Caichang’s and the International Market

This piece was written in 2012. Since then, China has only moved forward and chain stores like Wall Mart and others innovations have  continued to advance. The rise in websites and networks in the organic farm industry in the U.S.  leads me to believe that the situation will come to some sort of balance, given time. Judge for yourself.

I visited the local farmer’s Market in Port Orchard this past weekend. It was their first opening of the year and there were less stalls than I remembered from previous years. There were quite a few people wandering about. Many people were walking their dogs. One young Newfoundland, an affectionate pup, held our attention for several minutes; true beauty and a heart of gold.

The first stall I stepped into disturbed me. The elderly lady in a long indefinitely colored skirt and fuzzy vest over conservative shoes explained proudly that her materials came from all parts of the world, including several countries in South America. A hat went for the bargain price of 90 dollars. A two-foot by two-foot rug was 200 dollars. In a city with a per capita income of 25,004  dollars per year, or just over 1,200 a month, purchases of this kind will be carefully considered and far between. It’s definitely not a goods and staples market for weekly shopping.

Compare this with my experience in China.

The caichang in China is an exciting, diverse and very thoroughly local market space. Farmers and intermediaries sell their meat, fruit, vegetables and preserves to city folk at prices that practically everyone can afford. Although I never shopped for all my produce at a caichang, I definitely enjoyed and appreciated their function in city life. The restaurants where I usual ate definitely shopped in these places Prices were significantly below that of large chain stores. The sanitary levels varied significantly, but it was usually not an insurmountable challenge.

The caichang in China has a rising competitor, the large chain stories. Much of the U.S. has already fallen under the onslaught of lower mass negotiated prices with international sourcing. I walked every row in my local farmer’s market, but there were at most four stalls that qualified as selling goods from local farmers. It would have been better, I think, to rename the market the local craftsmen’s market, or maybe, the local artesian market. We turn to our local economies for extras and the international conglomerate for necessities. What will China look like when it has reached the same point on a national level? Is it ready for that?

Like everything else, the answer is probably yes and no. People who made their living at the caichang will go through a period of hard transition, social networks will be broke, drift apart or morph. Eventually, economic imperatives and social choices will lay a path for the future of the caichang, whether it becomes a crafty, artistic shadow of itself like my U.S. farmers market or something else entirely.


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