I was drawn to the twin night markets of Kaisyuan Night Market 凱旋觀光夜市 and Jinzuan Night Market 金鑽觀光夜市 in Kaohsiung 高雄 based on their reputation as the largest in Taiwan. Supposedly they are both approximately 30,000 square meters in size and feature 500 to 1,000 stalls—but these figures may represent the sum of both night markets. At any rate, I was very surprised to discover how poorly attended both night markets were on a Sunday night, particularly as I had just arrived from a brief tour of the busy Ruìfēng Night Market 瑞豐夜市 in Zuǒyíng 左營, which showed far more life and activity than these more “famous” night markets.
I tend to be fairly methodical about my night market expeditions so I decided to work from back to front starting with Jinzuan Night Market. This game plan quickly hit a snag as most of the back of the night market is completely empty. Some stalls look closed but many others are completely unoccupied, something I’ve never seen on this scale. Maybe Jinzuan is one of the largest night markets in Taiwan by total area but what good is that if there aren’t any vendors there?
The few people milling around the front of Jinzuan Night Market were mostly Chinese tourists from what I could tell1. Coach buses idling nearby confirmed my hunch. A free shuttle bus was regularly dispensing smaller groups of people coming from the MRT system (myself included) but locals seemed slightly outnumbered. Yes, some of the Chinese tourists were loud and uncouth, but many more acted like anyone else at the night market.
After making quick work of Jinzuan I wandered around the partition and entered Kaisyuan Night Market. It was slightly busier on this side of things but many of the stalls were closed and there weren’t too many people around except near the front. It was amusing to watch the occasional Chinese tourist cut in line and jostle with the locals, most of whom exhibited no reaction apart from slight frowns. Those few Chinese tourists who push people around don’t seem to mind if you push back—which I do, with good humour. I got into the thick of things with a few tourists while in line for a cup of watermelon juice and had a good laugh about it.
Kaisyuan was low on energy but more than made up for it with tasteless and occasionally even offensive spectacles. One of the more amusing examples is the famous Taiwan penis cake, a sight that anyone who has been to Shilin Night Market 士林夜市 in Taipei 台北 will surely have seen. When business is brisk it isn’t at all abnormal to walk by and see a bunch of people taking cheeky photos but it’s not all that much fun when nobody is around.
It is normal for young women to work the gaming tables at night markets across Taiwan. Sometimes these women dress up in cute outfits including schoolgirl uniforms. What I haven’t seen, however, is actual underage schoolgirls squaring off against bored, lonely dudes over mahjong tiles. I can’t escape the feeling that there’s something not quite right about this.
Kaisyuan Night Market is also the location of the tasteless German pig knuckle vendor I discussed in a recent post about Nazi imagery in Taiwan. Like I mentioned before, this is not a good thing to be famous for.
The absolute best thing about Kaisyuan Night Market was the impromptu auto show in the parking lot around back. Here there were about a dozen insanely modded cars blasting EDM at maximum volume while jets of flame erupted into the sky. One car was emblazoned with the rising sun flag of Imperial Japan, a fitting compliment to the German pig knuckle vendor inside the night market. Sometimes I wonder if people have no sense of history or if they simply don’t care. Whatever the case, I had a blast wandering around checking out all the crazy mods and blinking LED lights.
I left the twin night markets of Kaohsiung 高雄 feeling unimpressed. Yes, they were large, but the entire experience seemed terribly contrived and little of the food I sampled was any good. I suspect some business people got together a few years ago and said “let’s open the biggest night market in the nation”, opting for an “if you build it, they will come” approach that hasn’t yet produced reliable results. Maybe these night markets are busier on a Saturday—but Ruifeng was doing just fine that night. As far as I am concerned the biggest open air night market is still likely to be Dadong or Huayuan in Tainan 台南 or the surprisingly massive Douliu Night Market 斗六夜市 in Yúnlín 雲林. Jinzuan and Kaisyuan don’t live up to the hype.
- Chinese tourists can be distinguished from local Taiwanese people by their mannerisms, mode of dress, accents (which I can sometimes pick up on now), hairstyles, and so on. I am not an expert at this game but I have gotten pretty good at it over the last two years of roaming around Taiwan. ↩