Wet Market Fears

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The early morning wet market was mostly dry by nightfall. Housed open-air under a corrugated tin roof, the stainless steel display tables and wire shelves stood chained together and ready. Except for a night breeze, an eerie silence was the only sound awaiting the coming day. 

Sometime before sunrise, generations of market vendors hosed down their stalls in preparation for the arrival of the small box trucks filled with fresh produce and meats. Butchers and fishmongers kept their hose at a slight drizzle, often rinsing chopping boards from blood and fish scales. Ice from the open display melted quickly and mingled with the fluids under hundreds of feet, causing a slick, if not slippery, surface. Fly spinners did little to repel insects. 

Within an hour of set-up, a chaos of market shoppers appeared from nearby homes and restaurants. Looking for the freshest product available, parents with strollers and pedestrians with push-carts flooded the busy din. Motorbikers on 50cc scooters parked willy-nilly nearby and pushed purposefully to their favorite vendor without removing their helmet. Lack of refrigeration meant everything must be sold that day. 

The noise of meat cleavers expertly bludgeon through large slabs of flesh, splattering juicy fragments with each recurrent blow. Shouting, haggling customers and their sleepy children attempted to be heard above the intermittent sound of scooter engines and creaking carts. In the background, the squawk of live poultry sounded when one was pulled from the crate for pending butchery.

Caught just a few hours prior, live eel, fish, and shellfish were iced and ready for sale. Fresh eggs arrived from one part of the island, while beef and pork came from another. The best vendors always hung the head of the slaughter within their stall to certify freshness. Poultry and rodents were the only animals that showed up alive. Chickens and geese came caged while the rats ran free. Smells of durian, pineapple, and onion mingled with the scent of damp fish. Raw liver, crisp broccoli, and ripe honeydew wrestled their fragrances with the early morning smog.

But my American visitor and I smelled none of these scents. As dark approached, we merely walked beside the market shell as I attempted to describe to her the pending bustle of the open market. She was new to Taiwan, and I was not.

Of all I explained, the rats seemed to pique her curiosity the most. She asked about their size, their habits, and what precautions kept them at bay during market hours. I regretted mentioning them within moments, for I hate thinking about them. Rats are one of my biggest phobias. 

As we strolled past the expansive market ground, Jennifer felt it necessary to point out that most rodents are nocturnal. “It’s ‘noct’ right now,” she pressed. “What’s to keep them from creeping out any minute?” It was a question I would have preferred not to explore. 

At this precise moment, something slight and silent brushed my sandled toes. I shrieked a very un-Asian-like scream and panicked my young American acquaintance. We both jumped back in time to watch a guilty plastic bag continue its breezy journey across the sidewalk. Even though we hurried home, we never saw a rat that evening. 

What fear currently simmers in your subconscious, poised for alarm? The thing we dread is not often what comes. God repeatedly reminds us not to fear, but we usually disregard it. We so convince ourselves of danger that even the slightest encounter makes us panic.

Instead of expecting the worst, let’s begin tomorrow by prayerfully clearing our headspace, then asking God, “What do you want me to know about this day?” Follow this question with several minutes of silent listening. When we practice this skill, we tune ourselves to the true, not the false. And even if the Father warns us of a pending rat….we can prepare with close-toe shoes.