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.


Superbowl Bound

Once again, the Cardinals amaze. They are in the Superbowl! It was a great game. Awesome play by the whole team.   They beat the Philadelphia Eagles 32-25.   Congratulations.

Bring on the Steelers.

Tempe High School Bus Stop

There are some interesting bus stops in Tempe near the high schools. This one is on Mill Avenue in front of Tempe High School. It is an iron sculpture of trees. Very eye-catching.

I like any sort of bus stop in the Valley of the Sun that creates some shade for the riders. This one creates plenty.

Congradulations Cardinals.

Since this is LoveHatePhoenix, gotta give it up for the Cardinals. They beat the Panthers 33-13 and are playing for the NFC championship. Exciting. Very weird, too. I mean, this is the Cardinals. And they’re one win away from the superbowl.   They have this history. Maybe they’re throwing off the old history. Let’s hope so.

In any case, congradulations are in order for the team and coaching staff.

Light Rail, Carley’s Bistro, etc.

Light rail officially started in Phoenix, and Tempe yesterday. Wen-Ling and I took a free ride this afternoon to check it out. We got on at Price and Apache in Tempe and rode the rail to Central and Osborn. From there we went walking around Phoenix.

We stopped to have dinner at Carley’s Bistro on Roosevelt and 2nd St. The food was great. They serve wraps, sandwiches, soups and salads. Most of the dishes are between $7 and $10. They also serve alcohol. We had Boddington’s which was the least expensive beer on the menu. (They have some outstanding beers. They also appeared to have a full bar.)

My impressions of the light rail… It is faster than riding a bus. The ride is smooth and quiet. The crowds were large, however. It will be interesting to see how the ridership holds up when the fares kick in on January 1st. Certainly, if I were working downtown, I would consider the rail over the express buses.

When we got to Phoenix, most of the businesses were closed. This is the situation that people decry about Phoenix — that downtown is dead on weekends. Hopefully, light rail will serve to change that.

I intend to use the light rail in combination with my bike. I enjoy riding and photographing subjects. With light rail, I will be able to board the train with my bike, ride around Phoenix, and either ride home or take the train again.


Living in the desert means sometimes getting sick of sunshine and pining, deep down, for a rainy day. The rains that will last a day or more usually come in the winter or spring. Not often, though.

In the summer we go through the months of May and June with very little precipitation. In July we get our predictable, seasonal rains. We call them monsoons, but they bare little resemblance to the storms that batter Asia.

These are hot summer days, with humidity occasionally building to a climactic thunderstorm. Here in Phoenix, we get a lot of teasers. No rain, just a dust storm, maybe with enough precipitation to make it stick to your car and windows. But, when we do get a good cloudburst, it’s a sight to behold.

In the picture above, you can see a trash-can come rain barrel that Wen-Ling employs to catch the roof runoff. A half-inch of rain is usually good for filling a barrel, since we are catching the rain from the southern facing portion of our roof.

Bus Stop at 40th St and Baseline Road

Public transportation has been a subpar experience in Phoenix. Light rail is nearing completion. Until then, the only real form of public transport has been the bus system.

The main problem with the bus system is that the buses run infrequently. Typically they are on a twice an hour schedule, although some of the busier routes get three buses during rush hour. Tempe adds its own buses into the mix in order to better serve riders. But, on average, there is a thirty minute wait between rides.

This can be a problem in bad weather. Many bus stops in Phoenix consist of a bench under a blazing sun. (I do consider summertime, with daily temps in the 105-118 degree range to be bad weather for waiting on a bus.)

The problem is further compounded when there are connections involved. Let’s say you need two different buses to get you where you are going. The worst case scenario is that you just miss a bus when you arrive at your first stop. You now have roughly a half hour wait. Then, when your first bus drops you at your connecting station you are just a little too late again. Another 30 minutes of waiting.

Imagine that your two bus stops consist of a bench under the sun. You will cook for an hour just to get to work. (I have been so thoroughly baked.)

This problem can be addressed in two ways. The first is to add more buses so that the average waiting time is shorter. The second is to provide cover for the riders at their bus stops.

So my motivation here is to point out that the city of Phoenix has done something great by enhancing the bus stop at 40th St and Baseline Rd. What riders need here in the Valley of the Sun is shade. The designers of this bus stop used mostly steel rebar to create the archway and the trellises. Cat claw vines have been planted at the base of the umbrella-shaped forms. Bougainvillea has been planted on a trellis east of the bench. Desert trees have been planted behind the bus stop. There is a canopy directly above the bench.

As the plants mature they will provide some much needed shade, as well as visual appeal. It will be an inviting place to sit and wait for a ride. Very little will be needed in the way of maintenance. Maybe some occasional pruning.

I have seen a few other stops around town where either Valley Metro or the cities of Phoenix, Tempe, etc. have spent some cash on artistically enhanced stops.  Some look like serious cash was layed out.   The stop at 40th St. and Baseline Rd. looks like it was fairly inexpensive to complete.

The vast majority of bus stops in town still consist of a bench under the sun, or a bench shaded by a very basic awning.  For very little outlay, these bus stops could be enhanced by planting a couple-three desert trees around the bench.  While it may not be ideal in the rain, it beats sitting under the sun.

In any case, kudos to the creators of the bus stop and 40th St and Baseline Rd!