Persimmons & Gangsters

A rumor making its way around the internet claims that the historic Yau Ma Tei fruit market, Hong Kong’s largest, is run by the local crime syndicates known as triads. Intrigued, I decided to visit the market at its busiest time, between midnight and 7:00 am, to investigate.

Late at night, it’s easy to imagine drug deals and fistfights in the dimly lit corners of the buildings lining the street, most of which date back over a century. On the night I visit, a scent of citrus, rotten melon, and sweat hangs in the air. Shirtless men maneuver carts piled high with pallets of Washington apples and Japanese strawberries, while the luckier ones ride tiny, seatless forklifts from the loading zone to the storefronts.

Nearly half of all fruit sold in Hong Kong passes through Yau Ma Tei. Most workers arrive near midnight and work until 8:00 am. It’s not an easy job, and the schedule is grueling, but some of the old-timers have been here for over forty years.


一则在网络流传的谣言,称香港最大、历史悠久的油麻地水果市场,已被当地极具规模的黑社会组织“三合会”所入侵。为这则有趣的都市传说所吸引,我决定在市场最忙碌的时候,也就是午夜到早上七点之间,展开调查。

不难想象,在深夜时来到这里,一些危险的毒品交易或争夺打斗,都会在街道的昏暗角落暗地进行。这样的情形据说可以追溯回一个多世纪以前。在我到访的那天晚上,空气中混杂着汗味、柑橘味和腐败的瓜的气味。没穿上衣的男子操作着装满华盛顿苹果和日本草莓的推车,另一个人则幸运地做着比较轻松的活,他开小型的无座叉车负责卸货。

在香港经销的水果,有将近一半会通过油麻地。大多数工作人员在午夜抵达,直到早上八点左右才离开。这样的工作不容易,颠倒的作息非常艰苦,但有些老前辈,已经在这里工作了四十多年。

Making my way around the market, chatting with the vendors and other workers, I meet an octogenarian by the name of Mr. Lam, who vehemently denies the rumors.

“No, no, no! The gangs never ran the market!” he insists. “In its heyday, there were nearly 400 stands, each with 10 to 20 employees. Most of them did physical labor at night. Some of the guys this job drew in were also in gangs. But the owners were usually well-to-do people who just wanted a business they could be proud of.”

Not far away, in a stall selling persimmons, snake fruit, Asian pears, and other delicacies, shirtless man named Mr. Yung recalls how in the past gangs would sometimes converge on the market, making any business impossible. “It used to be pretty dark around here. Gangs would come around, so regular people were afraid to walk through the area.”


我绕过市场去与摊商和其他工作人员聊天。我遇到一位八十多岁的林先生,他坚决否认那些帮派势力占领油麻地的谣言。

“不不不!这些帮派势力从来没有进到市场!”他坚持道, “在全盛时期,这里有将近四百个摊位,每个摊位有十到二十名员工。他们大多数人都在晚上做体力活。这里也吸引了一些帮派分子来从事这份工作。但摊主通常不在乎,因为他们都是富有的人,只想要一份可以引以为傲的事业。”

不远处,在一个卖柿子、蛇皮果、梨和其他蔬果的摊位上,有一位名叫翁先生的打赤膊男子。他回忆起过去,帮派有时候会在市场上聚集,让生意几乎做不下去。“这里一到晚上会变得很暗,帮派会出现在这,所以普通人通常不敢走过这个地区。”

Still, Yung agrees with Lam that stall owners are mostly honest businesspeople, even if some of their employees had ties to the triads. “The transport guys were usually gang members, and I think some of them still are,” he adds. “They used to fight over the stalls. Now and then, they’d get into a brawl in the market over territory. Today the police come through all the time, so it’s safe for tourists. Some people even take wedding photos here.”

The triads may mostly be gone, but their freewheeling ethos remains. When I ask the veterans of the market why they’ve stayed around all these years, “freedom” is a common refrain.

“My family doesn’t like it, but they’re used to it. They understand this is how I make a living,” says Mr. Ng, known around the market as Sau Nga Zai, or Snaggletooth. Nicknames are the designation of choice around here. “This guy’s name is Sai Leung—Boss Leung,” he says, pointing to his partner, “because he’s always giving orders.”


尽管如此,翁先生依然同意前一位林先生的说法。摊主大多是诚实的商人,即使他们的部分雇员和黑社会有关系。 “运输工人通常是帮派成员,我认为他们当中一些人现在仍然是。”他补充道。 “他们曾经在摊位上打架,偶尔会为了地盘问题发生争吵。但现在警察很常巡逻,所以对游客来说是安全的。甚至有人在这里拍婚纱照。”

现在三合会的踪迹可能已经消失,但他们自由放纵的精神仍然存在。当我问到市场的退伍军人为什么选择常年留在这里,“因为自由”是很常见的理由。

“我的家人不喜欢这里,但他们习惯了。他们明白这就是我谋生的方式。”吴先生说,或应该称他为“缺牙仔”或“断牙”。在这里,彼此之间的称呼都用昵称。 “这个人的名字叫梁世,或梁老大。”他指着他的搭档说,“因为他总爱指使别人。”

Ng leaves home at 10:30 pm to come to the market, works all night, and gets off around 8:00 am. “I don’t have much time with my wife,” he says. “When I leave for work, she often hasn’t come home yet. My son once asked me not to work in this industry, but he’s grown up now.”

People who work regular hours may not see the graveyard shift as a kind of freedom, but for Ng, working while Hong Kong sleeps is liberating. “When I’m off, I’m totally free,” he boasts. “That makes the hard parts of the job worth it.”


吴先生晚上十点三十分离开家往市场出发,工作一整夜,早上八点左右下班。 “我没有太多时间陪我的妻子。当我离开家时,她还没回家。我的儿子曾要求我不要在这个行业工作,但他现在长大了。”

对那些按照正常工时作息的人,可能不会把半夜工作的生活模式看作一种自由,但对于吴先生而言,能在整座城市都入睡后去工作,反而是一种解放。“当我下工时,我会觉得我是完全自由的。”他骄傲的说, “这让一切的辛苦工作都值得了。”

In 1913, when the fruit market was built, Yau Ma Tei wasn’t known for much more than the nearby Tin Hau Temple. Today the main attraction is the market, which covers around 14,000 m2 and serves nearly 250 vendors. Since the 1970s, there have been proposals to relocate it, even though it’s been designated a historic building, because of the noise and the traffic disruption it causes. As of now, though, the market still stands in all its shirtless, cart-filled glory.

According to Lam, in the past, some of the noise came from the fighting that took place when the triads were more active nearby. “For some of the guys who worked in the market, physical violence was their only response to any conflict, and it drew attention.”

In addition to freedom, a tight-knit community also keeps people around. Mr. Sum, who’s 31, found his first job at Yau Ma Tei. Now, rather than hauling boxes of mandarins at 2:00 am, he comes in at 5:00 am to handle the books. Sum says that the market’s family-like relationships between merchants and customers, which have withstood natural disasters and economic downturns, are hard to find nowadays.


1913 年,水果市场刚刚建成,当时的油麻地只以天后庙为人所知,而今天大多数人都是因为市场本身慕名而来。它占地约 14,000 平方米,聚集了将近 250 家摊商。70 年代以后,由于噪音扰民和中断交通的原因,有人建议将油麻地市场找地方重新安置,尽管它已经被指定为历史建筑。不过这项提议最终没有实行,市场至今还在繁忙地运作着,一如往昔。

根据林先生所说,那些过去常被抱怨的噪音,是来自黑社会还在附近活跃时发生的斗争。 “对于在市场工作的一些人来说,暴力是对冲突的唯一回应。这很容易引起人们的注意。”

除了自由之外,团结的社区精神也是吸引人们留下的原因。沈先生今年 31 岁,在油麻地市场找到他的第一份工作。现在他不再是水果商,不用凌晨两点来搬运一箱箱柑橘;沈先生如今已是一位书商, 每天凌晨五点过来整理书籍。沈先生表示,市场内顾客和摊商之间像家人一样的紧密关系,能扛住所有自然灾害和经济衰退的打击。这种情谊现在很难在外面找到了。

“Human relationships are important here. We’re very close,” he says. “In other industries, people often care more about money than relationships. We’ve been working with some of our customers for a very long time, so if we ever need help, they’ll help us out, even if they lose money—and we’ll do the same for them. I don’t think there are many industries like that in Hong Kong anymore.”

The common complaint that young people in Hong Kong today are afraid of hard work finds an echo at the market. Many stall owners are frustrated at how difficult it has become to find people willing to do the physical labor their jobs require. “Sure, the gangsters fought over turf and sold drugs from time to time,” says Lam. “But then again, they were willing to work hard.”


“人际关系在这里很重要,我们的情谊很牢固。而在其他行业,人们通常更关心金钱。我们和一些客户已经合作了很长一段时间,所以如果我们需要帮助,即使赔钱他们也会帮助我们——当然,我们也会为他们做同样的事情。我认为在香港,已经不再有像这样的产业了。”

在今天,有关香港年轻人不愿再付出劳力辛苦工作的种种抱怨,在市场摊贩间引起了共鸣。许多摊主对于再也找不到愿意做这样需要体力工作的年轻人,而感到沮丧。 “当然,流氓们虽然时不时会打架,有时候甚至贩毒。但是,他们愿意一次又一次的付出,努力工作。”

Photographer & Contributor: Viola Gaskell


摄影师与供稿人: Viola Gaskell