As soon as I read about the Flowers, Fish, Birds and Insects market, I want to visit it - it sounds like a unique market, and definitely one of those traditional places in a city that is changing so fast, it might not exist anymore a year from now. It is a bright and fresh day when I walk from the tourist crowd of the Bund to the market. As soon as I walk into the building (the market actually occupies an entire block), I step into a different world, and the fast changing skyline of flashy skyscrapers suddenly seems far away. A unique mix of sounds surrounds me, and when I listen, I hear birds singing, crickets chirping, cats meowing, and people talking and laughing. I see a stack of cages with many young cats inside, try to play with them, but they are not happy in their small cages.
As I walk the corridor, I see many other items, too: jewelry, beads, pipes and belts. I end up talking to a girl who goes to Nepal, buys special jewelry, and ships it back to Shanghai to sell it online. She has just started a stall here at the market. It turns out she has found a niche: no one else sells similar things here, but despite the people touching her necklaces, no one seems willing to buy. I walk past stacks of aquaria where enormous amounts of fish swim around, towards the source of the noise. I see entire stalls, with small boxes, with a plastic opening, and tiny insects inside. I see slightly bigger boxes, and transparent cilinders, with crickets - their characteristic chirping is everywhere. I watch as men look for minutes on end at one of those small boxes, examining what is inside, and wonder what exactly they are looking at. At various stalls, someone takes out a cricket, puts it on a small red cloth, and together with a few others, has a close look at the insect that, surprisingly, does not move.
Another common small animal for sale: tortoises, in glass bowls, some of them tiny. There are stalls with minuscule cacti or other plants. I see small cilinders with fish in them, but also stalls where you can buy small statues, and decorations for your aquarium. There are stalls selling powders and small wooden sticks, where I have no clue what they might be useful for. Then, there are the stacks of cages in which various birds are kept. Many stalls have walls of cages, and at some, men take seats, and just listen to their singing. I start to realize that this market is not just about the curious animals and items for sale, but also about the people that are here to shop. Or are they here to just enjoy themselves? It remains a mystery to me - and it only makes the market more interesting - so I walk around one more time.
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