes of produce. Motorbikes honk angrily with wide loads that would mow you down if you didn’t jump out of the way fast enough. There’s so much to watch, if only you had time to stop for a moment. And then the train roars by overhead, and caught in the midst of the disarray, it sounds like the world is ending.
Of course, I’m romanticising. Many people who live near the market find the waste it leaves behind in the morning a nuisance. A plan is underway to reorganise Hanoi’s wholesale markets by 2020, and there’s been talk of closing this one for a while. It’s one of the biggest of its kind in the north of Vietnam, with hundreds of tons of produce from Vietnam and further afield stacked in giant box trucks, all lined up underneath the creaking, rusty hulk of the Long Bien bridge.
It’s easy to get lost in the chaos, and miss the quiet moments in between. Like the way that angry fluorescent light falls delicately on a pile of fresh susu stalks; or the hard-working woman who’s fallen asleep among her pineapples. But there I go, being romantic again. It’s just a night market, after all.
Photos by Jesse Meadows