For those missing a slice of home or looking to learn more about various Asian traditions and food, the Night Market on Wilson Quad last Saturday offered just that. Co-hosted by the Asian American Student Union (AASU) and the Taiwanese Student Association (TSA), the bazaar gave passersby a glimpse into nightlife culture condensed down to the essentials: long-forgotten childhood snacks, traditional fair games, and craft-making.
The first event of its kind on campus, UR’s own was inspired by the Shilin Night Market — one of the largest, most popular night markets in Taiwan — seeking to recreate on campus an amalgamation of the diverse markets across Asia. In a two-hour snapshot, students sampled snacks from Vietnamese pia to Filipino barquillos while speaking with club members about upcoming events and festivities. The set-up was far from extravagant — several rows of tables fanned out along the quad pathways with poster boards packed with club details and eboard members clustered behind handing out treats.
But behind the minimalism ran an undertone of humble simplicity. Maybe it was in the way eager students clustered around the pop-a-pirate game at the Korean Student Union’s table to win the last pack of Shin ramen, or how they took turns doing each other’s henna at ADITI’s booth and traded fun facts for li hing mui, a dried plum treat with Chinese Hawaiian roots, at the Hawaiian Interest Club stand.
UR’s Night Market, though small, was something special. The feeling was palpable — from the Chinese nostalgia pumping through Wilco’s speakers that I used to sing along to in my parents’ SUV, to the huddles of people stringing together charm bracelets and folding fortune tellers. Although I’m not artistically inclined and have no crafting skills whatsoever, I found myself drawn nonetheless. (Then, the imposter syndrome really began to kick in, so I left. RIP.) As the sun set on the quad, as the stalls ran out of snacks, as throngs of people were coming and going like a coming-of-age movie timelapse, I opted to recline back one of the huge lawn chairs out on Wilson quad and keep my artistic inabilities to myself.
For kids like me who grew up spending summers back in their parents’ hometown overseas, the Market was an identity crossover between life as an American college student and a member of another distant world — a slice of my heritage hidden in plain sight. For me it was a time capsule that alluded to Malaysia, core summer memories of when I’d hold my Ah Ma’s hand to not get lost in the seas of people at the pasar malam — Malay for “night market” — as we hunted for new hair accessories, or tagged along with my Po Po and Kong Kong to get their daily breakfast fix of pan mee at the hawker stalls. I can still see the vendors slicing huge trays of rainbow kuih muih, a glutinous sweet cake, and wrapping sticky rice in banana leaves. The UR Night Market brought back all those memories, marking the campus’ first a huge success.