Where can you get super-cheap socks, a quick massage, a lucky bamboo plant and knock-off designer sunglasses, all while munching grilled meat on a stick and watching a kung fu demonstration?
Richmond’s Summer Night Market, running every weekend until early October, is a scene not to be missed.
Each weekend and holiday evening, thousands converge on this nine-acre site in an industrial area, where 175 booths and their energetic merchants evoke images of night markets in Hong Kong, Taipei and other Asian cities.
Richmond is a fitting host for an event with international flavor: According to Canada’s 2006 census, no city in the country has a higher portion of immigrants than Richmond, where 57.4 percent of the 185,000 residents were born outside Canada.
Across the Fraser River, Vancouver also has a Chinatown Night Market, now in its 14th year, on weekend evenings through Sept. 6. (See www.vcma.shawbiz.ca.)
Richmond’s night market, operating since 2000, has a heavily Asian flavor in its patrons, food and merchandise. The cheapest socks I saw — six pairs for $10 Canadian (about $9.20 U.S.) — were from Korea; the $6 movie DVDs were from Vietnam; the toasters, mixers and other small kitchen appliances — four for $20 — were from China.
I’d heard before I went that some of this merchandise is as good as the stuff in department stores, while other items might fall apart the second time you use them. It’s a buyer-beware scene.
A stage at one end hosts the evening’s entertainment, which could be cultural dances, martial arts, or a singing contest with audience participation.
You can spend as little as $1 for a colored pen or as much as $1,500 for a handsome mah-jongg table that automatically shuffles and deals the game tiles. (Its brochure touts: “Tablecloth uses sea-blue rubber material. Good hand feel. It is not easy denuding and color changing.”)
Sunglasses, at $10 or less, were selling briskly. Their displays carried designer names in large letters, while smaller print added qualifiers such as “inspired by” or “compare to.”
At a table of samurai swords, throwing knives and other weaponry, I lifted up a lethal-looking knife selling for $15 (just under $14 U.S.) and asked if it was from China. “Of course,” the booth’s operator said. “Otherwise you would pay double times double.” (I saw the same knife later on the Web for $17 to $30 U.S., plus shipping & handling.)
Some merchants will haggle over prices; some won’t, and there’s often a discount if you buy in quantity. And every night as closing approaches, prices are slashed at the food booths.
The 50-booth food aisle is the market’s busiest area, where grilled squid tentacles appeared to be the crowd favorite.
We hit a half-dozen food concessions over our 21-hour stay, but chose somewhat less adventuresome plates: barbecued lamb, salad rolls, shrimp dumplings, cold noodles and fried ice cream, which is scoops of ice cream battered, fried and served with cranberry sauce.
Each item was between $2.50 and $5, and we left stuffed, no room for the mini-doughnuts.