Hong Kong is a city of vertical neighbourhoods, scraping the clouds with their pencil-thin towers. One such neighbourhood, Yau Ma Tei (油麻地), is located on the Kowloon side of the city, and is a distinctly more local, more Chinese part of town. Yau Ma Tei is a collage of 1960s-era high-rise, wholesale retail spaces, and street vendors hawking local delicacies and imitation goods. Amidst the density, however, there is one section of buildings with ceilings much closer to the ground than its immediate surroundings.
The Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market (油麻地果欄) is a single-storey marketplace that is partially unprotected from the elements. Established in 1913, the Fruit Market is a designated historical site where wholesalers negotiate the prices of goods over abacuses into the late hours of the night. Activity hours at the market is literally the opposite of the financial district in Central Hong Kong: shipments arrive around nine in the evening and shopkeepers tend to head home from a hard night’s work around five in the morning, giving a different take on 9-to-5 working hours.
Once a den of organised crime, the Fruit Market is now simply a place of labour and bargaining in one of the world’s premiere financial capitals. There remains an eerie aesthetic, though: at the end of unlit corridors, wholesalers gamble in back rooms, looking uneasy as a gwai lo (鬼佬) sets up a camera on a tripod to document this fascinating space. There is a sense that the shiny aesthetic that pervades much of the rest of Hong Kong means nothing here: Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market is a practical, functional space that houses informal transactions.
The market’s status in contemporary Hong Kong is in flux: it is a beacon of ‘old’ Hong Kong, a city that was once so much more informal, so much more dirty and so much more gritty, but also somehow more fascinating as well. As Hong Kong struggles with developers keen on building increasingly bland and sterile architecture, the fruit sellers continue their nightly dealings, feeding the metropolis.