Community & Education HKFP Lens

HKFP Lens: As Hong Kong sleeps, Yau Ma Tei’s wholesale fruit market comes to life

Selina Cheng hunts for story ideas when she’s too lazy to cook or to do her laundry, or takes photos when none of the above appeal. She previously wrote for AFP Beijing and covered the Occupy movement for AP. Selina is currently studying investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.

Hong Kong’s wholesale fruit market is tucked into a quiet corner not far from the usual buzz of Yau Ma Tei.
yau ma tei fruit market
yau ma tei fruit market, watermelon
Stroll along the small alleyways of the market in broad daylight, and you may only find one or two stores selling expensive Japanese grapes or American raspberries.
yau ma tei fruit market crates
Most other shops are closed for business, while their shopkeepers chat sluggishly with the neighbours or simply take an afternoon nap at the shop front.
yau ma tei fruit market storage
All of Hong Kong’s fruit vendors – except supermarket chains – obtain their produce through this market place sandwiched between Reclamation Street, Waterloo Road and Ferry Street.
yau ma tei fruit market
The location in inactivity is barely noticeable in daytime, and even visitors to the Broadway Cinemathèque might not know the pre-WWII market place is just a block away.
yau ma tei fruit market old man lemons
But the market comes into life as soon as midnight approaches.
yau ma tei fruit market road sign
As the rest of the city goes to sleep, wholesalers and fruit retailers are just starting another day: buyers ready to pay the highest prices arrive early to choose from the best quality and varieties available, but as bargaining drags on and stocks go out, they will drop steadily throughout the night and hit the bottom once daylight dawns upon the aged two-storey stone house, standing since 1913.
yau ma tei fruit market man pulling crates
There you will see barebacked workers streaming through hundreds of piles of cartons stacked on wooden pallets along the western strip of Waterloo Road.
yau ma tei fruit market
With a bunch of order forms or inventory records in one hand, they are most probably counting boxes and loading them on and off trolleys and lorries.
yau ma tei fruit market crates
The ongoing flow of workers and their electric stackers are only occasionally interrupted when a large truck or late night taxi try to drive through the hustle and bustle of the market place.
yau ma tei fruit market
Most of the fruits sold here are what you would usually find at local wet markets: apples, oranges, dragon eye fruits or star fruits if it is the right season, but you will also spot a handful of organic produce from exotic origins.
yau ma tei fruit market crates
If you pay enough attention – you might find the vendor selling triangular and cubic watermelons imported from Japan.
yau ma tei fruit market
When the clock hits 4:30 am – it’s break time. Brawny and perhaps tattooed midaged workers gather at Nam Kee, the noodle shop on the other side of Reclamation Street.
yau ma tei fruit market oranges
Some gobble down their “lunch” – maybe a bowl of instant noodles with luncheon meat and sunny-side up; others sip their iced lemon tea while watching outdated soap series replaying on the TV up the ceiling’s corner.
yau ma tei fruit market daylight man
You may also see grey-haired and spectacled fruit buyers huddle up around their hot milk tea, taping their smartphone calculators and scrutinizing details of their purchase noted on small scraps of paper to compare the best deals they scored for the night.
yau ma tei fruit market man sleeping
These are the experts of the market: they know exactly which wholesaler gives the best prices, and at what time.
yau ma tei fruit market man eating
The hive of activity begins to slow down as night gives way to the clear light of day.
yau ma tei fruit market traffic
Wholesalers have sold most of their inventories and buyers have finished with business and left. Workers finally are able to sit down and let themselves drift away for a moment or two. A man takes a crunchy bite into a leftover pear as breakfast, another goes into the public bathroom to wash up before calling it a day.
yau ma tei fruit market washroom
At 7am, the sun rises up and above the Kowloon skyline and the tropical heat descends anew. The fruit market quietly slips back into lethargy.

HKFP Lens: As Hong Kong sleeps, Yau Ma Tei's wholesale fruit market comes to life