Man on the Street is a regular series where we talk to someone doing an everyday job, in order to gain insight into the lives of normal Chinese people.
Through a maze of limestone-paved alleys, in a beaten-up neighborhood along Nantian Lu in Guangzhou’s Haizhu District, a wet market extends. Everything from live poultry to water snakes is sold here. Local farmers travel in every day, bamboo poles balanced on their shoulders, to sell garden-fresh vegetables.
Among the many buoyant shops located along the lanes, a frog and turtle vendor stands out, operated by a cleaver-wielding, 20-something lady wearing rain boots and a solemn look.
“Of course they are not venomous,” Wang Xun snaps, as we inquire about a knot of serpents. A woman just bought four amphibians, which Wang expertly cuts open, skins, guts and dismembers in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.
Plastic tanks are arranged in rows in front of her shop. Fish are constantly trying to fling themselves out of the water to end their crowded misfortune. Different kinds of Chinese soft-shell turtles draw the eyes of passersby.
Wang patiently explains her wares to us. “This one is 25 kuai per half kilo, that one 30, that one 35. If you want to do hot pot tonight, take this big, black one, only for 20 kuai. This originates from Guangdong. That one I don’t know.”
It’s 1pm and some of the street vendors have gone home, leaving their stations unattended but watched by adjoining business owners.
Another woman comes by Wang’s containers, stops, picks a turtle and starts haggling. “88 kuai. No bargains ayi.” With the price settled, Wang tosses the reptile into boiling water. Ten minutes or so go by and Wang, taking up her cleaver once again, engages herself in a 25-minute-long butchering.
“I’ll clean the innards carefully, don’t worry,” Wang assures her customer. “I’m not my shifu. He can finish chopping up a turtle in 10 minutes, but he might be sloppy.”
As it turns out, Wang is a green recruit at this shop, which is owned by a relative of hers. A water snake sticks its head out of a hole in a Styrofoam crate, intervening in our observations.
“[Turtles] will help remove the shiqi (damp) in your body. You know Guangzhou is humid most of the time,” Wang says, putting on her sales patter when she discovers we want something to cook in hot pot. “Don’t take the snakes. They are good for soup but not hot pot. Take the frogs or the toads.”
Wang tackles doubts and concerns on an hourly basis, beginning at 7am. It’s not until 7pm that she packs away the remaining turtles, frogs and snakes and heads home, fatigued.
READ MORE: Man on the Street: Roadside Manicurists
THE DIRTY DETAILS
Monthly salary: RMB3,000
Days per week: 7
Hours per day: 10
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