Editor’s Note: A few weeks ago Fulbright Fellow Zach Hyman @SqInchAnthro introduced readers to the world of low-resource creativity in China. In this post he takes us into a day in the life of a 3-Wheeled Vehicle-based Fruit Vendor. Below is a rich ethnographic description, giving deep glimpses into the detailed financial exchanges and intricate processes that unfold in just one day. Zach concludes his post with several reflections on the social interactions that hold a day like this together.
Check out past posts from guest bloggers.
Introduction: My preferred method for researching how owners use and modify their vehicles is engaging in participant observation by riding along and working with them. Once I am able to break through the barrier of convincing vehicle owners that I am not afraid of “getting my hands dirty” and am eager to help them work, the stage is set for a day filled with insights as I work side by side with users in context and see firsthand the role their vehicle plays in their lives. This particular ride-along came relatively early on in my research, where I had the privilege of riding along with a fruit vendors who uses their three-wheeled vehicle 1) to transport fruit from the market to the point of sale, 2) as a means of displaying the fruit to customers, and 3) a storage solution for the fruit when the vehicle is parked at his home at the end of the day. In this post, I explore the first of these uses.
6:50 AM: I am standing at the junction of the ShiQiao Bridge, in Chongqing, China. The sun is trying to pierce through the heavy morning mist. It is early October, I can barely see my breath, and the smell of diesel and exhaust begins to intensify with each passing minute I spend standing at this intersection of a tunnel and the 4-lane road that feeds into it. I am surprised at the lack of guidance provided to the lanes of merging drivers, and I stop keeping track after witnessing a dozen near misses. Surprisingly, there is not much honking, just labored, steady merging. I am not alone here – there are other people who have congregated at this natural pick-up point. Unlike myself, they are dressed for office jobs – two girls in matching formal uniforms and sporting gold plastic nametags. Another man wearing a loose-fitting suit, resting his black leather briefcase on the concrete divider as he leans against it on a piece of newspaper, eats dumplings held in a plastic bag. At 7:00 AM, a late-model Volkswagen Passat pulls up and the women jump in. The man continues to eat his dumplings.