Market Places

I am sharing these photos from a couple of trips I made to Taiwan with Wen-Ling. They are of a market place in the town of Sijhih, just east of Taipei. This market might be my favorite place in Taiwan.

Every morning vendors set up in an alley about a half mile from my mother-in-law’s home. They sell every type of food imaginable, from baked goods to fresh vegetables to freshly caught fish.

“Fresh-caught” isn’t a marketing phrase. The photo showing the fish with their tails tied to their gill-flaps is about more than just presentation. It is also to prevent these live fish from flopping off the table. The shrimp you buy are still moving, too.

Vegetables are all local. There is one garden/farm just around the corner from the market, next to a laundromat, in the middle of the city. It occupies maybe a half acre, but probably less. Lying in a ravine, all sorts of vegetables are grown there, along with tropical fruits like mango, papaya and some trees I don’t recognize. Other nearby farms also provide produce.

Along with the produce, vendors sell shoes and clothing, toiletries, and knick-knacks. The vending is all done between the hours of about 6 am and noon. By one o’clock it has reverted to a residential area. The vendors are basically setting up in the entrance ways to homes. Most homes in the city occupy three to four floors. The ground floor typically has a garage-like front with a living-room behind it. Bedrooms are usually on the third and fourth floors. The kitchen will also be found on the first or second floor.

I love the intimacy of this market place, the way neighbors easily meet and mix. I don’t understand the local alliances, the politics, and the personal tensions that exist. I bought some pastries one morning and brought them back to my mother-in-law. She wanted to know who I had purchased them from. It turns out I bought them from a woman my mother-in-law doesn’t do business with. None-the-less, we did all share the food. Perhaps it would have tasted better if it had been prepared by my mother-in-law’s friend.

I share these photos to highlight the differences between the typical American corporate market place and the traditional Chinese market. The Chinese market sells local food. If we consider the notion of degrees of separation, the typical customer at a Chinese market is separated from the producer of the food by two or maybe three degrees. In other words, the vendor may be the farmer who grows the chickens or the vegetables. Or, she may be a middleman between the customer and the fisherman.

How many degrees of separation are there between the American customer and the farmer who produces our food? We have the people who work at the grocery store. There are truck drivers connecting the grocery with one or more wholesale buyers operating cold-storage warehouses. Then there are the farmers. It may be four or five degrees of separation.

In Taiwan much of the food is probably produced within a forty mile radius of where it is purchased. In the U.S. the radius is probably a thousand miles, maybe more. In fact, some of our food may even come from Taiwan!

It is true that in America we can enjoy fresh vegetables and fruits throughout the year. Our food is relatively inexpensive. No one is deprived. But there are environmental costs associated with such a diet. And there are economic vulnerabilities. For instance, both Taiwan and America depend heavily on foreign oil. But, if our oil supplies were cut for an extended period how likely would starvation be in American vs. Taiwan? My guess is that Taiwan would fare much better.

In any case, my real motivation is to point out that there is an aesthetic component to the Chinese culture of food that is sorely lacking in America. And, it’s not specific to China and Taiwan. India has it, as does almost any developing nation. Our food culture here in America is an industrial culture, heavy on engineering, but largely lacking in beauty. I would gladly give up my local Fry’s supermarket if I could trade it in for an alleyway of vendors near my home.


Don’t call me

It’s that time of the year when politicians compete for the attention of voters. Signs are posted on street corners. Resumes are sent in the mail. Ads appear on the radio and, closer to the elections, on television.

I can cut politicians some slack. Anyone depending on public acceptance for their living needs to get their message out. It’s no different from a business. No matter how great the product or service, the producer won’t gain anything if people aren’t aware of it. The people won’t benefit if they remain ignorant of who is offering the best products and services.

However, in the world of marketing there are acceptable avenues along which advertising can be posted. There are others that irritate and annoy. I don’t mind someone posting their message on the radio, for instance. I understand when I turn on the radio that the service for which I don’t pay for exists because someone else funds it. I either tune out the advertising or I think critically as I listen. Ads in the newspaper can be ignored. But, if someone emails me, they have crossed the line. There has been a well-deserved rejection of spamming. We now have laws that hold spammers accountable.

Phone spamming is another highly irritating type of advertising. I have a telephone because I want to be able to speak with friends and relatives. I also want, when necessary, to be able to call a business for information that would otherwise necessitate a slower form of communication or a trip to the store. But, I don’t own a phone so that every joker with a product to sell can call me. I don’t own an email account because I want to receive emails from people selling viagra and get-rich-quick schemes.

Congress, a few years back, listened to the people when a public backlash against phone spamming developed. They created the national do-not-call registry allowing people to place their phone numbers on a list indicating to businesses that they don’t want to be interrupted with inane sales pitches. It’s a good law.

The lowest of the low among phone spammers are the businesses that employ machines to do the calling. I have wondered about the people who respond to pre-recorded, unsolicited messages. Why aren’t they as annoyed as I am when the person running a business isn’t even willing to employ person-to-person marketing? At least when I am called by a call-center employee I can appreciate that the business hawking their wares is willing use someone’s time to interrupt mine. But, when I receive a call from a machine I become angry that the people at that organization value their time so much, and mine so little, that they would employ a robot to interrupt my day. I either hang up, or, I wait for the invitation to leave my phone number, which I use to instead express my displeasure at their rudeness.

This week my wife has been telling me about a certain Mark Anderson running for congress that has employed a phone-bot. I haven’t researched this person, yet, for his positions on the issues nor his competence. That is because I don’t care if he is a good choice for public office. If he is willing to phone daily, for a week, to interrupt our time using his robot, his likelihood of earning my respect and subsequent vote diminishes proportionately.

Why is it illegal for a business to call me if my number is on the do-not-call list, created by congress, but not illegal for some hack wanting to be elected to congress? This is the sort of behavior indicating a double-standard. This is not the type of person I want representing my district! Mark Anderson needs to understand that he is swimming with the same sort of fishes that spam my mailbox with ads for viagra, penis-enlargement, pornography, and online gambling. The only other people recently phoning me via robot have been selling mortgages.

My wife mentioned to me every day this week that Anderson’s machine called. Today the phone rang and she went to pick it up. When she heard Anderson’s latest pitch she brought the phone to me and dropped it in my lap. I was busy reading a good book.

I took the time to listen to the message because I wanted to hear what type of things he was saying. It turns out that Anderson wasn’t speaking. Instead, he had some other office-holder vouching for what a great guy he is. He was said to be a “good conservative”.

What does it mean to be a “good conservative”? Conservatives generally advocate small government, something I can appreciate and respect. But, they also have a habit of violating that principle by employing the government to meddle in other people’s affairs. They try to pass laws that would, for instance, prevent gays from marrying. I tend to believe that government should limit itself to protecting the rights of the people. I have a hard time discerning whose rights are being infringed when gay couples marry. Conservatives recently have also been the biggest advocates for the invasion of Iraq and the destruction of our civil liberties. Is a good conservative the same as a good human being?

And, do good human beings use phone-bots to promote themselves?