sounds from a’tolan: vendor trucks

a visitor to taiwan may first be caught off guard or even menaced by the lack of sidewalks in most small towns and many urban districts. i think that their apprehension issues from a definition of the street as a place reserved for vehicular traffic–a definition that actually has a very short history and a specific cultural milieu. on taiwan, this definition of the street has not (yet!) displaced other possibilities, in which the street serves as a medium of display, leisure, performance, or commerce. while taiwanese religious processions express these possibilities of street life most flamboyantly, more humble conveyances of street life give to the street its quotidian values. even the most casual visitor to taiwan’s bustling nightmarkets can get a sense of the pleasures and annoyances of this different set of values; it’s no surprise that street markets thus enter into conflicts over urban space, where questions of noise, quality of life, sanitation, traffic, and convenience provide conflicts that are not easy to adjudicate. in small towns and villages where no central market provisions families, streets become mobile markets. itinerant vendors, who often cover a large area, carry a vast range of necessary goods: some vendors drive fruit trucks; others selling knife sharpening service, chairs, garlic, shoes, pork, vegetables, or snacks circulate along the streets, each with its own route and frequency of visits. those who wish to purchase items can stop the trucks as they meander, and the proprietor will sell goods while the truck idles. as the trucks move through town, one can gauge the distance between one’s position and that of the trucks easily, as the trucks all broadcast music and announcements of their goods on loudspeakers. one can thus wait nearby one’s house–or rush out to meet them. the trucks resemble somewhat ice cream trucks in the united states, but sell a much wider range of goods and cover a wider range of areas. their calls punctuate a day in a taiwanese small town, particularly in the early morning and evening hours. i’d write more, but i hear the a-bai truck coming–got to run out and buy a couple…

here’s a clip in which i present a few of the vendor trucks in action. the section at the end perhaps expresses an ambivalence about the trucks that some who live here might feel. as for me, i love the trucks; but again, i should run and buy those a-bai!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *